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Service & the Ivy League Marines

Below are kids waving at our convoys.  The kids come running out when we drive by.  Sometimes we worry that they will run out in front of the vehicles, but they seem to know better.  I hope that our work here will make their country better in the future than it was in the past.

Kids in Iraq 

The lieutenant told me that before joining the Marine Corps he had been a financial manager for Princeton University’s endowment fund.  He was a Princeton graduate with a high paying job, but he thought that serving with the Marines in Iraq was a more important thing to do right now. 

We have relatively few Ivy League graduates around here.  Although I am taking into account only what I see and do not have actual statistics, most of the Marine officers seem to come from State Universities.  I asked the lieutenant about this and he agreed that his Princeton classmates tended not to join the military or serve in government in general – this despite Princeton’s ostensible position as a training ground for government officials.

Princeton had a high profile fight a couple years back about its Woodrow Wilson School.  The university received a big donation to help the Wilson School develop programs to train future civil servants, but very few Wilson School graduates actually took government jobs.  The donor’s family wanted to rescind the grant.  Princeton won the court case and kept the money but the Wilson School is still turning out lots more investment bankers and international business leaders than civil servants.  Government jobs just cannot compete on salaries and bureaucracies are be difficult places for impatient high achievers.

Below - Marine officers often make very good diplomats

bellon and Iraqis

Service, however, can be very fulfilling.  We have a real community & and sense of mission here in Iraq that it is hard to find other places.  I won’t miss Iraq when I am finished here, but I will miss my colleagues and that feeling of community.  I thought about that a couple days ago when I drove one of my team members to our airport.  On my way back to Camp Ripper, I passed a bus stop and asked if anybody needed a ride down.  This seemed natural.  Others have done that for me, but I don’t think I would do that back home and even if I did, I don’t think many people would accept my offer.

My new friend from Princeton and I also talked about the obvious – that we liked to do something good for our country.  I always liked that aspect of FS work.  Even a mundane task is more fulfilling when you keep that in mind. 

Service does need not entail working for the government or serving in the military.  I think the old idea of a calling is valid.  You should do what you are good at doing and do it well – serving the task, not the master.    That can make any job noble.  I fondly remember Bogdan, our driver in Krakow.  His job was simple but he took such pride in doing his job and doing it right that everyone respected him.  He also observed the people and events around him and I learned a lot from talking with him during our long drives around southern Poland.

The work you do is too important to be something you just do eight hours a day for the money.  I pity the fools who think their jobs are meaningless.  Like everything else, the jobs we do have the meaning we give them.  I know that is easier with some jobs than others, but then I think of Bogdan. 

People used to search for “a calling”, the thing they were supposed to do in order to better serve God.  Whether or not you accept the religious aspect of this, the idea that you should strive to do the work you should do, to be of service – however you define it – to something beyond yourself is a valid idea.  I think it is one of the most important keys to fulfillment and happiness.  We need to live a total life and work is only one part, but it is a big part and we should get that right.

There is a big distinction between pleasure seeking and meaning seeking behaviors.  Too much emphasis on pleasure seeking leads to unhappiness.  Most good things are hard to get and require significant sacrifice.  I will get off the soap box now.

Hadithah from balcony

Above is a view of Hadithah from one of the sheik's houses. Desertscapes just are not my thing.  I think this is pretty, but still too baren for me.

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Then there are us government contractors that get a bad wrap because we get paid so much more than our government counterparts. Honestly, it really isn't much more and a COTR can get rid of us at a moments notice if the budget gets tightened.

I once applied for an entry level position for a budget and finance officer. I figured I should qualify since I work on a federal financial system, even train budget and finance officers. I was rejected. Not sure why but I think it had something to do with the fact that I didn't meet the KSAs exactly - - um, like I don't have a business degree. Ok so I'll just continue making the "big bucks" training budget and finance officers as a contractor.

But you are so right, I think my generation is more concerned with making money than serving the government. Or, they will start out serving the government and then go work for a contractor and make twice as much money.

I love the people who are able to walk away from the high paying job to do something like be a Marine.

I was reading your blog, like I usually do, and was moved by your view (enough to comment!). I agree that work is but a part of a total person's life and feel strongly that you should find some meaning in your work. You are there for an X amount of hours after all.

Recently, a colleague chided me for "being overly happy" at work and said, "That is why it is called work, and not fun." Imagine their shock when when I replied, "I make my work fun and meaningful. Why would I do it otherwise?"

Instead of doing another stint in the military, I find that through this position, I am serving my country in another way - a more fulfilling one that allows me to contribute something of value to my country and the future.

John Matel responds

Thanks for the note. I am glad you are finding meaning.