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Saluting the dedicated

Over this past year, as we've realized our collective economic stability is anything but, more and more people want work with some larger purpose, often involving service. More citizens are volunteering for political campaigns, and, whether it be by design or circumstance, they are using their free time to work in their communities for the greater good.

At The White House Project, our own trainings for women who want to run for political office have been consistently full, with over 100 women in the room and waiting lists of 50 or more. Women and men are seeing positions in the not-for-profit realm as not only a new opportunity to fill their time, but an opportunity to work and lead for a purpose bigger than earning a salary.

For many of our citizens, a career in the military has been a means to get an education, find stable employment and give back to country. Men and women have enlisted in the military knowing that their commitment to service is also a commitment to give their lives. Not many of us reading this today can say we agreed to such a condition when signing up for the jobs we now hold. Our soldiers are put in harm's way in conflicts overseas from the moment their boots hit the ground. What we don't expect is that these dangers follow them onto the bases within our borders, as we saw last week at Fort Hood.

And the wars we have asked our soldiers to fight are conflicts where the lines between combatant and civilian are blurred at best and obliterated at worst; the casualties of war used to be 5% civilian and are now 90% civilian. It is no wonder that their leader and Commander-in-Chief, President Obama, is taking his time in deciding the course of these conflicts. As citizens we can lobby him and hope he thinks well, and send our thoughts of all of our service men and women at this time of suffering.

The White House Project worked and trained on international security issues for a few years, and one of the take-aways from that work was the understanding that there exists an enormous and long-term trust for the military in this country. The military has traditionally been a male field, and the officers in the top ranks are invested with extreme authority both from within the ranks and from the civilian population.

What struck me on my first visit to meet then three-star General Claudia Kennedy at the Pentagon was the institutionalized, formal representations of this respect that is given to our military leaders and that is demonstrated with each encounter (Gen. Kennedy was saluted over and over again as we traversed the halls of the Pentagon, for example). This respect is born out of a reverence for the duties they undertake are and the service that they give, often service unto death. Our military leaders must remain nonpartisan, and this reinforces their selfless service, to our nation and not to a certain administration or political party. This further bolsters the respect that our citizens have for our military officers, especially when we consistently see them on television and read about them in the newspapers as they help our country wade through two wars.

In my work at The White House Project, I have taken lessons from our military leaders and applied them to our trainings. For women in leadership it's definitely about how we authorize each other, since there are few salutes and no flags. And for all of us, it's about how deeply we value people in authority who are there to serve the higher good. When we honor and respect our soldiers, we are honoring the best in humanity: selflessness and dedication to a greater good. When we lead in our own civilian endeavors at work, it bodes well to try to recognize a staff member or team that exhibits a dedication to the work and to honor those positive qualities with the equivalent of a salute.

By Marie Wilson

 |  November 9, 2009; 12:00 PM ET
Category:  Military Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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