David's Top JCOC Experiences, No. 1: Talking With the Troops

By Markets Fool.com

The Joint Civilian Orientation Conference is designed to give non-military members a deeperunderstanding of what the U.S. Armed Forcesdo and what they are -- their capabilities, culture, history, and more. It's a fascinating program, and DavidGardnerwants to share with his listeners a few things he learned from it. In this segment of theRule Breaker Investingpodcast, he notes that for him, the best aspect was getting to talk life with a cross-section of our military. Three conversations in particular were the most memorable.

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A transcript follows the video.

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This podcast was recorded on Aug. 24, 2016.

David Gardner:

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And that brings me to No. 1. Now No. 1 I've already alluded to a few times earlier. That's just the opportunity for conversations with the troops. With people who are serving you and me, if you're a United States citizen, in all kinds of ways. They're engineers. They're doing maintenance. And yes, they're out there in the field, sometimes, getting shot at.

It is remarkable the service that I got to see, and having heard from even some of the very high-up people in the military. For example, Phil Davidson, who is in charge of Fleet Forces Command and basically one of the heads of the Navy. He gave us a wonderful briefing and a delightful light hors d'oeuvre cocktail hour at his house in Norfolk, Virginia.

We heard consistently from people that they spent all their time in the Navy. Or the Army. But what we got to see last week, thanks to the JCOC program, was really a cross-section. We got to go to every one of them and see what they were all doing, and that's part of what made it so special. But it was those conversations with troops of all different types that I remember, and in particular I just want to highlight three as we close, each a brief one.

The first one was a Coast Guard captain who presumably lives in Washington, D.C., because he was there at our briefing the first night, and he hung out after the briefing as some of us were just getting to know each other as fellow participants in the JCOC, interacting with some soldiers and staff. A handsome guy, just kind of hanging on the periphery. I broke up a conversation because it looked like he wanted to talk to me.

He came up to me (I'll just name him as Howard) and said to me: "Thank you so much for The Motley Fool."

I said: "Well, you're very welcome. The Motley Fool is very motley. I'm not going to take personal credit for what our company tries to do every day. Over the 23 years we've been in business, we've had any number of writers, community members, and advice givers. It's a very motley thing," I said to him.

And he understood that as a longtime member. But a very polished guy who then begins to tell me that at the age of 18, his parents didn't really have any money. They had never taught him anything about money. He was living out of a trailer at the time. And again, this is a polished guy. A more senior guy in uniform. And I thought, "Wow, that's remarkable."

I'm never quite sure of what influence we have as a company. I can't tell how many people know The Motley Fool or don't. I am glad to say we've been an answer, sometimes, on Jeopardy! which always makes me feel good. In fact, I think we've been an answer three times on Jeopardy! No one has ever yet gotten buzzed out for not getting it. So that's always made me feel a little bit good as an entrepreneur. But Howard, thank you for your words that night. I remember them, and thank you to other members of the armed forces who came up to me at some point and said, "Hey! I'm a Fool," oir, "I read your book." That means a lot to me.

A second conversation I want to mention was with a 26-year-old. I think he was 26. It was aboard the USS George Washington. This is a young guy who said, "Let me tell you my story a little bit." He went on to say: "I was a freshman in college. My parents were scraping together money. They didn't have enough, so I was on student loans, and I partied my whole freshman first term, and I flunked out. They kicked me out. I got the email. I got the letter. I'm done, which was a shock -- although not so much of a shock," he said, because he clearly knew he hadn't been studying.

He didn't really have much recourse at that point. His parents didn't really have any money and he, in fact, needed to call off his student loans. He needed to quickly let his lender know, "Please don't put me on the hook for these because I'm no longer allowed to go to this university." What he decided to do was go into the U.S. military. He said he chose the Navy because "I didn't want to be shot at," he said, which I can certainly understand.

But within a few years, he began training as an engineer, and today he is in charge of a portion of the nuclear reactor aboard the USS George Washington (all of the Navy's aircraft carriers are nuclear-powered). And he said at lunch, just in a low-key way that day that a year or so ago, when he first took over this role, he was pinching himself as he lay in bed at night and thought, "Wow. Here I am on an aircraft carrier with 5,000 other people aboard, and I have become the guy who's an engineer overseeing a portion of the nuclear reactor."

And my reflection on that, beyond just the kind of American dream aspect of that story, is it's very evident if you see the armed services how young the people are, for the most part, who are there. Not everybody's young. Some people do come to the armed services a little bit later, but really you're seeing, in many cases, fresh young faces with serious responsibilities. Real-world responsibilities. And considering how well things go right most of the time, it's inspiring.

And the final story I want to tell was with a U.S. Special Forces officer the day that I was in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. I'll just call him Kent. To me Kent looked like the perfect all-American. A very handsome guy. Very accomplished. Clearly senior there at Special Forces. He deployed any number of times in scary places like Iraq over the course of the last 15 years of his career. A very charismatic guy. I decided I wanted to approach him after some of the demos that we saw and just ask him a little bit about himself.

It wasn't until about minute 12 of the conversation that he just let out, "And I have no left leg."

And I said, "I'm sorry. Excuse me?"

He said, "Yes, I'm wearing a prosthetic leg."

I said, "You're serious?"

And he said, "Yes. In Iraq, in 2007, I was shot four times in the leg. It was amputated, and I've been on a prosthetic leg ever since."

And I found out a little bit more. He deployed three times in really dangerous circumstances with the Special Forces with his prosthetic leg. And I thought, "You know? As much as I like to lionize CEO heroes -- people like Reed Hastings, Steve Jobs, Howard Schultz, Jeff Bezos -- people who are real-world heroes for me who have made me and many other investors very happy through long-term performance, delivering every day great products and services that each of us enjoys and benefits from (or at least many of us do), clearly, in my mind, there's a different level of heroism that I got to see last week."

And as I closed out my conversation with Kent, he got misty-eyed in a way I didn't quite understand (and still I'm not quite clear about), but he was describing how traditionally the Special Forces (the Army Rangers) draw off of people who have already been in the military for a few years and think, "Maybe I could do that. Maybe I've got the right stuff. In this highly selective unit, maybe I could be part of that." So they try out, and a small minority of them actually make it.

But for the first time, I think last year Kent mentioned that there was a new program where anybody off the street (you or me) could apply and try out to be U.S. Special Forces. And he said (and this is where he got misty-eyed), that he'd been there that day, and walking in off the street was a former NFL football player. Was a neurologist. He listed a few other occupations of people.

I think what he was thinking was that these are incredibly impressive people who were walking away, potentially, from really impressive callings in order to hope, to dream to join the unit that he had served on in the last 14 years. I guess that's why he got emotional. Sometimes we can't fully explain why we're crying, but for me that day to have talked and had that conversation...I'll remember that one a long time.

I hope, as I close up, that I shared with you some of the memories that I had that I'll retain for a long time. An incredibly epic week, where I saw from the very big to the very small people. Very highly ranked to very lowly ranked. People who every day are putting it out there for you and for me in ways that we can't fully recognize or appreciate.

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