The Prettiest Flower On Earth

I had finished the day’s work and decided to head of the store, before the weekend rush, for cookout supplies for Memorial Day. At the entrance to the store was a veteran selling poppies to raise money for disabled veterans. Ahead of me walked a woman with her young child in tow. The little girl asked if she could have a flower, and the mother just stared straight ahead and said, “We don’t need to buy any flowers. We have prettier ones at home.” I walked up to the old veteran and paid my annual ten bucks for the little piece of red and green plastic on a wire, and felt both good and ashamed by the look of surprise on his face. I felt good because that’s how you should feel when you do the right thing. I felt ashamed because it was obvious from the bowl on the table that the going rate for remembrance is pocket change ó and not much of that either. I wonder how many of those who walk by this man today staring at the ground, pretending they did not see him, cried at the movie “Saving Private Ryan”? But that was a Spielberg movie, it was in vogue to “be moved.” We are such phenomenal phonies sometimes. What does this have to do with recruiting? Well, hopefully one thing it has to do with is sensitivity, since we are the guardians of everyone’s feelings in the office. And in the event you have people in your employ who served their country, in war or in peace, would it not have been a worthwhile gesture to send an email out to the office reminding everyone of the presence of veterans among them? To remind them that Memorial Day is first and foremost a day of remembrance for those who sacrificed for all of us ó and not merely the weekend you set aside to open up your summer cabin? After all, every time your employees volunteer for a 10K walk to raise money for PBS or NPR, they get in the newsletter, don’t they? So why not for the person who risked their life, and not just a Saturday morning stroll, to preserve freedom? But there is another reason this downward trend bothers me. As the average person becomes less and less aware of the value of service experience, those in employment roles place less and less value on it when they see it on a resume. When is the last time you set up a search seeking, among other skills, previous military experience? Or do you assume that “throwing hand grenades” is the sum total of military skills? If you do, that’s wrong! In a corporate world that is constantly complaining about the quality of motivation and maturity of the average young American, it may be a good time to remember that anybody who receives an honorable discharge from the service obviously shows up to work on time and does what they are told. The failure to do either is a punishable offense in the military. You stand to get a better, more mature worker who knows when and how to show up. Many feel that young Americans entering the workforce don’t have the interpersonal and problem solving skills of earlier generations. Well, from reveille to taps, the military is a constant struggle to resolve issues without the needed tools, time, or adequate staff. Try moving a 13-person squad through a swamp using a compass that was built by the lowest bidder. Believe me, it is no simple feat. But you do it, because you have to. You may not need rifle squad leaders in your business, but how about somebody who is not afraid to get the job done, even when it means risking being unpopular with the people you lead? Supervisors who have resolved personnel issues on their own, within the rules and guidelines, without always running up to “HR” to be told what to do. People who are leaders. Note, I refrained from saying “manager”; I use the word “leader” on purpose. You may feel that your environment is too open and free spirited to permit a regimented military mindset to stifle creativity. But most of the true “drones” I have worked with in my life were in fact the byproducts of the American university system and had not even been in scouting, let alone the service. You may feel that your environment is too technical and military hardware to outdated to make for an easy transition. But in the service, the person not only uses technology, they are also responsible for first and sometimes second echelon maintenance of their own equipment. You teach them how to use it; they will take care of it. Less IT support time. Besides, are you trying to tell me that colleges and technical schools are all leading edge? You may feel that military stress training is not needed in the civilian work environment, but in an age of violence in the workplace and other natural disasters that occur, would it not be nice to have a few people who have proven track records of keeping their heads while all others around them are losing theirs? I once landed a trainer (T-28) whose engine just happened to be on fire. Had lunch, took off in another plane. Nobody thought it an unusual or especially noteworthy occurrence. So it takes more than an Excel spreadsheet report deadline to make me tense. You may feel the military has so many rules that it discourages innovation. But believe me, it is the need to work around all those rules that makes so many service people so creative. Another side benefit is that the service encourages people to learn the rules, which means you have fewer problems due to someone “overstepping” their authority. They understand, respect, and use the chain of command. Service people recognize the value of not relying on someone else to interpret for you. It’s like poker: “Memorize the hands so those who may profit from your ignorance cannot cheat you.” Still others place little value in service experience due to a very human trait of devaluing anything that you yourself lack or do not understand. A fear that assigning a value to something other than one of the skills or traits that you yourself possess somehow diminishes you. That is the toughest argument to refute. Those who suffer from this trait tend to be insecure or, at the very least, petty. People who are insecure or petty seldom listen to the advice of others. People who allow envy, fear, or lack of knowledge to dominate their judgment and decision-making methodologies also make very poor recruiters. Consider: A person who can dismiss all military experience as valueless is equally as capable of making the same decision about all female candidates, or candidates of color, or challenged candidates, or anyone else not exactly like them. All prejudices are wrong, even those that are fashionably acceptable. Now, there are obvious exceptions in my defense of service experience as a valuable skill set. Not all who are or were in the service gain the same experiences, profit from the same challenges, or have risen in equal measure. I know a lot of people who exited the service much to the relief of Uncle Sam. Then again, not everyone who graduates from Harvard is a genius. But I hear it is still considered a good school. You may lack a degree or training in the specialty for which you recruit, but that does not preclude you from trying to learn about it. After all, as a recruiter it is both your professional duty and hopefully your personality to want to develop an understanding of all things that can assist you and your company in recruiting from among the best and brightest. Military people are one of those elements. In his book, “The Making of the Corps,” Thomas Ricks explains his motivation to write about military training in general and Marine training in particular. While in Somalia, as a reporter covering the ill-fated humanitarian efforts, he accompanied a combat patrol of 14 young Marines lead by a 20-year-old sergeant into dangerous and violent nighttime Mogadishu. It occurred to him that he trusted his life to someone who, as a 20-year-old back in his New York office, he would not have trusted to make copies without adult supervision ó let alone trusted with the lives of human beings. But Ricks observes throughout the night a person of professional bearing, training, and competence that he seldom saw in people twice his age. Gee, do you think that sergeant could handle a tough day in the office? In life I have learned never to miss an opportunity to say thank you when merited or to be grateful to those who have earned my gratitude. I have also learned that in all things there is a value to be discovered if only we are smart enough to take advantage of the opportunity and try. Lost opportunities are not lost due to the fault of the opportunity or the moment. It is the seeker who is at fault. So, go to work and seek and read the resumes of those who served with some respect and understanding. If you have no service experience, seek out those who have to “translate” for you. I understand the problem. I still cannot believe that “FMFLANT,” “CinCPAC,” or “MEB” make sense to me. Of course, I also feel the same way about Java, Unix, streaming video, server and “spam.” But for now, buy a poppy for God’s sake and just don’t drop in pocket change. After all, it is the prettiest flower on Earth ó and they did not come cheap. To those with whom I was honored to serve…

To those who served before me…

To those who have come since… Happy Memorial Day, and thank you.

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Ken Gaffey ( is currently an employee of CPS Personal Services ( and has been involved in the Department of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Administration project since its inception. Prior to this National Security project Ken was an independent human resources and staffing consultant with an extensive career of diversified human resources and staffing experience in the high-tech, financial services, manufacturing, and pharmaceutical industries. His past clients include Hewlett Packard, First Data Corporation, Fidelity Investments, Fleet Bank, Rational Software, Ericsson, Astra Pharmaceutical, G&D Engineering, and other national and international industry leaders. In addition to contributing articles and book reviews to publications like ERE,, AIRS, HR Today, and the International Recruiters Newsletter, Ken is a speaker at national and international conferences, training seminars, and other staffing industry events. Ken is a Boston native and has lived in the greater Boston area most of his life. Ken attended the University of South Carolina and was an officer in the United States Marine Corps.


1 Comment on “The Prettiest Flower On Earth

  1. Well said Mr. Gaffey. I see alot of people who do what we do, but the way they do it sometimes! There are those of us who “fill jobs” but it takes a caring human being to not cut corners, to care about the impact hiring an individual will have on an organization of 20 or 2000, to “put his heart in it” to write words like these. I often find that the difference between someone adequate in a position and someone exceptional is not intelligence, it is caring. Obviously you care. Thank you for reminding us what Memorial Day is really for.

    Jaymie Myers

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