Why Did You Stay?

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Tyler Sanders
  • 17th Medical Support Squadron
We often times are asked why did you join the service. We know the top several reasons that are most often cited, but how many times are you asked why did you stay in the service? Are they the same reasons you joined: pay, benefits, retirement, health care, patriotism, etc.

I believe if you asked a variety of mid-career service members, most will tell you that at least once or possibly a few times they thought about separating from active duty and exploring civilian opportunities. Maybe it was the grass is greener temptation or for other personal/family reasons, but in the end the decision was made to stay in the service and here you are, eight, 10, 12 years or more later and still serving. So take a moment and think about why did you stay? I'm pretty certain you will find a few mentoring nuggets for your subordinates.

I was sitting in a conference recently listening to a gentleman speak about mountaineering. Most folks think climbing mountains is all about reaching the summit. On the contrary, he said it really is all about the entire journey: the pre-planning and travel to the area, the base camp experience, the climb, the decent, and planning the next journey. It's about the team effort involved, everyone succeeding and the cumulative effort to ensure each person survives. He eventually brought this analogy back to the topic at the conference which was our Military Healthcare System. His point was we are part of the greatest team in the world (the Department of Defense), and that we are all on a journey. It's the journey and not the summit that we all are seeking and striving for.

So what does this have to do with staying in the military? I believe that most of the reasons often cited for retention (pay, benefits, retirement, etc....) are strong motivating factors, but I also think it's camaraderie, unity of effort, unit cohesion, sense of belonging, and being part of the greatest team in the world that are far greater motivating factors.

This is what keeps many of us on this journey in life and serving in the military. Everyone wants to be part of a winning team, and we are all members on the greatest team in the word! But, I'm not sure we take enough time to reflect on this and share with our junior folks! It's the individual efforts that contribute to the team success, and each one of us is an integral part to the success of the team.

I'm a hospital administrator, so I rarely have the opportunity to actually get involved with patient care. If you want to see teamwork excellence, then watch an ER team treat a casualty. During my deployment last year, I had the humbling experience to watch our medical team treat a young female seriously injured in an automobile accident. I was amazed at the amount of activity in such a short period of time, everyone knew their role; it was precise teamwork that saved this person's life. This is just one small part of my journey, and who knows, but maybe it was an experience like this that convinced one of the young docs, nurses, or techs on that ER team to stay on this journey serving in the military on the greatest team in the world!