Naturally, I have made many mistakes in my life. Who hasn’t? There are also a plethora of missed opportunities I wished I would have seized. That is the thing with hindsight. It is always so much clearer…later.
I was talking about deployments to someone the other day, and it dawned on me. I missed a big opportunity, and I regret it. And oddly enough, I was given multiple chances, two deployments, and one conference to seize it. I let it float away like a butterfly though.
It started on my Iraq deployment (2005-2006). I was a first lieutenant then. It was not a high rank, but I was in charge of ALL of the embedded media for the first Iraqi election. So, I did have a fairly important job that I did alone for most of the deployment. As the Multinational Force Iraq media embed coordinator, I did everything concerning the embedded reporters. I mean everything. I coordinated their plans of what units to go to when they arrived and their travel plans on getting into Baghdad (which was only weeks of countless emails and phone calls at a minimum). I would literally go pick them up at the flight line or armored bus area. I took them to get a media badge. I escorted them to meals. I answered their questions. I helped them with their bags and a place to sleep. I assisted them with work space. And, when it was time for them to head out to their unit, I played liaison and taxi again. While on they were embedded, I remained available for any questions they might have (as well as for the leaders of any units they were with). I had to know at a moment’s notice, what media was with what unit, what was their latest story and what were their upcoming plans. My leaders always wanted to know these things. So it had to be in my head, on slides and in full detail. It was the first Iraqi election after all, so the pressure was understandable. When the reporters were ready to leave, I had to play helper and taxi in reverse if they passed through Baghdad on the way out. It was an all-consuming job. My phone was constantly ringing. My inbox never had less than 80 emails. I was struggling to keep up and stressed. But, I managed the program very well for a staff of one I have to say.
Anyway, at some point during all this, some group of leaders were having an email discussion on the embed program and how it was broken. I was copied on the email conversation. So naturally, I thought I could contribute to the discussion.
I did a reply-to-all response that I drafted very carefully and edited. I professionally stated that I did not think the program was broken per say, but certainly could be improved. Then, I laid out a couple of paragraphs detailing ideas on what I saw wrong and how it could be improved. I chose my words cautiously and think the final contribution to the conversation had value. I was THE embed coordinator for the entire country/war after all. I thought I had a very good perspective on the situation, at least at the boots-on-the-ground level. I was wrong, very wrong.
Shortly after my email response, my boss did a reply-to-all email as well. His email simply stated, “Please disregard 1st Lt. Lunato’s response. It will be discussed internally.” Well snap. That was a slap in the face if I ever saw one. I did have the nerve to ask him after that (via email) why I was not entitled to speak on something that I was in charge of. He reply was short, sweet and very to-the-point. “There is only one voice of the CPIC (Combined Press Information Center), and it is not yours.” Well hell. That was clear. I was just to be in charge of a program and not offer input. That message was received loud and clear. I can’t say it was a great mentoring moment though, and I completely lost respect for that leader as there were other situations similar to this.
Years later I regret not having the courage to ask him why he had such a problem with me, and I had multiple times to do it.
I could have done it tactfully during the deployment. There were certainly a handful of situations like the you-do-not-have-a-voice situation where I was slapped down. I could have approached it from a learning point angle. I could have straight up asked him if he had a problem with me. I could have asked him to mentor me and show me why he did the things he did. I didn’t though. I just brewed irritation with the leader.
Then years later, I missed another chance. I was at a military conference. He was there for the entire three-day event. There was plenty of mingling time. We crossed paths a number of times, but I refused to speak to him. I simply smiled, nodded and moved on. I had so much to say and ask this man, but it just didn’t see like a good time.
On my third deployment, I ran into him again. (Small world huh?) Though I was deployed to Afghanistan this time (2010-2011), I had to travel to Iraq (twice) to visit one of our battalions. While at one of Saddam’s palaces, I was trying to find a friend who worked in the building. Who do I run into on the stairs? Yep, the dismissive leader from years ago (who a friend I referred to as SAM, for Short Angry Man). This time, he stopped me. I couldn’t really avoid it as we were on a spiral staircase, alone. (If I thought I could have jumped from the staircase, I think I would have.) He started some small talk. I was polite, professional, but very curt. After exchanging some meaningless courtesies, I said I had to move out on my mission. My brigade did send from one war zone to another after all. Clearly, I was a big deal, or so I made it sound, lol. I had nothing to say to the man. There was no point in reminiscing or catching up. What I had to say could not be said on a staircase in passing…and probably would seem silly bringing it up years later. Clearly, it still bothered me though.
Now, I feel like I should have asked him. Obviously, it upset me since I remember it so vividly. I look at some of the things he slapped me down for and can see his twist or perspective made sense or offered some validity. What I don’t understand is why he delivered his messages or decisions in such an arrogant way. He could have been a wonderful leader and sat me down to say hey, “You have some good ideas but we are going to do it this way and this is why.” That was not his style though. He was not a mentor or leader; he was just the Short Angry Man in charge.
Well SAM, it is said that you can learn from bad leaders just as much as good ones. You thought me how NOT to be. You also taught me that if something bothers me that much, I just need to speak up and ask questions about it. Maybe that is why God kept making me run into him? Perhaps. Or maybe God was just teaching me professional restraint and thought it would give me something to write about today.
For the Daily Prompt.