A Nov. 11 Salute: Lessons Shared by Our Veterans

At Freese and Nichols, we have employees who have served in just about every military branch, and we greatly value their service, dedication, sacrifice and experience. We take that background into account, and our policies support staff members who have continuing obligations in the military reserves. For instance, employees in the reserves can take up to two weeks off annually for training duties, with half that paid at full salary.

For this Veterans Day, we asked some of our military veterans to share lessons from their service experience. We hope you enjoy their stories.

Dave Barnett, Senior Recruiter, Fort Worth

U.S. Navy, Active Duty 2003-10, Reserve 2010-13

Dave Barnett joined the Navy to see the world – but he never made it onto a ship.

Inspired by his father’s Navy stories, Dave enlisted during his senior year of high school in Montana and looked forward to having the recruiter show up at his graduation with a giant $30,000 check. That was the amount he eventually would receive through the GI Bill of Rights to fund his college education.

“I wanted to be the guy with the giant check,” he said.

During 10 years of service, Dave did see far beyond Montana:

  • Attending Military Police training in San Antonio
  • Posting to Whidbey Island off the coast of Washington state
  • Guarding detainees at the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba
  • Providing convoy security for troops in Iraq
  • Conducting harbor patrols at Naval Station Everett

This fall, he joined Freese and Nichols as a senior recruiter in Human Resources in the Fort Worth office. And a key part of his role will involve keeping our practices veteran friendly. With his military experience, Dave can help managers identify how job candidates’ service-related skills mesh with our hiring needs.

He also hopes to expand the applicant pool by tapping further into networks our veterans have maintained through their military connections.

“Transitioning from the military to a civilian role can be challenging and scary,” he said. But, he pointed out that engineering, like the military, is project-oriented, with team members leaning on each other’s experience and working toward a common goal.

Serving with people from all different backgrounds and talking with people around the world also helped him develop crucial skills for the workplace, he said. “Being exposed to that at such an early age and throughout my career helped me to develop skills for communicating effectively and understanding cultural differences.”

Bret Calvert, Construction Manager, Lubbock

U.S. Navy, Active Duty 1988-98, Reserve 1998-2009

Deepsea Diver, mixed gas deep diving, Explosive Ordnance Disposal Assistant. Stations: Pearl Harbor Hawaii, 1989-90, Little Creek, Virginia, 1990-94, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, 1995-98, EOD Mobile Unit 12, Charleston, South Carolina, 1998-2009

Served in Operations Desert Shield (Persian Gulf, pre-9/11) and Noble Eagle and Enduring Freedom (post-9/11). Presidentially recalled to active duty in October 2001-December 2002 in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Deployments: The Middle East: Jordan, Bahrain, Israel, Egypt and Eritrea; and Europe: Spain, Italy, United Kingdom and France.

“The key lesson that sticks with me the most is the sense of teamwork and putting the team ahead of myself, coming together as a unit to complete seemingly impossible tasks. Also, the ability to adapt to your surroundings and overcome unforeseen obstacles.”

“My military career has defined who I am today. Every aspect of my home life and professional career is in some way a direct correlation of the values I learned during my time in the military: attention to detail, teamwork, honor, courage and commitment, to name a few.”


Charlie Erwin, Transmission and Utilities, Fort Worth

U.S. Army, 2003-2010

Captain, Infantry officer. Stationed at Fort Benning and Fort Hood. Deployed to Iraq, October 2004-March 2005 and October 2006-January 2008

Lessons: “Take care of your soldiers; train your people to replace their leadership.”

Influence of your service on your career: “Take care of your people. Teach, coach and mentor them while they are under your stewardship.”


Cassie Grady, CAD Designer, San Marcos

U.S. Army, 2001-03

Rank E-3 92-G (cook), stationed at Fort Hood, Texas. I loved my job. I never had the chance to be deployed due to a medical discharge.

“One of the key things that I learned was that you should never take anything for granted.”

The biggest influence on me was my work ethic. I’m now one who will not quit until the job is done, no matter how long and hard it may be. Also, that you can do anything you put your mind to regardless of how hard it might be.”


James Huynh, Systems Administrator, Fort Worth

U.S. Marine Corps, 2002-2013

1st Battalion, 4th Marines, Camp Pendleton, California. I served as an infantry rifleman until I graduated from jump school and became a paratrooper. Served in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004, 2006 and 2009, and Operation Enduring Freedom in 2008 and 2012. Also deployed to Okinawa, Japan, in 2007 and 2012.

“Discipline and self-control are the two primary objectives that we learn in basic training, along with working as one unit and never leaving a Marine behind. We have to stay motivated and focused whether we have a mission to complete, a task to learn, or a meeting to attend. Also, improvisation is key to success and survival since ‘everyone has a plan until you get hit in the mouth,’ which means that you should always have a plan B. Trusting your gut and allowing your training to kick in when things don’t go as planned (which they often don’t) and relying on your fellow Marine to have your back is key.”

“One of the biggest things that I took away from my time in the military was that ‘if you’re early, you’re on time, and if you’re on time, you’re late,’ so I make it my purpose every morning to wake up and get to work in a timely fashion. Also, we’re trained to look for small details in the military, something that I still use, especially in the BT department when we’re troubleshooting issues. Sometimes, solutions are found in the smaller details that have been missed.”


Connie Lein, CRM/Data Manager, Fort Worth

U.S. Navy, December 1994-December 1998

Radioman 3rd Class Petty Officer. Headquartered at AFSOUTH NATO Base in Naples, Italy.

“Believe it or not, I entered the Navy not knowing how to use a computer. By the end of my service, I not only knew how to use a computer, but I helped troubleshoot computer/network issues and helped educate users. It was a journey and one that has helped me throughout my career. It has given me a strong foundation of being resourceful and investigative, which helps me learn and lead systems like Cosential (our system for managing customer relationship data).”


Chris Poteet, Construction Manager, Dallas

U.S. Army, 1996 – 2006

Captain, Combat Engineer. Stationed at Camp Howze, Republic of Korea, 2nd Infantry Division, 1997-98; Fort Carson, Colorado, 4th Infantry Division; Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri (Army training and graduate school at University of Missouri – Rolla, now Missouri S&T University); Fort Bragg, North Carolina, 27th Engineer Battalion/20th Engineer Brigade/18th Airborne Corps. Deployed to Kosovo (former Yugoslavia) for peace-keeping missions, 2001-02, and to Iraq (near Tikrit), 2005-06.

“We were responsible for clearing battlefield obstacles, installing battlefield obstacles and preparing survivable positions for combat. My last assignment was in an airborne unit. Our mission was to parachute onto enemy airfields and do rapid repair/improvement of the airfield to accept friendly reinforcements via aircraft within 36 hours.”

“The military is great about giving a new officer (around 22 years of age) a large amount of responsibility over the training, safety and success of their employees (soldiers) from nearly Day 1. This responsibility is often in an austere environment with high levels of stress, while you rely on those you lead to teach you your craft as you execute it. Some would refer to this as a very short on-ramp. This experience is valuable to use and reference as personal lessons learned throughout your career.”

“Another value of serving in the military is the ‘opportunity’ to engage with all levels of rank, experience and age. The job of a young officer includes working with everyone from 18-year-old soldiers to 50+- year-old generals. Learning the nuances of how those engagements differ would take years to do outside the military environment. It’s a crash course for a 20-something in our familiar activities like ‘Crucial Conversations’ and ‘QBQ’ (The question behind the question). Not to mention navigating so many varied personalities and protocols in such a short time.”

“Finally, the exposure to, knowledge of and execution of both strategic and tactical-level planning is a cornerstone to military leadership. This experience, surprisingly, translates well to what we do at FNI.   Sometimes in the civilian world (yes, two different worlds), it takes a full career to experience these opportunities of such varied interactions in such varied environments. The military serves as a crash course in all of it.”

“The greatest influence I took from the military and apply to my FNI career is the often-overused but extremely accurate saying ‘people first – people always.’ The military is built on people and relationships. Knowing ‘your’ people and building those relationships is paramount to success in the military. The same exists at FNI. Whether it’s our employees, clients or others, the success of our business is built, much like the military, on our ability to build those relationships with people. Both the military and FNI correctly lean on many structures and processes. But those are only as strong and effective as the people within them and the relationships we build.”


Carl Sepulveda, Environmental Scientist, Houston

U.S. Air Force, January 1991-May 2001

Finished as a Captain and as a Bioenvironmental Engineer. Stationed at Ellsworth Air Force Base (South Dakota), Kelly Air Force Base (San Antonio) and Laughlin Air Force Base (Del Rio).

“Alas, I didn’t get selected for several overseas deployments I threw my hat in the ring for: Operation Desert Storm, Taszár, Hungary, and Kunsan, Korea. I was either too green or there were too few slots versus the number of us for my specialty.”

“One: You can do things you had no idea or hoped that you could do when pressed, which several of the emergency response situations taught me. Chief among them was the 1998 Del Rio flood that thrust me into responsibility for testing and declaring water safe to drink – or not – for all of Laughlin AFB and all of the City of Del Rio for weeks on end. I was asked to make big, quick, momentous decisions with little information that forced me and a cohort to apply a lot of ingenuity to the answer. Two: Treat, trust and lead the people you supervise well, and you’ll get much more out of the team than being heavy-handed and uninspiring. I really learned the value of that at my last base with the superb staff I managed, from the NCOs to the Junior Airmen, who lifted me to perform more than I did them, it seemed like.”

“My service taught me the military adage of ‘Semper Gumby,’ which means stay flexible (based on the old stick-of-gum Claymation cartoon character). It instilled in me that you’re going to be thrust into situations you may not be the complete expert on, or that may be only a little inside or completely outside of your wheelhouse, but you’re ‘next up’ to get the job done. That’s served me well in accepting new roles and new challenges, and good leadership and direction will be universal across disciplines.”


Jonathan Theodore, Construction Manager, Raleigh

U.S. Marine Corps, 2002-05: Infantry rifleman, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Final rank Lance Corporal.

U.S. Army, 2005-16: Airborne Artilleryman, 2nd Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 2005-14; 2nd Battalion, 377th Parachute Field Artillery Regiment, Fort Richardson, Alaska, 2014-16. Final rank Sergeant First Class.

Deployed four times: Iraq, March-April 2003, March-October 2004 and December 2006-April 2008, and for Operation Unified Response in Haiti, January-March 2010.

“A key lesson that I took away from the military would be that overcoming obstacles is never unachievable. The main thing you learn through time in the service is that things in life will always be a roller coaster. Times will get tough; however, it’s how you overcome them that will shape your life moving forward. With all of the loss I have seen and endured, I learned to transition from someone who was in the pack or the group, so to speak, to becoming more mentally strong and transitioning to a leader for those around me. I had to learn to adapt and show mental toughness in order for those around me and underneath me to see that, no matter what adversity you may have in front of you, you must always push on and overcome. With the will to fight, you can always come out on top.”

“My service has absolutely influenced my professional career. It taught me how to interact with people — all different types of people. Having had the opportunity to serve in many different leadership roles through the years has taught me how to communicate effectively and deal with challenging people and situations. It has helped me learn how to navigate difficult situations and interactions on a daily basis while still finding ways to accomplish goals and maintain great relationships with not only other members of FNI, but also clients and contractors.”


Craig Wells, Account Director, Tampa

U.S. Navy, Active Duty, October 1982-October 1988, Reserve October 1988-August 1993.

Machinist Mate 1st Class (E-6). Duties included Engineering Officer of the Watch while at sea, and Engineering Duty Officer while in port. Graduated from the U.S Navy Nuclear Power School and qualified as a nuclear mechanical operator on prototype A1W.

Primarily stationed in Yokosuka, Japan, aboard the USS Francis Hammond (FF-1067). We were often deployed to the Gulf on ship guard duty, sailing off the coast of the Soviet Union collecting intelligence. Visited South Korea, Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Sri Lanka, various ports in Japan, Pakistan, UAE, Bahrain and the Philippines.

“My military service taught me to work as part of a team under stressful circumstances, and that has served me very well in civilian life. As we were frequently at sea working up to 20 hours a day for weeks on end — my longest at-sea deployment was 133 days between ports — I learned that I was capable of much, much more than I had imagined. This lesson has served me well during my career and at FNI.”

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