What we can learn about being on a team from our fallen heroes

For many veterans, especially those who have endured the crucible of combat operations, our service to our nation is a defining part of our identity. But there is an equally important element we carry with us – the bonds we formed with those who served alongside us.

I spent 30 years leading teams as an officer in the U.S. Army. Yes, we trained our soldiers how to fight. But we also taught them about the importance of education, how to manage their finances and how to love their families. In short, we built a team that truly cared for the wellbeing of each of its members.

In combat operations, we established a trust so strong that we considered our teammates our family. These bonds serve an important purpose – they guarantee that while in combat, your strategic goal will always be to defend your nation, and your operational goal will always be to take care of the men and women who fight beside you. It is a bond that is crucial when you depend on someone else for your life.

When I meet someone who says they served in combat, I feel an immediate kinship with that person. It can’t always be put into words. Sometimes, we only recognize it with a small nod. But we possess a shared experience, one fraught with the same hardships, and sometimes even losses.

This camaraderie between service members and veterans stretches across the country and across cultural lines. And this Memorial Day, when we honor those men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for this country, I believe it can serve as an important example for all Americans.

As Americans, we need to remember the bonds that bring us together – not the biases that tear us apart. What if we looked at those around us and saw in each other the very best … the things we have in common, not what makes us different?


In the military, we literally use the terms “brothers” and “sisters” to describe those who serve with us. Imagine how much stronger our country could be if we considered even those strangers we pass on the street like family – simply because they walk beside us in the United States of America.

We do this in the military—we can surely do this across the this great nation of ours. Let’s each of us take the first step on Memorial Day 2019.

Jamie Gayton is the executive vice president of member operations and global fixed assets at PenFed Credit Union. After leading teams in the U.S. military for 30 years with combat deployments to Iraq for Desert Shield/Storm in 1990-1991 and Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2005-2006, he joined PenFed in 2017. He earned degrees from West Point (B.S.), MIT Sloan (M.B.A.) and Pardee RAND (Ph.D.). He previously taught economics at West Point and culminated his military career by teaching economics at the National Defense University’s Eisenhower School from 2015 to 2017.