By Mary B. GrimesMay 12, 2014
There's no reaction quite like the one we have when we realize that someone we thought we knew, we really didn't know at all. The truth is, sometimes it takes an event or an action to make us realize that the guy standing next to us isn't just a guy, but that he is so much more. He is more times than not the guy who has made a contribution-- whether big or small, that has in some way had an impact on us. He is the guy who has made a difference.
One such person who falls into this category is Milton L. "Pete" Peterson, Director, Human Resources, U.S. Army Garrison Daegu. For more than 40 years, Peterson has placed himself in the line of service --first as a U.S. Army Soldier, and later as a Department of Defense (DoD) civilian. Now, after a long and successful career, the former Nebraska native will soon be exiting federal service for some well earned and deserved down time.
For Peterson, the road to leisure has been filled with challenges and opportunities that have been nothing short of unforgettable since his early days as a Soldier, and his first assignment to the Defense Language School for Korean language. That training would eventually lead him to an assignment with the 226th Operations Company, Kanghwa Island (DMZ). Looking back on his time in uniform, Peterson spoke candidly of experiences he believes played an important role in shaping his future.
"In 1972 I worked for a Warrant Officer that had superb writing skills. His mentorship molded my abilities that I later used in writing regulations and correspondence," he said. "From 2003 to 2008, I was tasked to brief most Officer Promotion Boards on the Officer Evaluation Systems. Knowing that my brief was an integral part of the future of the Army was a large responsibility, and gave me the satisfaction of knowing that what I did there and anywhere else -- made a difference."
The ability to make a difference isn't something that Peterson would claim he's been able to do on his own, and he doesn't hesitate in acknowledging those who have helped him reach this point in his life.
"As noted before, the warrant officer that mentored me to improve my writing skills, definitely helped me advance in various positions. This skill has followed and helped me for the past 40 plus years. I would also add that meeting Lt. Gen. Tim Maude when he was a Major, had a positive impact on my life as a Soldier. His sincere care of all Soldiers reminded me that this life is not a 'me' experience."
Peterson continues to hold on to many of the things he learned over the years. Something dear to his heart is the subject of good leadership.
"A leader cares for everyone they meet every day. A leader is in the front working the hardest and showing that good hard work will be rewarded by promotions. A leader makes those tough decisions even when they are not popular, and is not afraid to tell the boss that bosses can be wrong also."
It comes as no surprise that Peterson has, over the years, seen tremendous changes in the workplace and beyond. In addressing technology and its advancements he appeared to embrace the change and improvements. He said that in the personnel business, the changes allow leaders to have a clearer picture of the units they lead. Even so, it was for him, the phasing out of the Military Personnel Records Jacket (MPRJ) that he met with a bit of sadness.
"It was a good idea to do away with the records clerk that maintained the local MPRJ. Yet, it was a personal touch for the Soldier and unit leadership. Your history was in that folder. Yes, with the new updatable system online, the same information exists. But walking into an office on post and seeing a folder with all your information just seemed to be more personal."
Life around the unit or the office isn't all that Peterson recalls. He spoke of things of a historic nature that he said he will never forget.
"My generation remembers where they were the day John F. Kennedy died. That event and the entire weekend is molded in my mind. From the President's death, to Oswald's death, and the funeral of a young president --the memories are forever molded in my mind. For the generation before me it was the attack on Pearl Harbor. For the current generation it is 9-1-1," he said.
It will be that current generation that will eventually step up to fill the shoes of men like Peterson who have served their country in the most honorable way, but will soon retire.
"This journey has definitely been worthwhile. Anytime we can honestly say that we took care of a Soldier or civilian --we took care of a human being. We had some impact on the person and probably their family. As with the Garrison motto - you made a difference."
Peterson finally touched on a couple of life-changing and heartfelt topics.
"Obviously, marrying my wife of over 44 years was the smartest thing I ever did," he said. "The partnership and love we have shared has been an awesome journey. The other thing I think was smart was first getting out of the Army and then returning. Getting out gave me a chance to prove to myself that I could make it on the outside. Still I missed the Army, and serving our nation. I knew when I came back that I had made a great decision and would stick around for 20 years.
"Not all of the assignments were awesome. Moving to Ft. Stewart, Ga. as the 24th Infantry Division grew from nothing, was tough. The work was hard, but I learned. The local community was not sure if we were staying. It was not easy for a family to be there with my working long hours and, yet, living in a community that wasn't sure if they should accept us or not. During this time, my wife was always there at the end of a long day, and never complained about the neighborhood. As I look back, it wasn't easy; but it enhanced my Soldier skills and made me a better leader."
Understanding that it would have been impossible to make the 40 year journey on his own, Peterson spoke of how his faith played such an integral part in all that he has done.
"I definitely consider myself to be a man of faith. Over the years, I have always said that God has me where I need to be -- when I need to be there. So, when times get tough, my thoughts are always don't worry -- God has a plan. He's in charge. He knows why I am here or leaving here. Sometimes we don't immediately know the why; but trusting in God has taught me to wait to learn the why."