During almost 29 years of active duty, United States Army veteran Robert McLaughlin was to hot spots in the Middle Asia and Europe before becoming garrison commander at Fort Carson in 2009.
After his retirement with the rank of colonel in 2014, McLaughlin helped establish and became executive director of the Mt. Carmel Veterans Service Center, which empowers active-duty military, veterans and their families through behavioral health and employment services as well as resources such as financial coaching, housing, food aid and educational programs.
Terrance McWilliams served in the US Army from 1977-2007, achieving the rank of command sergeant major and serving for five years as the senior enlisted leader of Fort Carson.
McWilliams continues to serve the military and the community in his position as senior vice president for military and affairs at the El Pomar veteran Foundation.
Lisa Bachman entered the US Air Force at the age of 17, hoping to earn a college degree.
Through her service, Bachman not only earned her degree and embarked upon a career in public relations, but became a community leader. Today, as head of Bachman PR, she handles public communications for high-profile clients including the Colorado Department of Transportation, Robson Arena and Weidner Stadium, and the Pikes Peak Summit Complex, as well as several infrastructure projects for the city of Colorado Springs and El Paso County.
McLaughlin, McWilliams and Bachman credit their military service with instilling in them the skills to be successful leaders, and those abilities have served them well in their post-service careers.
VISION AND VALUES
During his deployments to places like Iraq, Africa and the Balkans, and a tour as chief of staff of US forces in Afghanistan, McLaughlin said he “has seen human beings at their best and their worst.”
After his deployment as a task force commander in Iraq, he saw the impact of combat not just on wounded soldiers but upon their families as well.
“I watched families be destroyed, lives be destroyed,” he said. “I became very interested as to how we can do better to help these troops out.”
When he became garrison commander at Fort Carson in 2009, McLaughlin instituted a series of programs and services to help family members and troops, including mobile behavioral health teams and the Soldier Family Assistance Center for wounded warriors.
He built mobile behavioral health teams to work directly with troops who were struggling.
“I personally dealt with the Families of the Fallen and Gold Star families,” he said.
All of this was the precursor to Mt. Carmel, although McLaughlin didn’t conceive of that organization until he met and became friends with Jay Cimino, president and CEO of Phil Long Dealerships and civic leader who has been active in assisting veterans.
When he returned to Colorado Springs after his last deployment, “Jay asked me what I was going to do and if I would be willing to jump into this adventure with him to help veterans,” McLaughlin said.
Mt. Carmel opened in 2014 “with the shell of a building and an idea,” he said. Since then, the center has served more than 11,500 individual clients.
McLaughlin said the service instilled basic values from the time he was a young lieutenant: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage, which form the acronym LDRSHIP. For members of the military, those values carry over into their civilian lives.
“What I’ve learned as a leader is, if you embody those values and ensure that people aspire to do those things, you will be successful,” he said. “I clearly believe in leading from the front — never ask anyone to do anything that you wouldn’t do. I’ve always tried to do that in any situation.”
At Mt. Carmel, McLaughlin said, five key steps constitute the leadership journey: vision, challenge, communication, align and execute.
“Everything starts with a vision,” he said. “If a commander can’t communicate his vision or his intent, you’re already in a bad situation — and if a leader can’t be challenged, that person’s not going to gain alignment. Good leaders allow for challenge. And in any organization, if you’re not aligned from top to bottom, then the mission is not going to get accomplished with an A-plus.”
On the field of battle, “you’d better be aligned, or lives will be lost,” McLaughlin said. “It’s a little bit more challenging when not so much is at stake.”
reference, “you’ve got to inspire people to follow orders and instructions through unity and in living those values,” he said. “You’ve got to make sure they understand the vision, that they have a chance to be heard, that everybody’s effectively communicated with and that everyone’s aligned, and you go out and execute.
“Having the right vision and inspiring loyalty and camaraderie — those are the kind of things that somebody in business can learn from the military.”
LEADING BY EXAMPLE
McWilliams served in Europe during the Cold War years and on numerous domestic posts. As command sergeant major of Fort Carson, McWilliams was responsible for the health, welfare and training of 24,000 soldiers, and provided counsel to the base’s commanding general on their needs.
“Leaders are not born; they’re developed,” he said. “Through that development process, leaders truly come forward in the art of influencing others to accomplish the mission without any hesitation.”
McWilliams said his service provided him with continuous leadership development, especially through mentorship.
“A mentor I hold in high regard and always refer back to was Gene McKinney,” McWilliams said. “He was the 10th sergeant major of the Army — the highest ranking noncommissioned position and the first Black soldier to reach that rank. As a young soldier, he wrapped his arm around my shoulder and gave me good, strong counsel, which I took to heart.”
One of the biggest leadership lessons he learned was that “it’s not about you,” McWilliams said. “You have to set a positive example — lead by example, to gain the trust of those beneath you to accomplish the mission. You have to be an understanding leader, a caring leader, a leader that motivates, educates and develops subordinates for the well-being of the organization.”
One of the most important characteristics a leader must possess is “strong integrity and individual character” — an attribute that is crucial not only in the military but in civilian and personal life as well, he said.
McWilliams also regards the ability to listen and to communicate as important leadership attributes that are developed over time and stem from treating people with dignity and respect.
Gen. George Patton, who commanded the 7th US Army during World War II, is revered as a leader, “but he led by fear,” McWilliams said.
That can produce teams who “are hesitant in their own abilities,” he said. Effective leaders lead from a position of confidence, not intimidation, and instill self-confidence in their teams, he said.
McWilliams serves today as a liaison between the military and El Pomar Foundation. Although he is a team of one, he works closely with the entire staff at El Pomar to achieve the organization’s goals of providing services and support for the people of Colorado.
Leadership development, he said, “never stops. You’re constantly learning and growing as a leader so you can be more effective in achieving the overall goals of your organization.”
CHARACTER AND ETHICS
Bachman had hoped to join the Air Force’s public affairs career field but found that there were no openings. In 1975, determined that things would work out, she entered the service anyway — with an undeclared career field.
“On my second or third day of basic training, they saw me snap to attention and do the things I was supposed to do, and they made me a squad leader.”
Bachman’s success leading her squad soon landed her in her desired career field. She was chosen to fill the next public affairs opening. After basic, she went to the Defense Information School, then located at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis, Indiana, where she received leadership training and graduated at the top of her class in 1976.
She was scheduled to go to Andrews Air Force Base, but the US Air Force Academy had taken notice and offered her a position as media liaison for the first three classes of female cadets. She jumped at the chance.
“My job was to chronicle the women lieutenants brought in from around the Air Force to serve as surrogate upperclassmen to the women cadets,” she said.
Bachmandenberg worked in public affairs at Van Air Force Base, handling connected media briefings and with testing and launches of the space space.
She left the Air Force after getting married, and earned a bachelor’s degree in communications and public relations from Wright State University.
After she and her husband at the time moved to the Johnson Space Center in Texas, she founded a PR firm and for 10 years served clients including NASA and aerospace companies. Returning to Colorado Springs in 1994, she worked as vice president of PR at PRACO (now Vladimir Jones Integrated Marketing) for 14 years before opening Bachman PR in 2009.
Bachman said she learned about leadership throughout her military service.
“They start training you to be a leader from day one,” she said. “You are taught to take action on strategic and critical thinking — that is constant in the military. Being in public affairs, I had constant training on crisis response. You learn to make a plan, you learn to work the plan, but you also learn how to be flexible and have resilience.”
Service also helps develop self-awareness, emotional intelligence, self-discipline and accountability, she said.
“You learn character — to have a personal code of ethics and a professional code of ethics,” she said. “The military teaches you that you wear the uniform 24/7. Whether you’re on duty or off duty, you’re representing the organization that you are associated with.”
On volunteer committees or professional work projects, “you know what your role is and perform it well,” she said. “Give everybody the opportunity to play to their strengths, and your team will rise to the occasion. Those are things that I learned in the military that you get to apply every single day.”