“In any crisis situation, people rely on others to show them the way. If you’re doing the right thing, others will follow and do that as well.” — Frank (Bill) William DeMont
In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of dealing with crisis and how to adapt and overcome. The context of this series is the physical and financial fallout that resulted from the COVID 19 pandemic. Crisis management is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases, it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Frank William DeMont. He goes by Bill and was born and raised in North Georgia. In January of this year, he retired from Active Duty Army after 23 years, 5 months, and 17 days of honorable service. He also recently graduated Cum Laude from Troy University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration. He resides near Columbus, Georgia, with his wife of 23 years and their three children.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?
I was born in Cumming, Georgia, and moved around to different towns until my family settled down in Waleska, Georgia. I grew up with my mother Lorene, my father Arnold, and my younger sister, Laura. My sister passed away in a car wreck one month after she graduated from high school. My mother passed away in 2014 from cardiac arrest while shopping at a local grocery store.
My mother worked at Waffle House and later Waffle King as a waitress for the longest time and my father worked as a handyman. My mother and father met at Waffle House when I was around three years old and a few years after they married, my father adopted my sister and me. Our biological father was never mentioned as we grew up, but we were always told of who he might be (a long story for another time that includes Ancestry DNA). My father was in the Navy from the late 1950s to early 1960s. He was strict and at times, physically and mentally abusive to me until my parents got a divorce in 1995. That same year I had basically moved out and lived with my girlfriend (now wife, Kelly). My sister and mother lived alone at the house we grew up in.
I earned good grades in school and was listed in the local paper numerous times for being placed on the Honor roll. Every summer I would go to work with my father assisting him in painting houses, putting roofs on houses, or even building houses. Every winter my father and I would split wood to heat our home since the only heat we had was from a wood-burning stove.
When I was 15 years old, I started washing dishes every weekend at Waffle King with my mother. I would give my mother one paycheck a month for bills and to learn how to manage money. I saved up my earnings for six months to purchase my first car. A 1974 Dodge Charger with a 318 small block engine. I totaled that one and bought another 1974 Charger except this one was an SE (Special Edition) and then sold it once I signed up for the Army. I’m currently looking for that one, so I can restore it and relive my high school days.
I had several jobs after that from cleaning up construction debris, hanging sheetrock in houses, framing houses, delivering newspapers, installing vinyl siding, and working as a mechanic. Later I landed a better job at the local Krystal’s in town. I worked after school and on weekends at that job until a new fast food restaurant opened called Checkers. I worked there with my girlfriend (now wife, Kelly) for almost 2 years. I joined the Army after graduating from high school.
And what are you doing today? Can you share a story that exemplifies the unique work that you are doing?
Currently, I am an Inspector at Pratt and Whitney which is a subsidiary of the Raytheon Technologies Corporation. A lot of the work we do is confidential, and we aren’t even allowed to take pictures on the premises. At our location, we service and rebuild turbine engines for military and commercial aircraft for the U.S. and various different countries. My position basically evaluates components of a module to determine serviceability using approved technical data and a variety of precision measuring devices.
Can you tell us a bit about your military background?
All my life I wanted to join the military. There’s even a picture of me around four years old standing at parade rest. All through high school I said I was joining the Army after I graduated. At the time I wasn’t thinking about college or seeing the world. I just wanted to serve my country for four years and continue my life.
I joined the Army in August 1996 as an M1 Abrams Tank Hull Mechanic (63E) which later became an M1 Abrams Tank Mechanic (91A) that merged the turret and hull jobs together. I recently retired in January 2020 as a First Sergeant (1SG).
I went to basic training and Advanced Individual Training (AIT) at Fort Knox, Kentucky. My first duty station was 1st Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment “Iron Knights”, 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Hood, Texas where I was placed as an M88A1 Recovery Vehicle driver in the recovery section. The M88A1 is an armored recovery vehicle for track vehicles and weighs over 50 tons. A few years later I re-enlisted. The Army offered me 10,000 dollars and Fort Carson, Colorado to stay in four more years. So, my wife and I packed up and moved to Colorado. “Raider” Brigade (1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division) is known for capturing Saddam Hussein. This maneuver was known as Operation Red Dawn.
Once I arrived at Fort Carson in September of 1999 there was over a foot of snow on the ground and the unit was packing up to go to Egypt. I stayed back while they deployed since I was a new arrival to Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment (“Brave Rifles”). I was then a Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO), a Sergeant (SGT), and had more responsibility. For the next three years I was troubleshooting and repairing M1A2 SEP Abrams Tanks as well as training up to five Soldiers at any given time. In October 2001 my unit deployed to Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah. We were charged with securing a biological and chemical weapons area in response to the September 11th terrorists attack on the United States of America.
Around July 2002 my wife and I packed up again and moved back to Fort Hood, Texas. This time we had two little children in tow (a boy and girl) and the terrorists attacks on our country were still fresh on our minds. This time, I was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment “Black Knights”, 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division.
Six months after we arrived, my unit was placed on order to go to Iraq and fight the terrorists. We would be deploying in less than three months. My wife and I were scared but defending the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic, is what I signed up to do.
I was scared not knowing if I would come back to my wife and children, nor did I know how long I would be deployed for. My wife was scared for the same reasons plus she had a 2-year-old and 1-year-old to take care of. She also had to manage the bills, take care of the house, ensure the vehicles were maintained, and stay positive for the next year without her best friend, lover, husband, father to her children, and soul mate.
My unit returned a year later in March 2004 and I was transferred to another unit on Fort Hood; 1st Battalion 22nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division. While in this unit I went back to Iraq two more times. Major General Jeffery Hammond re-enlisted a friend and me while we were in Iraq.
The last tour I was tired of back-to-back deployments, so I called Human Resources Command (HRC) to request orders to another post that wasn’t deploying. They granted my wish to Fort Knox, Kentucky as a 91A M1 Abrams Tank Mechanic. In July 2009 my family and I packed up and moved to Fort Knox.
I was assigned to the 194th Armored Brigade as an Advanced Individual Training (AIT) Instructor training new Soldiers to maintain the M1 Abrams Tank. Later, I found out that the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) committee voted to send all the Armor to a new location at Fort Benning, Georgia. So in July 2011, my family packed up and moved to Fort Benning, Georgia. While I was at Fort Benning, I had a few jobs. I continued to be an Instructor with the 194th Armored Brigade, only this time I was teaching Advanced Leader Course (ALC) to more seasoned Soldiers (Sergeants and Staff Sergeants).
2013, I received orders to move across post to 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment “Panthers”, 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division. While assigned to the panthers I was a Sergeant First Class (SFC) and in charge of the Motor pool. I was only there for 12 months due to being promoted to Master Sergeant (MSG). I then moved to a 1SG position down the road with 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment.
I was assigned to 3–1 CAV for almost two years. Once again big Army had plans to deactivate 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Benning. So, I volunteered to go to South Korea in hopes of receiving a return assignment back to Fort Benning. My family stayed back near Fort Benning since we had children in high school.
In July 2016 I was assigned to the 4th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Aviation Regiment “Shoot to Kill”, 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. I was assigned here as the support company 1SG, responsible for basically all the Soldiers not on flight status. Sixty days from returning to the United States, my orders back to Fort Benning were deleted. HRC sent me an email with six options to choose from and Fort Gordon, Georgia was the closest to the Fort Benning area.
I chose Fort Gordon and that’s where I was stationed from July 2017 until my retirement in January 2020. While there I was an MSG in charge of the motor pool for the 67th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, 35th Signal Brigade.
Do you think your experience in the military helped prepare you for business or leadership? Can you explain?
Yes, I do believe the military helped prepare me for business, leadership, and for any task that might present itself in the future. In the military, you are presented with several challenges. Some are sprung on you at a moment’s notice and others are thought of and planned out ahead of time.
Also, in the military, you are afforded the opportunity to excel. There are plenty of leadership schools and seminars to attend. I believe by overcoming those challenges and going to those schools assisted me in becoming the person I am today and allowed me to surpass many of my peers and past leaders.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
There’s not one particular person, in the military, that has helped me achieve success. Everyone you come across helps you learn. Some are positive and some are negative, but that helps you become a better you.
The one person that has helped me get through life and has been by my side through everything has been my loving wife of over 23 years, Kelly DeMont. We met in middle school around 1990 on my school bus and have been together since 1993. She was my go-to, in my mind, when I was first deployed to Iraq in 2003. I didn’t know when I would return home nor did I have any communication back home for the first six months. I would always think of her when we were hunkered down from a mortar attack or after safely returning from being outside the wire.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out how to survive and thrive in crisis. How would you define a crisis?
A crisis, to me, is an event that happens rapidly or swiftly to someone or to a larger group of people that weren’t expecting it. This could be death, loss of an automobile, losing your house or business, losing your job, or catching a virus that doesn’t have a cure.
Before a crisis strikes, what should business owners and leaders think about and how should they plan?
That’s a great question, especially this day and age. Business owners and/or leaders should always plan for different scenarios in the workplace or their environment. They should have monthly brainstorming sessions with their top leaders/advisors on the impact of their actions for certain situations. They should also have back-up finances to support their business and employees or have insurance to protect them. The lower level employee market usually depends on the decisions of the upper management to ensure their best interests are at the forefront of the decision-making process. Everyone can say what they want and recommend different avenues of planning. It’s up to the business owner, leader, and/or individual to make plans for their well-being. All we can do is plan and hope for the best.
There are opportunities to make the best of every situation and it’s usually based on how you frame it. In your opinion or experience, what’s the first thing people should do when they first realize they are in a crisis situation? What should they do next?
The first thing people should do when they first realize they are in a crisis situation is to remain positive and focused on the situation at hand. When people start becoming a Negative Nancy or a Debbie Downer, they usually bring others with them and create chaos. Remaining a Positive Patty will help the individual continue to stay calm to make rational decisions. Having a clear mind will assist in making better decisions in the long run. Once the initial effect is over, remain calm and positive, and analyze the situation at hand. Start brainstorming and gathering facts and then start reacting in a positive manner.
What do you believe are the characteristics or traits needed to survive a crisis?
Strong-minded, integrity, loyalty, positive, and/or honest are a few characteristics or traits needed to survive a crisis. Someone who has those characteristics or traits will be able to think clearly and provide their subordinates and peers, someone, to go to. They will listen to them knowing they are doing the right thing for the betterment of the group.
When you think of those traits, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
When I think of those traits, one person comes to mind from when I was deployed in Iraq in 2003. He was SFC Lewis, Louis and he was my Supervisor at the time. I think of him since he was the main person I would talk to about certain situations in my life, pertaining to the military. He always seemed calm and had a somewhat peaceful demeanor about him. He had an answer for every question and situation I would discuss with him. This helped me remain calm and focused at the same time. It also allowed me to assist my subordinates when they came to me for issues they had.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
I believe my greatest setback was suddenly losing my mother in 2014. This was the year my wife and I purchased the home we have now, I got promoted to MSG, and I was appointed to 1SG for the first time. She was not there to see any of those major accomplishments in my life. I relied on my wife the most for the support I needed to maintain my composure throughout life. I needed to remain strong for her and our family. I needed to remain vigilant and assertive for my troops. They needed a 1SG who could lead them and show them how to be resilient. I relied heavily on a few NCOs in my organization, as well, to assist me through that rough time in my life. This support allowed me to be a mentor, friend, and confidant to many Soldiers and friends throughout the rest of my career.
Here is the main question of our discussion. Crises not only have the potential to jeopardize and infiltrate your work, but they also threaten your emotional stability and relationships. Based on your military experience, what are 5 steps that someone can take to survive and thrive in these situations?
- Stay positive. When someone is positive in a situation, they tend to bring positive vibes to others. This keeps the mind free from thinking bad thoughts and irrational decisions.
- Stay focused. Having a clear mind and focusing on the current situation instead of other issues will allow you and others to accomplish one task at a time instead of starting many tasks and never completing any.
- Stay vigilant. Staying vigilant will allow you to notice what many others may not see. It will also allow you to not be complacent in certain situations. Once you become complacent, you will make mistakes and irrational decisions.
- Be the example. In any crisis situation, people rely on others to show them the way. If you’re doing the right thing, others will follow and do that as well. If you help others in a crisis then that will be echoed to others.
- Be a leader. In any crisis situation, people need a leader. They need someone to lead them in the right direction and show them the way. If everyone is a follower and does nothing, then nothing will get accomplished. If there is no leader, step up and be that leader. In many situations, all it takes is one person to step up and take charge for others to start doing something.
Ok. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
If I could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people that would be helping others all year long. Many people need assistance of some sort in their life at some point. My wife and I both came from poor backgrounds and our families needed assistance when we were growing up. We always discuss a time when we were younger, a free shopping spree for underprivileged children. We were part of those children. We would go to K-Mart before it would open, with other children, and be allowed to shop for whatever toy/s we wanted up to 50 dollars per child. We didn’t know at the time what it meant or where the money came from. We were children and we were happy to have a Christmas. This is still in our blood today. Now that we are older and able to afford it, we still assist many families in need and will be blessing many more in the future.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
If I could have a private breakfast or lunch with someone, it would probably be Don Garlits. He was a prominent drag racer in the 1950s through the early 1990s. He used MoPar engines in all his dragsters. I’ve been a fan of MoPars since I was little due to my uncle having a 1969 Plymouth Roadrunner and other old MoPars.
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was truly uplifting.