Air Force AMU Army Branch Business Coast Guard Marines Military Navy Podcast Space Force The Veteran Edge Veterans

Veteran Entrepreneur: Applying Skills Gained from Military Service

Podcast featuring Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.Lt. Col (retired), U.S. Marine Corps; Program Director, School of Business and
Mario P. Fields, Sergeant Major (retired) U.S. Marine Corps; CEO, Global Inspirational Speakers LLC

The military offers many benefits to servicemembers, but some opportunities and skills aren’t as recognized as others. In this episode, AMU’s Dr. Larry D. Parker, Jr. talks to Mario P. Fields, Sergeant Major (retired) U.S. Marine Corps, about the best opportunities he gained during his service. Learn how the military helped him mature, get an education, and develop job training skills that are highly sought after in the private sector. It also gave him the confidence, determination, patience, and drive to follow his passion as an entrepreneur when he retired after 26 years in the military.

Listen to the Episode:

Subscribe to The Veteran Edge
Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify | Amazon Music

Read the Transcript:

Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: Welcome to the podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr. Today, we’re talking to a Marine that transitioned from uniform to success in the civilian sector. In the spirit of this podcast, we’re going to find out our guest’s perspective on his military service and the edge it provided him in being successful after his service in the military.

My guest today is Mario P. Fields, Sergeant Major Retired United States Marine Corps of 26 years. A true expert in his field, a dynamic personality, highly sought after as a resource in business and professional circles. I have to say, he is a mentor to me, also in the business world, we’ve worked together for, now, a couple of years.

He has so many things that we’re going to cover in his military career of 26 years, but we’ll talk about some of these things that he’s done since then. Mario is the co-founder and CEO at Global Inspirational Speakers LLC, Founder and President at Still Serving Inc., Host and Producer at Unarmored Talk podcast and advisory board member at Securing Life Today.

Through all of these endeavors, Mario’s greatest accomplishment is his family. He has been married to Nicole Fields for 26 years. They have two wonderful children, adult children, and with all of that, he has been able to still provide to the community and give back in such a great way and that’s what we’re going to do, is pick his brain today and see what we can learn from him. Mario, it’s great to have you.

Mario Fields: Larry, thank you for that amazing world-class introduction and I am honored to be on the show with you.

Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: All right. Well, hey, let’s start our conversation by talking about you, the man. A Marine, served around the world, a family man and everything has to start from the beginning to give all our listeners perspective, so let’s go all the way back to those glorious footprints that everybody likes to talk about. Let me understand, why did you originally join the service? What’s that purpose?

Mario Fields: What inspired me to join the Marine Corps, believe it or not, is my older brother is 17 months older than I am. He joined the Navy, and so he came home one day after Navy bootcamp and he goes, “Hey, bootcamp, wasn’t bad. We did some pushups and crunches, ran a mile and a half,” and he was in shape and I was like, “Wow.” And he goes, “I’m going to Norfolk, I get my own paycheck. I don’t have to worry about mom and dad.”

So I said, “You know what? I’m going to join the military, but I’ll try the Marines since the bootcamp is all the same.” And I’ll run a mile and a half, some crunches, and be just like my brother, except I’ll be a Marine. So believe it or not, my older brother who retired from the Navy by the way, is what motivated me to go to Parris Island, South Carolina.

Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: I chuckled because then, like you said, you went with the notion that it was going to be just like the Navy. Okay.

Mario Fields: Right, right. Yeah, that was a rude awakening.

Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: Got that awakening, yeah. One thing that we didn’t get to cover in just that brief bio, so you’re at Parris Island, you’re going through, and at some point afterwards, you’re determining your career and what you’re going to do in the service. How did that come about? For my listeners that aren’t familiar, Military Occupational Specialty or your MOS? What was that?

Mario Fields: Right, so before I went to bootcamp, I actually signed a six-year contract as an administrator, back then in the military it’s called Unit Diary Clerk, but in the private sector, that’s the entry-level administrator. So, I came in on a six-year contract and that’s what kind of kicked off my career pathway.

So, when I was in bootcamp, I’ll be honest with you, Larry, I got there, I was told I was six foot one. The next day I was told I was six foot five, two hours after that, I was five foot 11. So, I was wondering did I make a mistake? I think all young kids think that, but I thought, “Man, did I make a mistake? Is this worth it?” And oh, by the way, I signed on for six years initially. So, that’s kind of what started the career pathway in earning the title of United States Marine and then going on to do administrative work for units across the nation.

Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: So, you came in with at least some direction prior to coming in. You knew what you were going to do, where some, find out after the fact. Now, I often hear education and training tends to be a major part of the reason why individuals enlist in the service. So where was education for you as you were leaving high school, finding out where you were going to go in life, and was that a big part of why you joined?

Mario Fields: Yeah, so that was another part. I had an internship with Electronic Data Systems, back then called EDS, the founder of that company is Ross Perot. So, that two-year internship for my junior year and my senior year, that inspired me to eventually go to University of Michigan, because I’m from Michigan, and go Wolverines, right? So to eventually go to University of Michigan to pursue a degree in computer information or computer programming.

So that was the second component is, I said, “You know what? I can get some discipline, serve our country, serve the country for about, well for me, six years, and then transition to University of Michigan to pursue my bachelor’s in computer information and then eventually get back with EDS and continue to work for them supporting General Motors.”

Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: So there was direction there and that’s one of those things that I really like to talk to the audience and let them know that you may come in with various plans and objectives, but there’s opportunities for education and that’s always been part of the plan, or it can be part of the plan.

Okay, so one thing that we left out, and I wanted to make sure that you had opportunity to cover, is talking about that career, because a lot of individuals are quick to say, “I’m special,” or “I’m doing something different and I don’t have time.” Can you talk a little bit about where you were and the types of things you’ve done in the Marine Corps that you were still able to pursue additional training?

Mario Fields: So, one thing, I can only speak from my experience is, I love how the military creates opportunities for you to mature, one, get your education, two, and then develop on the job training skillsets that private sector really, really needs, that soft skills and of course, hard skills, so that’s what it provided for me.

And then to do that, it provides funding that you would not get if you went to a regular community college or college. Back then they paid for 75% when I first started going to school. Then at one point, it may be still that way, paid 100% of the tuition to a certain point, there was a cap, but the opportunities to pay for education and still serve your country was there.

The other thing is when I deployed in 1997, aboard the USS George Washington, there were instructors that actually were assigned to the ship, so you could still get your education while deployed aboard a U.S. Naval vessel. That deployment to the Persian Gulf, I think I completed maybe four classes during that seven-month deployment and the teachers are very flexible. They understand there’s real-world missions that we have no, when I say we, servicemembers have no control over. So, it’s not like if we got called to maybe go into a place overnight, that the teacher’s going, “Hey, I need your paper and who cares if you got to go and do a real-life mission. If you don’t give me your paper, you’re going to fail.” So, there’s lots of flexibility and we were able to still get our education for deployed.

Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: Wow, that’s one of those real-world examples that some that may not have deployed on ship may still think that they don’t have an opportunity even with online or things that there are now, but that just shows you how focused the military was and is on education, ensuring that you have that opportunity.

For those Marines, and first I’ll talk to the Marines, because then those that can most readily relate, that will say, again, is something special. Now, we’re talking about an honor grad from Second Recruit Battalion who served basically in every coast. You know how some will say they’re East Coast, West Coast Marine? Mario served all over the Marine Corps. And this isn’t a loaded statement, but also served in education command in Marine Corps University. He has been all over the Marine Corps, but then all over the world. If you could just talk to us that even while international, you’re deployed all over the world, was there any place that was more challenging than the other to pursue education or was it pretty much the focus was all over the service that it could be the same?

Mario Fields: Yes, so great question, Larry. I would say from my experiences in the United States and overseas, the only time that it was a challenge to pursue education was during combat operations, but that was the only time. And a lot of people, I don’t believe, understand that the combat operations or engaged in combat deployments, over your total career, it’s actually a small percentage.

So, it’s not like you join the Marines and then you do 26 years and out of the 26 years, 24 was combat. It’s a very small percentage, so that was the only time for deploy where there was a challenge because of the mission to pursue an education. But other than that, from Okinawa to mainland Japan to South Korea, even down to Mindanao in the Philippines, with technology, the advancement of technology, there was always an opportunity to get some bandwidth, get online and continue to pursue your education.

Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: Okay, you’re hearing it directly from Mario. And as I said, that’s been there to a lot of places that many of us haven’t been in, so really, to me, removes a lot of the excuses that some may put forth or the challenges that some may think are there. Now, let’s get to what we all really want to speak to is, we’re going to become a veteran. The time has come, we’ve served honorably, and it’s time to work that transition. As you transitioned from the service, what was the transition program like?

Mario Fields: First of all, just the word transitioning, I think that inspires and motivates lots of emotions, and especially depending on how long you’ve been serving in the military. So, for me, it was becoming aware of my emotions of fear, the unknown, anxiety, number one, and then understanding that that’s normal.

 Then number two, you mentioned, Larry, about the transition program and how that help. That was very valuable. I actually went twice. So, I went about 24 months out, which if you’re retiring, you’d do that and then I went again, 12 months from my actual retirement date.

The most valuable experience that I can share with the listeners is it wasn’t the material, it was the connections. The employment facilitators, the people that were going through the transition class with you, and some of the educators and industry leaders that you were able to meet, that was more valuable than the material itself, just my belief, during that process.

Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: You alluded to the networking and that really opens up this next thing. I can see after 26 years, I’m sure you come from, or you’re a part of a military family, but what I would say is for some, there’s some challenges going back to an environment that may have different perspectives on veterans. So, for you, when you transitioned, what was your interaction or what was the perception of veterans with those that you dealt with first, away from the service?

Mario Fields: What I found when I transitioned into the private sector is there were beliefs that some of my colleagues had that were false beliefs. One of the challenges that I witnessed was that my colleagues believed that in the military it’s very linear. Everything is kind of laid out A, B, C, and D, and we just follow the plan, not too flexible and very rigid and that’s kind of our culture.

And so, when things would change in the organization, the conversation towards me would be more like an elementary type conversation where, “Okay, Mario, here things change rapidly, it’s very fluid,” and I would just listen and observe and then one day I found the right time to talk to one of my colleagues and I said, “I believe that you have a belief that in the military, it’s very linear.”

I said, “But I have to share with you. It is not.” I said, “We’re very global. We do a lot of virtual, leveraging technology in virtual environments.” I said, “I just came from the Pacific. We had 50,000+ servicemembers and local nationals and civil servants working from Hawaii to Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, leveraging technology to build organizational cultures and that’s in-person and virtually.”

I said, “We develop plans, but the plans change seconds after you develop them and we’re very accustomed to that. But it’s not this very linear, hey, the plane is kind of crashing, so let’s pull out this book and it’s going to bring the plane back. Yeah, there’s procedures, but we’re very used to flexible environments, very arduous environments, not all, but the understanding that a plan is just that, it’s a guide, it could change within seconds.”

Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: Yeah, that’s great, because as much as I believe, as you said, individuals think that we’re very linear and that things are very rigid, I do not believe I ever had two days in the service that were alike. As I look back over my career, I would say they might’ve been similar, but I don’t think I ever had two days that were alike.

Mario Fields: No. And then the last thing I’ll add is the challenge was we essentially, as far as the organization, it’s similar to the private sector, it’s just the words are different. So we say new joint process and in the private sector there’s an onboarding process, but it’s the same, it has the same instate, the same similar requirements, but it’s the words that makes it seem different.

So, again, when I transitioned, I was like, “What is onboarding? People keep saying onboarding.” And then when I did some research and got familiar with it, I said, “Oh, that’s, that’s a new joint, but we’ve been doing this since, for me, ’93.”

Yeah, so it was understanding that we actually have more in common when it comes to organizations, managing and leading people, and then of course your pursuit for education, we have more in common than what people believe and that was my experience.

Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: So, Mario, what I recognize that typically individuals when they leave from the service, they go one of several routes, some are students, some are government contractors, corporate, some become entrepreneurs or there’s some combination of all, but for you, you chose to be an entrepreneur. And if you could, could you just tell us what went into that development for you to go that route?

Mario Fields: Yeah, Larry, thanks. So, the interesting thing for me is I had a chance to experience the employment route, the education route and corporate route. And then, of course, becoming an entrepreneur with Still Serving Inc., which is the 501(c)3 nonprofit, and then Global Inspirational Speakers, LLC, which is a for-profit company.

What guided me to the entrepreneur space, believe it or not, was my faith in God, my Christianity faith. And I bring that up is because that’s not what I wanted to do. My plan was to go to Tampa, Florida to do general ROTC.

I had 10 schools lined up and I was so excited, because that’s where I believed I needed to be. And I was going to do some business consulting on the side. But it was one day after my transition assistance program class that I said a little prayer like, “God, thanks for waking me up this morning.” And then He’s like, “Build a nonprofit to help people,” through prayer. And I’m like, “Nonprofit to help people? Interesting.”

And so, I went back into the class, it was the last day of transition class. What is this entrepreneur space and nonprofit and helping people? I think that sounds like something I don’t know if I should do or not, but it’s in my heart. And so, that’s what sparked all of the energy that’s put towards building, developing corporations in the entrepreneur space.

Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: Okay. Well, no, that makes perfect sense, because at this point, I’d like to give my guest the major nuggets or at least the main takeaways that I’ve gained from them thus far before we get into, what I’ve started to deem the lightning round of Veteran Edge, where we really think about what are those last things that you want to leave everyone with.

But, thus far, the main thing that I can see is exactly what you just spoke to is one, it’s passion, believing that you can pursue those things that you are interested in, that you have something that you desire to follow. And that’s what I’ve heard that really shaped you joining the service and you being able to pursue the things that you have, because you didn’t wait till the end. It seemed as if you were speaking and doing a number of these things prior to retiring, so it wasn’t waiting. So, passion and then being deliberate, those two things are the things I’ve heard from you. And would that be a fair assessment thus far?

Mario Fields: Larry, that’s a fair assessment, because you have to have passion and discipline and focus. And I started both companies about a year before I retired. And let’s just say, I would go to bed normally at about midnight, even 1:00 in morning when I was building both companies, and then get up about 4:30, 5:00 to go back to my job as the Sergeant Major Wounded Warrior Battalion West. Work a full day, get home, maybe eat some dinner about 6:00 or 7:00, and then I was back in the office developing the companies again to about 1:00 in the morning. I did that maybe for about seven months.

And you have to have passion and discipline to do that and be committed to it. And you’re going to have some days you’re going to doubt yourself. There’s going to be some days you’re going to build a slogan, you’re going to say, “Oh man, this is great.” It’s 3:30 in the morning, you think you got your slogan down and then you send it to your team to give you some feedback and everyone goes, “What the heck?”

Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: That’s one of those things when that passion, and then being very deliberate, you know what it’s going to take to push through and that’s where you have to, as we say, dig deep and pull from. So, okay, well, we’ve reached that point where I like to look at it as being more of a very deliberate lightning round, as we get ready to bring our conversation to a close.

And this has been in development, I’ve done a few of these, so I’m dubbing this, The Veteran Edge questions on the hot seat. The first word that comes to mind when I ask the question, and then you can expound upon it, but I really want you to think on it and then we’ll just close this out with you just giving those things that you want people to go away with. So, the first one, as a veteran, what was the greatest positive attribute you gained as a result of your service?

Mario Fields: Teamwork.

Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: Okay, teamwork. Anything you want to expound upon that?

Mario Fields: Yeah, and I would expound that teamwork in a global environment, working with different cultures, different ethnicities, not just in the United States, but globally in Europe, in Africa and in Asia. And understanding how to build, develop a team of different, we’re all humans, that’s a constant, but of different beliefs and ethnicities and cultures to get everyone to achieve a mission in a global environment. I think that was very valuable skill that I learned that I was able to apply in a business and being an entrepreneur.

Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: All right, let’s get number two. What is the single most important point that you want to leave for either current or future veterans? You got one shot, you got one word or a statement that you can give them, what would it be?

Mario Fields: Patience.

Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: Okay, care to elaborate?

Mario Fields: Absolutely. Be patient, things will develop. And what I mean by things is the job opportunity or your plan or the emotion of I’m afraid to transition. Be patient, those things will change over time. You will get a job. Maybe not that you thought you were going to get, but it may be something that you never even dreamed of. So, just be patient, allow people around you to help you and assist you transition out from being active duty to becoming a veteran, and then enjoying that, I call it, the second chapter of your life, if you will.

Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: Okay. No, that’s great. Last one. Now, we’re speaking to those employers or business partners that may want to work with a veteran. What is the single most significant edge future employers or business partners can expect from a veteran?

Mario Fields: Attitude, and I mean, positive attitude. Larry, there’s one thing I believe I cannot pay for an employee to get trained on and that’s send that employee to a college or university just for attitude. And one thing that I believe about veterans is their attitude coming into any organization is, “How can I help? What do you need? What can I do to make this organization better? How can I help people around me? What can I do? What can be done, not even what can I do, what can be done, so we can be the premier organization, college institution, university.” I mean, you name it.

And that attitude is invaluable. And again, there’s not a pot of money in research and development that I can allocate to go, “Hey, our attitudes in the marketing department it’s pretty low, so we’re going to send everyone to attitude training for about two weeks, and then we’re going to get some return on investment.” That’s my word, attitude, for anyone who’s hiring a veteran, that’s a benefit.

Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: Well, that is exactly what we needed. So for everyone, you heard it, teamwork, patience and attitude. Well, Mario, this has been a great conversation, as I give you the last words on this, anything else you’d like to add?

Mario Fields: No, thanks, I appreciate the opportunity. Ensure that you, as you transition to become a veteran, be deliberate in building a team or network that have shared values. So you have to be deliberate and you also have to understand what do you value, right? Do you value family? Do you value time, is it complex and then what’s your vision? But building a team that’s going to assist and help you and being aware that you want the teammates around you that’s not afraid to tell you, “What are you doing? That we don’t recommend that and here’s why.” And being amenable to listening to the information and critique, and then making those changes as needed to help you transition into the private sector, public sector, whichever one you choose. If not, become an entrepreneur, but that’s my last words to listeners, Larry, thank you.

Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: Again, thank you so much for sharing your expertise today for this episode and to our listeners, thank you for joining us. Be well and stay safe.

Dr. Larry D. Parker, Jr., currently serves as the Department Chair of Transportation and Logistics Management and Supply Chain Management with the School of Business. He serves as an adjunct faculty for various universities around the world.

Comments are closed.