In this interview with a veteran, an Army finance specialist shares how his experiences and skills in the military propelled him to obtain three advanced college degrees after his military service, which lead him to a secure job with county government.
Q: What is your job title and what industry do you work in? How many years of experience do you have in this field? How would you describe yourself using only three adjectives?
A:I served in the United States Army during the 1970s, having had my basic training at Ft. Ord, not far from Monterey, California. The industry I worked in was in the area of finance, which eventually led to a degree in Economics and two other college degrees. I never actually got involved in finance as a profession in civilian life so my only real experience was during my time in the military. I’d say that I am friendly, loyal and persevering.
Q: What’s your ethnicity and gender? How has it hurt or helped you? If you ever experienced discrimination, how have you responded and what worked best?
A: My ethnicity is Asian America. Has it hurt or helped me? In the military during the 1970s, it helped me mainly because I was stereotyped as an Asian. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing but all my black friends literally all thought I knew karate so I never got hassled. I did experience a couple black versus white fights during basic training but our platoon all graduated on time. As far as civilian work, it is difficult to say one way or the other whether my ethnicity has hurt or helped me. I have been passed up for jobs I was qualified for that were given to other people with less experience and/or education. Although I was stereotyped in the military, I didn’t look at it so much as discrimination but instead a lack of awareness but I was friends with every race and never had a problem with anyone in the military.
Q: How would you describe what you do? What does your work entail? Are there any common misunderstandings you want to correct about what you do?
A: I was a finance specialist and our finance division was responsible for distribution of payroll to the entire American military forces in West Germany, before the Berlin Wall collapsed. Our work was rather mundane and repetitive. Much of our work was filing out payroll forms for soldiers, a lot of filing, and the occasional guard duty for the money vault. One particular event that still remains pretty clear in my memory is that I, along with a handful of other fellow soldiers, once verified $6 million in cash, in newly printed US Treasury ten and twenty dollar bills, all in sequential order. There weren’t any misunderstandings I encountered as a finance specialist.
Q: On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your job satisfaction? What might need to change about your job to unleash your full enthusiasm?
A: On a scale from 1 to 10, my job satisfaction would be 5 and I can’t think of anything that would unleash my full enthusiasm of the job. The era in which I served was when the draft was still in place and although I wouldn’t have been drafted, I enlisted with hopes to see Europe. I was able to do this but I was quite homesick and back then, it would take weeks or longer to get mail whereas nowadays, military personnel have the Internet, email and Skype for communication.
Q: If this job moves your heart – how so? Ever feel like you found your calling or sweet spot in life? If not, what might do it for you?
A: The job did not move my heart because it wasn’t really challenging and seemed boring to me after going through the initial training period. Being in the military definitely was not a calling for me and I can’t think of anything that would change my impression on it.
Q: Is there anything unique about your situation that readers should know when considering your experiences or accomplishments?
A: Despite my mostly critical impression of being in the Army, I am quite proud that I served my country even if it wasn’t in war. The War in Vietnam was still going on and the most important thing that occurred during my time in West Germany was that President Richard Nixon resigned and left office in August of 1974.
Q: How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?
A: How did I get started in this line of work? One of my best friends was contemplating signing up for the Army and then head over to Germany. I decided that this seemed like an interesting idea and signed up, with my own request to be sent to Germany. Although I enjoyed living in Germany for the most part, as I said, I was quite homesick and it would have been nice to be transferred to stateside, like say Hawaii for the remainder of my tour of service.
Q: What did you learn the hard way in this job and what happened specifically that led up to this lesson?
A: The importance of following simple rules during active duty. I had to do latrine duty a few times because I wasn’t following rules and my last big latrine duty involved cleaning a latrine that had probably 20 urinals. I think it is safe to say I learned my lesson after that.
Q: What is the single most important thing you have learned outside of school about the working world?
A: The most important thing I’ve learned outside of school is that the more education you have, the better chance you have to get that coveted job.
Q: What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you in this job?
A: The strangest thing that ever happened to me while I was in the military? Nothing really compares to having an American President resign from office. After all, he was the Commanding Officer and after the truth got out about the Watergate investigations and Nixon’s refusal to admit guilt, it was truly stunning to see the President fly out of Washington DC.
Q: Why do you get up and go to work each day? Can you give an example of something that really made you feel good or proud?
A: Why did I get up and go to work each day? Because all of us were required to be in formation before reporting to work. What really made me proud was knowing that I was in the Army serving our country.
Q: What kind of challenges do you handle and what makes you want to just quit?
A: The challenges of being the military don’t measure up to the challenges of today’s military. There were plenty of instances to want to just quit, primarily because of the absence of my family and friends back home in the United States, thousands of miles away.
Q: How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance? How?
A: My job wasn’t stressful at all although the United States was still at war with North Vietnam and I was able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work life balance by keeping active in sports. I took 3rd place in a US Army Europe handball tournament and was awarded a 3 days vacation.
Q: What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough and/or happy living within your means?
A: I wasn’t paid very much back then but it was more than enough to get by, given that I had a free room and 3 meals a day provided.
Q: How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?
A: I didn’t take too many vacations but was able to visit Munich, Frankfurt and some smaller German towns in the German/Austrian border along with a brief visit to Salzburg, Austria.
Q: What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?
A: The education I had in order to be a finance specialist was Advanced Individual Training (AIT) at Fort Ord for basic business skills and Fort Ben Harrison, Indiana at the US Army Finance School.
Q: What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?
A: I would definitely recommend a friend to consider signing up for active military duty. Despite my relatively uneventful and boring career in the military, I obtained outstanding benefits, which eventually led to my three college degrees and the purchase of my home.
Q: If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?
A: If I were to write my own ticket, what would I be doing in five years? I suppose doing most of what I am doing today. Enjoying a nice retirement pension from a county government job, working out 5 or 6 days a week, eating healthy, freelance writing and enjoying life.