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The Boss Goes to Bosnia

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 8, 2000 – About this time last year, Army 1st Lt. Craig Yarbrough got caught between a rock and a hard place. When the National Guard called him up for nine months' active reserve duty in Bosnia, his civilian boss objected.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Mark Brinkman (left), president of Brinkman Technologies Inc., in Carrollton, Texas, and Army 1st Lt. Craig Yarbrough, a member of the Texas Army National Guard, pose after meeting in Bosnia. Brinkman, Yarbrough's civilian boss, traveled to the Balkans in July to see firsthand what it means for members of the reserve components to deploy in support of the total force. Photo by 49AD PAO.

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

What began as a personal job crisis for Yarbrough ended up producing strong employer support for the National Guard and reserve components. Yarbrough's dilemma turned into a win-win situation for his employer, Brinkman Technologies Inc., of Carrollton, Texas, and the Texas Army National Guard.

The citizen-soldier and his boss, Mark Brinkman, company president and chief executive officer, told their story in early October. They addressed about 250 corporate executives at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce conference designed to promote partnerships between the military and corporate America.

It wasn't that Yarbrough didn't want to go to Bosnia, he explained. He'd been called up for duty many times during his 13 years with the high-tech company. He'd served in Honduras, Germany, and Italy with extended deployments during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. In all, he'd spent more then two years away from the job serving Uncle Sam.

But this time, Brinkman objected to losing a division vice president for such a long period. Yarbrough, an e-commerce specialist, managed a $2.4 billion project involving 170 international American schools in more than 130 countries. His absence would have a significant impact on the company.

Brinkman appealed to Yarbrough's commander. The CEO wrote saying he would support Yarbrough's deployment if the lieutenant were "an essential element to the success of Task Force Eagle." If he wasn't mission essential, Brinkman proposed, perhaps the command could send someone else or reduce Yarbrough's tour.

No can do, responded Army Brig. Gen. Robert L. Halverson commander of the Texas National Guard's 49th Armored Division. (Halverson has since been promoted to major general.) The 49th was designated to command Multinational Division North, he said, and Yarbrough was being mobilized and deployed under a Presidential Selective Reserve Call- Up.

By law, employers must hold employees' jobs when reserve component personnel are involuntarily called to active duty.

Halverson noted that the Bosnia mission would be the first time since the Korean War that a reserve component command had been given responsibility for active-duty combat forces. The deployment represented "a significant opportunity for the 49th Armored Division to validate the competency and value of the reserve component in the overall defense strategy of the United States."

Because of his civilian and military experience in negotiating and managing contracts and in working internationally, Yarbrough was tagged to be the mission's commercial services officer. The lieutenant was important to the success of the deployment, the general wrote, adding, "it would be virtually impossible to get another individual through all of the certification training at this late date."

Yarbrough packed his gear and set off for Bosnia. Brinkman Technologies provided the Texans with video teleconferencing equipment so they could keep in touch with their families and employers. In return for his support, Yarbrough later invited Brinkman to visit Bosnia to see firsthand what it means to be a member of the nation's reserve forces.

Employer support committees throughout the United States sponsor programs to promote understanding between employers and the military. "Briefings with the Boss" provide an informal forum for communication between employers and commanders, and "Bosslifts" transport employers and supervisors to active duty sites to show them what their reserve component members do while they're away from their civilian jobs.

"When I got the invitation to make the trip to Bosnia," Brinkman recalled, "I've got to tell you, it was not on my summer plans for a vacation spot.

Even though he confessed to having a lot of misgivings about the trip, Brinkman said he knew he had to go. Shortly before he left, he talked with family members who came to BTI to make a video call. They thought he was "extremely lucky" to be Bosnia bound.

"I've got to tell you, 'lucky' wasn't one of the words I was thinking about. But I realized I was lucky to get the opportunity to learn about what Craig does on his deployments and also, I was very excited to be able to go over there and support the troops."

Arriving in the Balkans, he said, one of the first sights to impress the CEO was the fact that the troops were armed. "Seeing people carrying guns is not something I'm used to in Carrollton, Texas."

The first day, Brinkman clambered aboard a helicopter to tour Kula Grad, Zvornik, Poto Cari and Srebrenica in Bosnia. In some areas, he said, 80 percent of the homes had their roofs blown off and windows blown out.

He heard that when the Serbs ran out of explosives to blow up homes, they set a lit candle in the middle of the house, shut the doors and windows and turned on the gas. "That was quite upsetting knowing that people went through that," he recalled.

"Once we got on the ground, driving through the neighborhoods -- actually walking the streets, what was even more upsetting was seeing that people were living in those homes with no roofs and no windows. It was quite an eye opener."

He also visited mass graves sites. "Seeing actual human bones in peoples’ backyards. Seeing children's shoes amongst the bones. Seeing the backs of the homes pockmarked with bullet holes where they executed people. It was very moving and upsetting."

During the 3-day visit, Yarbrough treated Brinkman to several five-mile runs that start the reservist’s day at 5 a.m. He sat through mine awareness training, declaring it "quite sobering" to learn that the "UXO" signs along the Eagle Base jogging trails mean "unexploded ordnance."

On July 4, the Texas Army National Guard band that had traveled to Bosnia with him played at an Eagle Base park.

"It was kind of like small town USA," he said. "When they played the national anthem, there were soldiers from all over the world, standing up, and I've got to tell you, my knees went weak when I saw soldiers from different countries saluting our flag. It was an amazing moment for me, realizing how far this world has come in the past ten to 15 years. I'll never forget that as long as I live.

He came home with a new perspective. "I felt a little guilty for having written that letter to Gen. Halverson," he said. "At the time, I knew what our corporate needs were, but I didn't have the knowledge base, or the understanding of what the military mission was. I got that in Bosnia."

He put his thoughts on paper when he wrote a letter after the trip to Col. Tony Harriman, the commander of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. "What you and all the troops are providing to the world with your presence in Bosnia will have an effect on the world for generations to come," he wrote in a letter after the trip.

"Just think of the thousands of children growing up in Bosnia today who will not have to live through what their parents did," Brinkman stated. "They will grow up knowing how to live in peace and with the knowledge that individuals from around the world, like you, gave of themselves to give them this gift."

The skills reserve component personnel develop and the personal growth experienced by being deployed in Bosnia is carried back into civilian life, the CEO noted. "What you learn about yourself and the world during your deployment will make you a stronger leader and teacher for your family, your employer and anyone you come in contact with," he wrote.

Wrapping up his address to his counterparts at the Washington conference, Brinkman said being in the National Guard or Reserve requires people to demonstrate a high level of dedication to both military and civilian professions.

"They must continually work within two separate schedules and maintain a level of organization that most people don't have to consider," he continued. "To compound these difficulties, some of these men and women must deal with a negative corporate attitude, an attitude that exemplifies a lack of importance and concern toward their National Guard duties. I find it ironic that some companies don't support the very thing -- the military -- that provides them with the freedom to grow and prosper."

Brinkman said the Guard and Reserve members he knows don't watch a clock to determine when their day is over. "They know their day is over when their job is finished. … They don't wait for others to make their decisions on how to perform their duties; they lead others and show them the way."

Overall, BTI has benefited from Yarbrough's military training and deployments, Brinkman said. "The personal growth, knowledge and perspectives he has obtained from his travels around the world and his experience living in and around different cultures has allowed him to give insight and to become a mentor to others within the company," the CEO said.

"It is my experience that the more we do for Craig to allow him to excel in his duties within the National Guard, the better teammate we receive when he returns," Brinkman continued. By sharing his time with the military, the BTI employee "becomes a stronger leader with an extremely well- rounded knowledge base, which enables him to get the job done. As a corporate CEO, I don't believe I can ask for anything more."

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Related Sites:
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs Web site
The National Guard Web site

Related Articles:
AFPS News Article: Reserve Callups Benefit Total Force, Employers
AFPS News Article: Pentagon Salutes Outstanding Employers
AFPS News Article: Support Committee Links Reserves, Employers

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