Genuine Care and Concern 1, Demons 0

Posted by Jane Maliszewski

Marines come to the ’mountain’ with various career-ending ailments–combat wounds, illness, injury, brain and psychological trauma. They are biding their time negotiating the military medical system, waiting on final treatments, final decisions, the final salute in uniform, and the final trip back to home of record with their discharge paperwork. For most it is an unwelcome state. Many had planned on making the Marines Corps a career, or at least exiting in a state of wholeness.

Now they are preparing to leave the relative stability of the Marine culture for the great unknown of the ‘civilian’ world. A world which now showers them with gratitude–rounds of golf, tickets to major league sporting events, fishing trips, and all manner of ‘support a wounded warrior’ activities–when they stand proudly in uniform.

But there is an uneasiness swirling like a dark storm on their horizon that once the uniform is put away, they may fade into the melee of struggling humanity. The subtle fear of how their medical condition will impact the rest of their lives is frequently given a voice that first day. Most would gladly volunteer to go back to combat than face this unknown.

There is a program–Semper Fi Odyssey—that is designed to turn that fear into bold action.

Semper Fi Odyssey is a one week career transition program funded by the Semper Fi Fund  and held at the Outdoor Odyssey Adventure Camp, owned by Major General (R) Tom Jones, in Boswell PA. Unlike most ‘career transition’ courses, this one spends almost no time on crafting the ideal resume. The overarching focus is to teach ‘life skills’ that Marines can use to resurrect their dreams, assess their ability to accomplish what they set out to do, build positive relationships, and make long term changes in their life.

I have been a volunteer team leader with this program for four years and have witnessed amazing transformations in just the four days we are together on ‘the mountain’ in southwestern Pennsylvania. Marines who arrive wrung dry of emotion and beyond caring by a confusing medical system, by failed relationships, by survivor guilt, by memories of lost friends that haunt their days and nights, by demons of what they have seen and what they have done.

A life path that was once so clear has been blown apart in front of them–in some cases literally. Some are directionless, some have ideas and no plan, some are struggling to gain understanding of their ‘new normal.’ They arrive skeptical, negative, cautious, impatient on the first day.

By the fifth day there have been tears, smiles, commitments made to loved ones, testimonials, bonds forged, dreams taking the first step to become reality…and sometimes job offers as well.

The days are filled with classes on stress management, goal setting, planning, elevator pitches, and interview preparation. First and foremost we focus on what the General refers to as “MEPS”—the mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional sight picture of how you are approaching your task, your day, your week, and your life. (here’s a link to my blog post on MEPS: )

And, this being the military of course there is, of course, PT (physical training). We take a long break every afternoon to let off some steam and allow the thoughts to settle in–TRX (invented by a Navy Seal), yoga (courtesy of The Exalted Warrior program– and high ropes adventure (rock climbing, zipline, chutes and nets).

Good stuff… but that’s not what makes the transformation. Simply put, it is Genuine Care and Concern.

The criterion for serving at the program is Genuine Care and Concern. Volunteers are carefully screened. The belief in the ultimate worth and value of each participant permeates everything we do, from the General, to the camp staff, to the team leaders, and to the volunteer instructors. We come together from across the country to serve this greatest generation of military men and women, to honor their service. To give back in some small way for the service that each of us has already given that has led us to our current success.

We spend hours together with these young yet seasoned Marines. Days are long–from 0800 breakfast to long past dinner; we are together for 12 hours or more for four days.

The course material is interspersed with stories–from other wounded Marines who have made a successful transition, from Vietnam vets who have learned to tame their own demons, from the General and the team leaders who share their vulnerabilities as leaders.

We listen, we encourage, we review concepts, we suggest alternatives and new perspectives. And we sometimes act like parents and make them do their homework! We believe in their potential and accept them–demons and all–with love and without judgment. The content of the course is not nearly as important as the time we spend listening and encouraging them. Genuine care and concern will slay the demons almost every time.

Jane Maliszewski

Jane Maliszewski, Colonel U.S. Army (retired), is a career coach and consultant helping leaders make positive lasting change for themselves and in their organizations. For more information, visit


This entry was posted on Wednesday, February 20, 2013 7:15 am

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