OP-ED: Active-duty stint helps bring home the courage and camaraderie of PR

As a 20-year veteran of the hi-tech PR profession, I thought I had figured it all out. Great job, great company, great pay, great place, great life. As a 26-year veteran of the US Naval Reserve, however, somebody else had other plans.

As a 20-year veteran of the hi-tech PR profession, I thought I had figured it all out. Great job, great company, great pay, great place, great life. As a 26-year veteran of the US Naval Reserve, however, somebody else had other plans.

After the events of September 11, 2001, I was called upon - involuntarily mobilized by Presidential order - to serve 12 months on active duty with the US Navy in support of Operations Noble Eagle and Enduring Freedom. I was assigned to work at the Office of Naval Intelligence in the metro Washington, DC area in various analytical and technical leadership positions - the majority of which are classified. As senior director of PR for Sybase, I had to leave my job, my team, my family, my life - and I was given 48 hours' notice to do it. If I were to capture my experiences on active duty in one word, it would be "humbled." I was humbled by the sheer graveness of the war on terror, the sacrifices of so many, the magnificence of our lifestyle that we take for granted, and the triviality of the day-to-day things we believe are critically important. The most moving aspects for me were the sacrifices so many made. There were daily reminders of those lost on September 11 (including two Sybase employees), those who fell in the line of duty (including Mike Spann, the first US fatality of the war), and the many other reservists who were placed in harm's way. One of the biggest concerns I had while being away was losing touch with my media contacts. Media relations is the lifeblood of PR. It is core to our business and a key to our success as professionals and as corporate representatives. A year away is a lost lifetime in media relations. I was able to communicate intermittently with my media contacts via e-mail, phone calls, and occasional visits during time off, and I kept them apprised of my active-duty status. Ongoing updates to the media were also provided through the tireless efforts of my Sybase PR team. The outpouring of support from the media was underscored by their encouragement and willingness to keep in touch - despite not having an immediate business purpose. When dealing with the fast pace of technology, change is expected, breakthroughs are commonplace, and new products are announced every week. To lose touch is to be left behind. Fearing this, I redoubled my efforts to stay connected. Sybase generously allowed me to keep my laptop computer and connections, and through this I was able to check our website and our intranet site routinely, and I regularly read our internal magazine, as well as our internal Sybase electronic newsletters. As one moment blended into another, I learned the importance of courage, the inner-strength kind that one needs to draw upon in order to do the right things. So many people find it safer to stay silent instead of speaking up - especially to authority. They find it easier to "go along with things," even if they don't agree. They are more likely to ignore an issue, instead of seeking a solution or providing counsel. It takes courage to speak up, to astutely challenge and "push back" intelligently. It takes courage to properly counsel subordinates and respectfully guide superiors. It takes courage to do things differently, be bold and passionate, unwaveringly support a vision, and demand the very best. The best managers and leaders have to be courageous in order to do things the right way. Another lesson I took away is the importance of community. The community - home, work, the Navy - were all there for me, and I was grateful. Returning time and energy to the community is now a priority for me, when in the past it was just an afterthought. It is great to be back, doing what I truly love. I am glad to have directly contributed to the military effort, and to have made a difference at a critical time in our history. I am equally grateful for the opportunity to return home - humbled and schooled in life's lessons - without issue. Those who covered for me while I was gone deserve enormous credit for their work and professionalism, especially my PR team at Sybase and our extended PR team at Citigate Cunningham. Also deserving of thanks are my manager and the executive management team at Sybase, my friends in the media, and all who made a difference for my shipmates and I while we were called to serve our country. One final note: Take nothing for granted, for you don't realize the value of what you have until it is no longer yours.
  • Rick Myllenbeck is senior director of PR at Sybase, and a Lieutenant Commander, United States Naval Reserve.

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