Straight Arrow

A few years ago I was interviewed and hired by the company I now work for.  I am not allowed to talk in detail about the company.  Suffice it to say, though, that I work with Professional Engineers (PEs) in a major industry.  Bill is the man who read my resume and sought me out for a position in the company.  It was on an ice-cold Friday one day in January 2007 that I was interviewed by him. During the first minutes of the interview I learned that Bill had served in the military – 101st Airborne,U.S. Paratrooper Division – – The Screaming Eagles, in Viet Nam, 1968.

I wasn’t sure why he told me his background during my interview.  He certainly had a right to be proud about his service.  Perhaps he wanted me to know who I was dealing with – a no-nonsense, disciplined kind of guy whose word was his bond. He was completely kind, overly polite and very desirous that I was being dealt with properly by the people interviewing me.  That day I was interviewed by five other people besides Bill.  Later, in the afternoon, Bill began gently pushing me to decide in favor of working there.  This was a surprise to me in that I didn’t think I would walk in and get a job that quickly, especially at a company that was so professional and technical. My previous jobs were with small companies.  These companies often moved slowly when choosing someone to hire, being very careful of every nickel and dime spent.

I liked Bill’s demeanor, his history of service in the military and his quiet gentle way that hid his strength. I also liked the fact that Bill had worked at this company for thirty-some years.  That meant something to me. I had cycled through many different jobs in the manufacturing industry due to the industry’s dependence on the up and down economy. I shook hands with Bill at 3:00 pm that day. I had agreed to work for him at this company.  I intuitively knew that he could be trusted to do right by me.  He was not like those in the past who had used me to just balance their books.

Over the course of the last few years Bill has directed our design group meetings.  He has reviewed me annually and has given me raises. He has been involved in most of the design review meetings that I have been involved in. Bill held everyone strictly accountable to the standards that our company had developed over the years.  In our industry, high standards and accountability are paramount to staying in the select stream of business offered by our clients. Bill made sure that each of us adhered to those standards on each and every project.  He made sure that our “deliverables” matched the high quality standards set by the company.

During the first year of my work with Bill, Bill held a “Boot Camp”.  He had developed a set of classes to give us an overview of the subject matter behind our daily tasks.  The camp was informative and again, matching Bill’s character gently pushed each one to a better understanding of our company’s work at hand and to be better people. 

Recently a retirement party was held by our company for Bill.  Bill decided it was time to go home and stay home.  His wife has been dealing with two cancers.  Bill needed to be with her on this battlefront.

Here are some of the reflections written out in Bill’s “Farewell Notice” to his team members:

“Th(e) boot camp was intended to teach you technical skills, to be a team player, focus your attention to details, to understand how to use verified design inputs and to be accountable for your actions – but it was also to show you how to be Respectful with each other.

As the time for me grows near for me to pick up my gear and head out, one phrase that I picked up from the years past is one that I may have used in conversation with you.

The phrase is that I am being a straight arrow with you.

The meaning of this phrase has had a deep and everlasting impact on me and for the person I hoped to be.

The meaning is of Trust, Loyalty and respect for each other.”

Bill went on to talk about his military experience in Viet Nam with the 101st Airborne,U.S. Paratrooper Division known as the Screaming Eagles. This happened in 1968.

Bill served in Viet Nam for thirteen months “where I lived in mountain caves in the Central Highlands with my unit.”  He shared the cave “with one of our allies who were Viet Nam native mountain soldiers who carried cross bows and wore their native clothes.”

It was in a cave on evening where Bill first heard the phrase “Straight Arrow”, from the lead scout of these mountain fighters. A relationship of trust developed – he had Bill’s back and Bill had his.  In broken English, French accents and many hand gestures, the scout explained what he meant by “Straight Arrow” – “a straight arrow is good (trusted) and a bent arrow is not…if you try to bend a straight arrow, even a little, it can never fly straight again and eventually this arrow, if bent too many times, will become a broken arrow that will not fly at all.”

Bill:  “This message came to me from this Loyal friend one evening in a cave so many years ago…I took this message to mean that we needed to be straight with each other to co-exist.”

“I believe, by straight, that he meant we should be there for each other – something I have carried with me as a way of life.”

“My hope is that I have always been a straight arrow with you and that you will always be a straight arrow with each other.”

Much more could be written coming out of Bill’s Farewell Notice to the company and out of his example set before me during my time with him.  He now wants to do the right thing by his wife. He wanted to be there for her during this enormously difficult time.  As he said, “I chose to do the right thing.”

My time of knowing Bill, from my interview to his farewell party just a few weeks ago afforded me the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to “serve” with a man who is honorable, honest, decent and trustworthy – a gentle giant of a man.  My quiver is now becoming full with “Straight Arrow” choices of my own.

© Sally Paradise, 2011, All Rights Reserved

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