Tracy Burke served as a Captain in the Marine Corps before joining the Reserves and building a career in the pharmaceutical industry. In 2005, he left the workforce for a year-long combat deployment in Iraq.
In this interview with Vita, he talks about the challenges of juggling a professional career with life in the Reserves, as well as the importance of establishing relationships built on respect.
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You built a 25-year career in the pharmaceutical industry while you were in the Reserves. What was that like?
Transitioning from the workplace on Fridays to my military training commitments during the weekend was tough because they were two very unique environments. I had a hard time turning off the civilian role and turning on the military one.
My heart goes out to the families of people who serve in a reservist capacity. When I was a young Marine on active duty, my family and I were fully immersed in a military community. But when you’re a civilian who is putting on a uniform part time, you don’t have the same support network that comes from a military base.
I think it was especially tough for my wife and kids. When I was activated from the Reserves and deployed to Iraq, my wife had to hold down the fort and deal with pressures that most military spouses might relate to, but she didn’t have the benefit of the military network.
You spoke passionately about the impact that military service has on loved ones. Can you tell us more about your family?
My wife and four children are amazing but my five grandchildren are out of this world! The whole family has a shared sense of values when it comes to service to our country. In fact, two of my children and one of my sons–in-law are on active duty now.
I remember that when I first talked to my wife about the possibility of a combat deployment to Iraq, her reaction was not “No” or “Why you?”. Instead she said, “Well Tracy, someone has to do this. Why not you?” She was on board with the sacrifice required. My unit lost 12 guys that year.
How can companies support employees who are called for active duty?
Find ways to make your colleagues feel like they are still part of the company, even while they are deployed. Send frequent updates on what is happening back home. Determine if their families need support while you are away.
I loved getting care packages while I was in Iraq. Some of my colleagues sent me deflated soccer balls that I could pass out to kids while patrolling the streets in Iraq.
How do the skills from your military service relate to your on-the-job experience?
One of the skills I sharpened in the military is extreme focus on mission accomplishment. You can do anything as long as you focus on exactly what needs to be done. In my current role as Management and Governance Lead for our Clinical Trial Supply vendors, I break complex goals down into essential tasks and focus on them like a bulldog.
I also think that a mission is best accomplished through relationships built on respect. There is a misunderstanding that when you’re in military, it’s easier to interact with people because each decision is command oriented. But actually, having effective working relationships built on respect, so that all styles of decision making come together, is critical in the military as well as the civilian sector. Consultative and consensus-driven decision making styles are applicable in both environments.
Are you active in “giving back” or volunteering in some way today?
Absolutely. I graduated from the Virginia Military Institute where the philosophy was that everyone is a citizen soldier. Graduates were encouraged to contribute to society on a daily basis and be prepared if your country needs you.
I have always been involved in church activities, and I am a member of both my local Veterans of Foreign Wars post and the local community council. I believe civic responsibility is something every one of us should bear for a season.