NIU ROTC alumni leadership panel imparts real-world wisdom

Below is a guest post from U.S. Army Reserve Col. (retired) Beth Liechti Johnson. Johnson is an NIU ROTC alumna, Class of ’81. She chaired the recent NIU ROTC 50th Anniversary event “Honor & Connect–1968 to 2018.” She wrote this account of a  leadership panel held at NIU homecoming weekend.

Quiet pervaded the Clara Sperling Sky Room on the 16th floor of the Holmes Student Center as rows of uniformed men and women listened intently to five U.S. Army veterans. The battle-tested leaders shared stories, launched opinions, and riffed off each other’s experiences.

NIU ROTC cadets, students and faculty gathered to learn about leadership from NIU ROTC alumni who returned to campus for the 50th Anniversary of the NIU ROTC program.

“Ethics, leadership, and discipline are key concepts in military science. In this panel discussion, our students heard real-life exemplars of those concepts from alumni of our ROTC program,” said NIU College of Health and Human Sciences Dean Derryl Block. The CHHS hosted the event.

The veterans on the panel related their successes and failures with humor and poignancy. Each panelist presented a unique and hard-fought perspective on leadership based on their years of active and reserve military duty, stateside assignments around the country, and deployments to Europe, Asia, and Africa, including the demilitarized zone (DMZ) in South Korea, and combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Col. (retired) Kevin Madden (’82), currently Chair of Defense Intelligence at the Air University, led the four alumni who participated. Panel members included Col. (retired) Paul Francik (’77), former Director of Installations at U.S. Joint Area Support Group-Iraq, Lt. Col. (retired) Gifford Haddock (’91), Deputy Commander, Iowa Army Ammunition Plant (IAAAP), Jim McCarten (’01), former Captain, U.S. Army, currently People Operations Manager, NOSCO, and Rich Plettau (’08), former Captain, U.S. Army, currently Senior Manager Business Development at Kraft Heinz.

“Decisions you make will affect other people. Learn to move from directive in nature to inviting in nature. Soldiers have volunteered to be led. Show interest, enthusiasm and knowledge. Learn a second language,” said Madden.

“Do what’s right, morally and ethically. Be self-disciplined and you will succeed. Be who you are, but be honest with yourself and loyal to your soldiers. Listen actively,” said Francik, who first served as an enlisted man during the Vietnam era and deployed to Iraq twice.

Haddock, who served in Asia, Europe and Africa, had this advice: “There’s tough competition in the Army. Be ready to face it. Observe your peers who are doing well. Learn from them.”

Plettau, a scout platoon leader with 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment for a year in Iraq, reflected about his service in the Army.

“Take responsibility for success and especially for failures. Leadership you learn in the U.S. Army translates well to the corporate world: both are results-driven organizations. Challenge your subordinates, and let them own what they do. Have respect for your people. Cherish them. Your soldiers will do what you order, but remember, they are people also. Don’t compromise your integrity. Continue to seek personal improvement.”

McCarten, a battalion personnel officer in 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) who deployed to Afghanistan, noted that leadership is hard to come by, in the military and especially outside the military. “Listen to your platoon sergeants,” McCarten said. When they say, ‘Don’t worry lieutenant, this is sergeant’s business,’ respond that you’d like to learn as much as you can about sergeant’s business so you can become a better leader.”

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