Ensign Lukas Dwelly was commissioned as an Intelligence Officer last fall through the Navy Reserve Direct Commissioning Program. Enlisting in the Marines in 1995, he obtained the rank of Sergeant and deployed as an infantry squad leader aboard the USS GUAM with the 24th MEU (BLT 3/6) in support of combat operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in the Persian Gulf. Lukas earned a Bachelor of Science and MPA degree from University of Louisville and a MA in Communications from Bellarmine University. Lukas is assigned to ONI 1992, currently attending the Naval Intelligence Officer Basic Course in Minneapolis. He and his wife Lisa celebrate their tenth wedding anniversary this fall and have twin girls, Addison and Morgan. When not working as a fundraising and business development consultant, Lukas is an avid runner, fanatical golfer and aspiring Southern Gentleman. He lives in Louisville, KY.
I grew-up in a rural part of Kentucky. Graduating from high school on Friday night, I left Monday morning for the United States Marine Corps, still smelling like a dairy barn and having never before crossed the state line or been on an airplane. A few short years later, I had completed a deployment with the 24th MEU and had the good fortune of seeing parts of the world about which I hadn’t even dreamt. While many of my contemporaries were in school preparing for life, I was experiencing it while learning about famous battles and the men who waged them. During those four years, I learned many things. Amongst them, I learned what it meant to truly lead and be led. There are many characteristics that distinguish a good leader from a “leader” and the most significant distinction is connection. Good leaders make it a priority to understand what motivated each individual on their team towards mission accomplishment. My core values of integrity, honor, courage and commitment were forged during my time as a Marine, and to this day those values and the great leaders with whom I served drive me to lead by example, regardless of the mission or environment. In fact, I still begin each day with the mantra, “Know yourself, know your job, and know your people.”
Returning to Kentucky, I struggled with the assimilation to civilian life after my enlistment ended. Co-workers and bosses did not possess the same high standards, core values, or sense of duty. It made me angry and untrusting. My new team spoke of mission accomplishment and, to a lesser extent, the value placed on people, but in reality both were low on the priority list. The reality was my team worried about themselves as individuals far more than each other and was overly mindful of the hour hand on the clock located a few feet above our cubicles.
My transition to the civilian world was made more difficult by not understanding the transition from one part of my life to another. In the Marines, particularly in the infantry, you are taught that a good decision now is better than a perfect decision too late. Kind of like Murphy’s Law: ammo is cheap, life is expensive. While that line of thought is good if you are caught in tight spot and facing insurmountable odds, it can backfire when you work in a huge bureaucracy. For me, it was hard to turn-off and to realize that I could not control every situation by outflanking my opponent or situation. Constantly living in garrison, I was not able to transition my mindset from being in the field or at sea.
Then one day while running, I began thinking about my current work environment and it hit me. In most places I’d worked I was an anomaly, I was the only veteran, I had higher standards. Relieved, I continued to run at a faster pace and a sense of relief poured over me. My standards were higher and my values grounded in history. While I had made mistakes and hurt a few relationships over my aggressive (I would argue passionate) “attack the hill at all costs mentality,” I realized that I did not have total ownership of each interaction or situation. I never had an issue while in uniform and possessed so much respect for every chain of command I served under because we all prescribed a universal set of core values and leadership traits. Since there are no parallel indoctrination programs in the civilian world, I needed to adjust my expectations without diluting my established leadership traits.
Currently serving as a junior officer (JO) in the Navy Reserves, I now realize one of the best things about returning salutes versus the rendering them is the wardroom. Talking with senior leaders and fellow JOs who’ve done extraordinary things for our country motivates me. I lean on senior officers and JOs who’ve been around longer to set course for a path of success. What I’ve learned and experienced in a short amount of time has been tremendous. At a previous organization I worked, there was talk about culture and values and the resulting by-products of using both as a means of creating a best in class operation. The reality was the management team neither cared to produce real results, nor to assign specific metrics to measure our progress. Except for the occasional mention at a staff meeting, the idea of defining our core values withered on the vine of good intentions. It was crushing and morale suffered as we continued to lose some great team members who could no longer live in our segmented and highly political environment. I would argue these outcomes are not tolerated in the Navy as evidence of the leadership models in place, various training opportunities, and, quite candidly, the considerable amount of command firings that have taken place over the past few years.
It’s not lost on me that both reserve units and active duty commands possess their own challenges and cultural weaknesses. Yet, all Sailors go through similar indoctrination programs that instill honor, courage, and commitment, creating a foundation to lead at all levels. Whenever a Sailor steers off, a simply reminder of our cores values can bring them back on-line. Teamwork and sound leadership create the boundaries for success in the military. Whereas in the civilian world a different set of parameters exist.
You may be thinking, “Why doesn’t this guy just go back to the military full time?” It’s a fair question. I may someday return to active duty. Right now as a Reserve Officer my goal moving forward is to create more opportunities to bridge military leadership to the civilian world. I believe strongly that large bureaucracies can learn a great deal from the military’s established pattern of training some of the best and brightest men and women in our country.
The final confirmation for me was when I decided to restart my firm so I could expand my circle to include more former members of the military. The adjustment has been phenomenal. No longer (hopefully) will I have to sit back and listen to management teams standing at the front of rooms espousing on best practices and culture knowing the organization lacks fundamental leadership and core values. In my opinion, members of any team would be better served by focusing on the creation of a common value system. The military does this well. In reality, the military does a lot of things better than their civilian counterparts. While I may not be back in uniform full time, I can still lead like I am.