November 11, 2020, Transcript from speech by Hingham resident, Senior Master Sergeant, Michelle A. Larned, USAF.
This speech was originally given in the Hingham Veterans Services Veterans Day observation service. The full ceremony can be viewed here courtesy of Harbor Media: https://vimeo.com/477249223
Remarks by Senior Master Sergeant, Michelle A. Larned, USAF:
Thank you to the Hingham Veterans Council for inviting me to speak this Veteran’s Day. When I was asked to consider speaking, I confirmed immediately and then had a moment of panic. What do I have to offer to meet this level of attention? What story can I tell? Does it matter to anyone?
As soon as I was done with the self-depreciating thoughts, I figured that I’ll just tell you my story and add in some of the most important lessons I have learned in my 21 years and counting of service.
Both of my parents were in the Air Force and got out before I understood what it means to be a military brat. I say that because I didn’t grow up thinking about a military career or it ever being a consideration for me. I was going to be a doctor. I was going to help people. I did ok in High School and eventually found myself in college. It didn’t go well, and I was ultimately academically suspended. My heart was broken, and my dreams were crushed. It was becoming clear that the road to becoming a doctor was paved with barricades, many of my own making.
Around the time this was occurring, my younger sister was enlisting in the Air Force. I went on a tour with her of the MacDill AFB in Tampa. I had always loved aircraft and remember being a kid and watching the planes fly overhead. During this trip, her recruiter and I spoke about my hopes and dreams. He recommended I consider joining the Air Force Reserve. He has a position as an Aeromedical Evacuation technician which would give me some medical training and allow me to be qualified as flight crew on Cargo aircraft. My job would be to transport wounded soldiers to the next point of definitive care. In my 19-year-old brain, this was the perfect way for me to get back on track to be a doctor. I could prove to the medical schools that though I screwed up, I changed and corrected course.
The funny thing about life though, is that it doesn’t always go the way you plan.
I went to basic training and tech school and performed well. I came back home to my unit in Tampa and was faced with another challenge. My mom had relocated from my Home of Record I didn’t have anywhere to live. Luckily a Lt Col from my unit helped me get into dorm on base. The was the beginning of impactful leadership that I saw in in the military. Now what I didn’t mention, is that I left for basic training in September of 1999. By the time I was fully trained almost 2 years later, September 11th changed all of our lives. By March of 2002, I was deployed to Afghanistan. I was 23.
I needed leadership. Impactful leadership. Leadership is can be impactful both positively and negatively. I learned as much from the good leaders in my career, as I did from the bad ones. Leadership is about both action and attitude.
When I was in Afghanistan, I was faced with a leader who I didn’t feel I could trust. He made questionable decisions that risked the safety of himself those around him. He also was my supervisor back home. He continually gave me low scores on performance reports without giving me ways that I could improve or how I could achieve the top score. It is so important as a leader to GIVE SPECIFIC FEEDBACK. If you are a leader, your goal is to teach and grow your people. Be willing to give concrete examples of what it takes to move to the next level.
I don’t remember where I learned this, but it has been my mantra for at least the past 10 years. YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE IN A LEADERSHIP POSITION TO LEAD. Model the behavior you know is right. The behavior you expect to see in your colleagues and even in your leaders. This means wearing your uniform correctly, and not cutting corners. Don’t try and get away with things. Integrity is what you do when no one is looking, or you know you won’t get caught. Show up early, with a pen and an open mind. Be positive and engage in self-care when you feel challenged to do so. Include everyone. People feeling excluded is a huge hit to morale in a unit or in an office. Get help when you need it and don’t be afraid to share your experiences.
As I mentioned early on, my goal was to be a doctor. Well,
After my vacation to the sandbox, I went back to work as a restaurant manager and continued to work my way through school. I decided that being a doctor wasn’t for me and switched my major to business. I was deployed again in 2005 to Qatar, which pushed my timeline of obtaining a degree back even further. I switched back and forth between part time and full time while going on multiple TDY’s with my unit to support our mission. I was deployed again in 2009 to Afghanistan, supported the Haiti earthquake in early 2010 and was deployed to Iraq over the summer of 2010. I managed to squeeze in a degree in business in between Haiti and Iraq-it was important to me that I left knowing that I had achieved that milestone. I’m glad that I did, because this deployment was very difficult and though likely the impact has been cumulative, this one is the one that has impacted me years after.
I also started a new degree in social work and managed to get the classes needed to graduate with a Bachelor’s in Social Work in 2011. I was accepted into the advanced standing program and obtained my master’s in social work in 2012.
What I realized is that my dream to be a doctor was rooted in a desire to lead and to make change. I found a new way to do that by becoming a social worker. I get to do that every time I put on my uniform as a Senior NCO. I continue to try to make change by finding purpose and connection. Glennon Doyle says something in her book Untamed that I keep on a sticky note on my desk. “We all want purpose and connection. Tell me what breaks your heart and I’ll point you to both.”
Michelle's biography and more information about the Hingham Veterans Services' Veterans Day Observance Ceremony can be found here: