Many years ago, when I was a captain in the Texas National Guard, I was involved in a new military unit. It is not often in one’s career that you are involved in “standing up” a brand new unit from scratch. Our RCPOC (Rear CP Operations Cell) had a new paragraph and line number on the TOE (Table of Organization and Equipment). It was a great challenge. You need the best non-commissioned officers and officers at a time like that, because the beginning of an organization affects so much. I was just a Captain, one of four or five in this staff section. We had a major and a Lieutenant-Colonel. The LTC was outstanding, my old mentor, Dan Densford. You also have to be careful at times like that, because some units will shove off their malcontents or trouble-makers on you.
LTC Densford was very sharp and well-informed about personnel issues across the former 49th Armored Division. We got this one Sergeant First Class Gravier. “Rumor control” said SFC Gravier was a problem child. He was Active Guard Reserve, which meant he served everyday, not just on weekends like the rest of us. The AGR guys had informal influence on the unit, disproportionate to his/her rank. If SFC Gravier was a problem, then that would have a ripple effect on all of us. But, I remember also hearing that he was treated badly at his old unit. Whoa. That changes everything. In the military, much like the civilian world, you can have a wonderful unit, right next door to shiftless, lazy, point-the-finger dirtbag unit.
As time went on, I noticed SFC Gravier was very competent. He was abrasive. In the first few months, he was testy with me and others – as if he expected us to be hyper-critical or unfair in some way. But, we were not. We all appreciated his direct answers and his helpful suggestions. As the months passed, his prickliness went away. We all realized what an excellent sergeant SFC Gravier was. It was obvious he had been mis-treated at his former unit. Our senior sergeant was MSGT Reeve. MSGT Reeve came with a stellar reputation and he was very competent. MSGT Reeve out-ranked SFC Gravier. Those two became fast friends. They both shared the same level of dedication and attention to detail.
I learned a valuable lesson from this dynamic. We all bring different qualities to an organization. What some perceive as problems may be nothing more than a lack of polish. If that lack of polish comes with dedication and sincere caring for soldiers, polish means nothing. All organizations must bring out the best in each member and learn to use each member to his/her fullest capacity to flourish. Within a couple of years, our Rear Operations Cell did very well. In our second year, we participated in the Warfighter Exercise, in which division level staffs are tested by a computer exercise over five days. We were evaluated by active component officers and NCO’s from Ft. Leavenworth. We excelled. Success in any military unit means the non-commissions officers, including SFC Gravier, did very well. Our third year, I was gone, but I was told that the NCO’s worked hard on the coffee that Summer Camp. They perfected various coffee blends….
So, now, 20 years later, when I see corporate America or federal civil service relegate someone to the rear simply because s/he has a disability, I think back to SFC Gravier. SFC Gravier had no disability. But, he was perceived to have some fundamental flaw. Yet, in reality, he became one of the go-to persons in our small, 15 person staff section, because we gave him the opportunity to fail or succeed. He took the opportunity and showed what he could do. Next time you have a person with a disability in your work area, ask yourself, what does s/he bring to the table? If s/he brings the right stuff to the table, then whatever disability might be present matters not one whit.