The Morning Formation Podcast

Veterans Continuously Transition Years After Service with Coast Guard Veteran Caroline Walsh

April 13, 2022 KP Season 2 Episode 16
The Morning Formation Podcast
Veterans Continuously Transition Years After Service with Coast Guard Veteran Caroline Walsh
Show Notes Transcript

Warriors, Fall In!

Today, we are joined with a professional author who joined the Coast Guard during the recession and sought to become an intel analyst. Over time, our guest Caroline Walsh gained skills in critical thinking, team work, strategy development, leadership, and project management, but along the way, she had to overcome malicious obstacles to reach her goals.

She’s currently studying to obtain her Phd in leadership and also authored a book called “Fairly Smooth Operator-My Life at the Tip of the Spear” that is a memoir about her journey, which included becoming a CIA Analyst, but we’ll talk more about all that in this episode.

Caroline's LinkedIn:
https://www.linkedin.com/in/caroline-nw/

Find Caroline's Book on Amazon:
https://www.amazon.com/dp/1646635205/ref=redir_mobile_desktop?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1634015291&ref_=tmm_pap_swatch_0&sr=8-3

KP:

This episode is powered by Aktau education, go to www dot ATT now education.com For free comprehensive educational resources and opportunities for active duty veterans, military spouses, and children.

Caroline Walsh:

Yes, so like continuous transition, when I look at where I'm at, I'm in a Ph. D. program, and I'm about to like, kind of get that stress about what I'm gonna do next. And the first time I had that feeling, I was in college, and I ended up joining the Coast Guard. And then the next time I had that feeling, and I was like, What am I gonna do next, then I, you know, got into government work. So there's just this series of, you know, every time you do it, you get a little bit more confident. But seeing that, like that first step isn't always the permanent one. And seeing it as a can, you're going to just learn more about yourself.

KP:

Or your warriors fall in, it's time for formation. Today, we're joined with a professional author who joined the Coast Guard during the recession, and sought to become an intel analyst. Over time, our guest, Carolyn Walsh, gained skills in critical thinking, teamwork, strategy, development, leadership and project management. But along the way, she had to overcome malicious obstacles to reach her goals. She's currently studying to obtain her PhD in leadership, and is also and has also managed to author a book called fairly smooth operator, my life at the tip of the spear. It's it's actually a memoir about her journey, which includes becoming a CI analyst, which we'll talk about more in this episode. Caroline, I want to thank you for joining us today on the morning formation.

Caroline Walsh:

Thanks for having me.

KP:

The honor is all ours. And here on the podcast, you know, we like to focus on career transitional aspects for our community, based off your very, very, I guess, checkered and vast experiences that you've had, which is quite a bit because it led you to actually writing a book about it, would you mind talking to us about the importance of getting your foot in the door and networking, or your next career move?

Caroline Walsh:

Sure. So there are all kinds of philosophies about like what to do and how to get a job and how to find the right fit. And I am really strongly in belief of just getting your foot in the door and getting started. Of course, you want to do like some of the work ahead of time and figure out like what might be a good spot for you. But to get that next step, sometimes you just need to get in it. And these days, many people, you know, you change jobs every year to while you're getting started, you're building your portfolio. So just getting in there and giving yourself time and seeing what you think of this job. And like maybe it's a better fit than you thought. Or maybe it's really not what you want to do. But either way, like you can keep searching while you get your foot in the door, and especially coming out of the military. Getting that first job can just give you confidence, just getting that nine to five, having that place to go to having people around you like sometimes it's just important to get started with that, rather than try to find that perfect position right away.

KP:

Yeah, and I like to ask folks like you questions like that right off the bat. Because I think that overall, sharing your experiences with other people out there for one, if they've already been through it, they'll be able to resonate with what you're saying, if they haven't been through it, then you'll be providing a little bit of advice on what to expect and what and how you should pivot and how you should do things. So, you know, I just wanted to hit that right off the bat, basically, and provide that value upfront. But now I want to pivot to talking about the importance of maintaining continuous transition, which is something that we spoke about, would you mind sharing your knowledge and experiences on what that actually means?

Caroline Walsh:

Yes, so like continuous transition, when I look at where I'm at, I'm in a Ph. D. program, and I'm about to like, kind of get that stress about what I'm gonna do next. And the first time I had that feeling, I was in college, and I ended up joining the Coast Guard. And then the next time I had that feeling, and I was like, What am I gonna do next? Then I, you know, got into government work. So there's just this series of, you know, every time you do it, you get a little bit more confident, but seeing that, like that first step isn't always the permanent one. And seeing it as a can, you're going to just learn more about yourself. Every every job you have every place you're in whether you know after you get a military, you go to school, or you go to a position, you're gonna start to learn, like cultural preferences, like what kind of people do you like working with, you're gonna start to learn about yourself. What do I want my day to look like? You know, I've been forced To get up and be ready at 7am Every day in the military, but maybe I want something where I can come in at 10. Maybe I want something where you know, I have a little more freedom in my day, maybe you do like getting up at seven. So I think just giving yourself time to experiment, and you know, if the first one isn't a good fit, like you're, you're, you're learning about yourself, and you're learning, you've been in this really rigid environment for so long. So like giving yourself grace and like seeing it as like a development rather than like, oh, I chose the wrong job.

KP:

I think that's great advice. You got to kind of champion yourself to not just do your job and get up in the morning. And for example, if you're in the Coast Guard, you get up in the morning, you go to physical fitness training, ask yourself like, is this what I want to do for the rest of my life? As you go about your day, ask yourself when you're dealing with different personalities, different cultures, different styles of leadership, you know, where do I see myself from here? Now, I think many times, especially when we're in the military, we're just living by the day, and we're not really putting in deep thought about is this something that I would want to experience or be a part of, when I make my transition out of the military, because everyone does at some point, you can't stay in there your whole life. So I think that's some absolutely great advice. It's something that I wish I had done myself when I was in the military, because I hate getting up in the morning. I call this show the morning formation podcast, not because I'm a morning person, but and you could probably attest to what I'm about to say. But some of the most, crappiest times, some of the most trying times that we've had together as a military unit, were probably some of the most cohesive times that I've ever experienced before. And the morning formation. For me when I was in the army was a time that I as a leader was able to get accountability, I was able to stand in front of a formation, it sucked getting up that early, it sucked you doing physical fitness training at early in the morning, while everyone else is still asleep. But when I look back at it, that was probably the most cohesive time that I had with the soldiers. And so, you know, it's something that I really wish I would have thought more about and ask myself, Is this something that will do for us in my life, because I struggle even today, you know, getting up in the morning and dealing with certain certain leadership styles that I've experienced over the years, I've just kind of put up with it. And it sounds very simple. But at the same time, I think it's really important for folks out there to really think about it as they're going about their careers, whether they're in the military, or they're currently in a different civilian career. Is this something you want to do for the rest of your life? And to your point, I love what you say about, you know, the continuous portion of everything. I think that in today's society, we need to be very dynamic when it comes to our overall skill sets. Do you are you familiar with the great the great resignation?

Caroline Walsh:

Not exactly No.

KP:

So that's kind of one of those things where since the pandemic started, a lot of people have questioned their overall careers. And many people are doing their job just sort of as a paycheck. And there's like this thing called the Great resignation where people are considering or they are leaving their jobs to pursue their dreams to pursue some of the goals that they've been kind of putting off. And that kind of speaks to what you're talking about. Because at the end of the day, I always tell people, that the best place to be is in a place where you have lateral mobility. You know, you can quit your job and you can go into education, such as you have what kind of inspired you to go back into college and get your PhD.

Caroline Walsh:

Yeah, it was a long process. It's something I knew I wanted to do initially, before I even joined the Coast Guard or got to the CIA or anything. And then I was actually on a deployment to Guantanamo Bay. And honestly, it was super boring. Like, I was an officer I worked admin like there just wasn't that much to do and so I just keep myself busy. I just started reading I started looking at schools I got like, the GRE the tests you have to take to get into PhD and grad level programs. I started studying for that. And I was like, wait a minute, like, this is what's calling me this is like I loved you know, the job. I was in not the reserve duty that I was in but I you know, I love my government job. But there's something else that I really wanted to do. And I think to your point, you're in the military like you are in the suck so much. And sometimes you get used to this suck and you're like, wait a minute, no, I have control over this now. So I think that's huge. Like this suck is a bonding thing. But you also like you don't have to be in it. Like you can take control. You can take some risks, you can turn I different set out even at the CIA, like, I didn't stay in the first position i got i moved laterally and just found the culture in the office that I liked. So yeah, for me, it was just yeah, having that reserved duty and that time away, just stepping away and having to force myself to stay busy and find some sort of meaning. That's what got me to the PhD program.

KP:

I think it's fascinating that you manage to Follow Follow your dreams and follow your goals, because I know people who just stay with it, and they collect a paycheck, and they have a job. And in the back of their mind, they always have that, that Ember burning, saying, hey, what about this, and they never act on it. So you know, my hat's off to you for actually pursuing your your overall goals. And we're talking about the suck portion here. I want to pivot to your book, because we've we've had this issue over the years, you mentioned in your book about being part of a toxic leadership organization, while being in the Coast Guard, which is something people can experience in both the military and civilian career world. Now that you've been through dealing with some of this looking back, is there anything that you would do differently, or any advice that you would provide to someone who might be in a situation such as that?

Caroline Walsh:

Absolutely. So I was at a small isolated unit, and it had just years of a toxic culture that never went away, because in the military, like, you know, someone would leave, but the people who are there, so had two years lab, so you never just got rid of that, like, leadership, and just like that, just, you know, kind of corruption almost. So, ideally, like, yeah, if I could go back to my young self, and give her the exact, you know, right way to figure things out, I would have, you know, recommended reaching out to that higher level command, like finding anybody, somebody I could trust and just opening a conversation with the people above that command, because there nobody I could trust in the unit I was at. So I think, trying to get that connection. And for me, you know, there's a lot of sexual harassment. So for me, it would have been okay, finding that female in a leadership position, who might understand what's going on, or might lend a bit more of an ear at that time, then then some of the other leaders. So I think it would have me it would have been a lot of work, it would have been really bold for somebody as an E three, to reach out to, you know, some officers at a sector and, you know, basically, like, blow the whistle on something that was happening. And I did not do that as a 23 year old, I didn't even know how to do that. But that is, you know, being bold, and you know, getting in contact with higher ups is kind of the way that I could have made a difference there.

KP:

It's, it's kind of fast. And it's kind of fascinating to me that when I read the summary of your book, and was speaking to you offline about the book itself, that I can relate to what you're talking about, because my first my my first leadership position, as an officer was in Iraq, and I literally took over a position from somebody else. So there was no like team building and Garrison leading into combat, none of that it was like, drop you in here. And here you are, here's your platoon figure it out. Being in your current leadership studies, what can be done, in your opinion in from your studies, what can be done to make changes to a toxic leadership environment to make things better?

Caroline Walsh:

Yeah, so I actually just finished a paper this last semester on Yeah, how the Coast Guard might have, or might continue to be able to, you know, change their environment when it comes to sexual harassment and assaults. And there's multiple frames you can look at these problems with so you can look at any problem through these multiple frames. So, for example, the military loves the structural frame, the structural frame is you change things by making new policy you change things by making consequences. So that's how you that's the structural frame is like, Okay, if I want to change I'm going to make a policy that's going to say, sexual harassment is not acceptable, and this will happen if you know you're, you're guilty of doing it. So the military loves that but there's these other frames that you also need to use. So you need to use like the human resource frame is more of like the person to person frame. So yes, you have training and you know, awareness about like sexual assault and harassment and how to, you know, go about reporting it, but where are the conversations that discuss who are the base level understanding of the issue like instead Just feeding people training were like discussions and groups and like, how are you really starting to weed out what the problem is? And let people who don't know about it like a lot of men don't know about the issues women are having. So like, how do you bring awareness, there's also like the political framework, it's, you're looking at, you know, if if somebody's at a command, and there's all these issues, but they're still getting promoted, and they're still getting more responsibilities. They're still so they're getting more political power in this organization, when what's under them is not good. So looking at through that, how are you going to fix that? And then another frame that is like the symbolic frame, so that has to do probably in this issue with representation at the top? So, you know, Where are the women leaders at the top, for example, that's just a symbolic thing to have? And, you know, also like, what are the magazines going around the barracks, you know, are they, you know, like pornographic? Are they inappropriate, like, just these, like symbolic issues that allow the culture to just sit and morph into something? Like, even worse?

KP:

Yeah, I yeah, I thought it was very important for, especially myself as a leader to watch out for those sorts of things. I just want to know, as far as your book, is there any other points that you would like to highlight?

Caroline Walsh:

In the book? Yeah, it's kind of a book that goes back and forth between some really funny stories and some of the really tougher stuff. And I think that's just symbolic of, you know, the military experience, like, we can be all like, cracking jokes and everything. And then you know, the next thing, you know, like, somebody, you're close to commit suicide, and now you're dealing with that stuff, and you're trying to get through it. So I think just, you know, if you end up reading the book, and just seeing it, as you know, this whole experience, and this up and down, and these, there's a lot of emotions in there. And I use humor, and sometimes that covers it, but then you see the stories are like, humor can't really cover anything. So yeah, I think just kind of, you know, checking in on what you're relating to, and you know, where your, your emotions are falling, as you read it is, I think, is interesting.

KP:

Yeah, you can certainly tell by the title itself, that it has some humor involved in there as well. And just really quickly, I want to touch on this, I understand that you also worked a little bit in comedy, would you mind talking a little bit about that?

Caroline Walsh:

Sure. So one of my I call it like a holding environment, just a place where you can explore. So I took a comedy class from the arm service Arts Partnership. And so it's a six week course it was like one Saturday, every week. And I just got to kind of bring up some dark stuff and play around with it. And it's a lot of it's actually it helped me a lot. I was working at the CIA at the time. And it's so good with your analytic writing, because comedy is really brief. You want to get to the point get to the punchline, that's exactly what we do. And you know, Intel analysis. And then it also was great for briefing because I got up on stage at the end of the class. And there were just like, 50 people in the crowd and I had to, you know, get my heart to stop pounding and like, go through my comedy set. So it was just a super awesome experience in a really cool organization.

KP:

Yeah, no, I think it's absolutely fascinating. And you're such a dynamic person. I mean, coastguard to CIA analysts, to comedian to PhD student. Have you ever thought about how, how simply dynamic you are, like, how many different like how many different skill sets, you covered it, just the things that you've done in your life?

Caroline Walsh:

It's like overwhelming, because I'm so glad my book got out. But I have so many projects that like, I just have to figure out what gets cut. Yeah, I luckily, actually, I have like an injury. And that's kind of helping me like focus and like, you know, do one thing at a time. But yeah, that's great to be able to just tap into all this different stuff. And you don't have to be the best at anything. And you can just enjoy, you know, getting to know different parts of yourself.

KP:

Just like many military folks that I know, it sounds like you have a very busy mind. And at the end of the day, you're very multitask and you're all about accomplishing multiple things at the same time. A lot of US military folks are that way, but we're very efficient and very effective. And I want to ask you, Carolyn, And what inspired you to put pen to paper? And actually write the book? And what are several things that someone would gain after reading your book?

Caroline Walsh:

Yeah, what inspired me to put pen to paper, it was just, I knew writing it was going to put me past a lot of this stuff. So like the literal and metaphorical like closing of the book, it's actually ironic that now I'm doing these talks and podcasts or I have to like, reopen and talk about the book. But just, you know, wanting to get my experience out and get it in another format, besides in my head where it was just doing circles, like now it's like, it's concrete. It's formulated, I thought through it, and like, that's my story. Like, you know, if people start asking me a ton of questions, now I can be like, hey, like, I have this book. Like, it's a long story, maybe check it out. And I think, yeah, what I've gotten from some of the readers, whether they're military veteran or not, was just, yeah, connection just to the human experience, and the ups and downs and the mistakes you make when you're young. I mean, I, I talked so much about mistakes and people who saved me, I think that's a huge military lesson is one of the good things like there's there can be some toxicity, but the people who are looking out for you, for you are some of the best people you'll ever meet. And so I have some of those lessons in there, too.

KP:

Yeah, I think anyone out there who, especially anyone out there that's been in the military, whether in the capacity of a military spouse, or the actual service member, will certainly understand where you're coming from with that, because mistakes is something that all of us have made, every single one of us have made mistakes. And, as a leader, there have been times that I had to learn this myself. And there's been times where I had to sit down with soldiers, and tell them like, look, this mistake that you made, does not define who you are. Alright, you can recover from this, you can make a better tomorrow and you can make a better future. Don't hang your hat on this and think there's hang your head on this and think that this is it. Because, you know, as I tell people all the time, this too shall pass. And, and you'll get through this. And sooner or later, this will be a lesson learned. And I've made mistakes. I've made a lot of mistakes in my past. But I think the important thing is is that we learn from those mistakes. And I really believe that the combination of who you are your character, your skills, and everything, like I mentioned, from coast guard, to CIA analyst, comedian, to PhD student, I mean, this book has got to be action packed with things that many people are going to be able to identify with. So it sounds absolutely fascinating. And is it available right now on Amazon?

Caroline Walsh:

It is yes, it's on Amazon. And then also Barnes and Noble.

KP:

Great. Yeah, cuz I'm definitely gonna order this book, I have to dig into this and figure out, you know, Caroline Walsh, and her overall experiences from everywhere that she's been, I want to learn more about that. For anyone out there that's looking to connect with you. What social platforms are you on? And do you have a website? Or would you like to put out any type of contact out there?

Caroline Walsh:

Sure. I'm probably most active on Instagram. So you can find me it's Caroline, Noelle underscore art. So I don't know if you can put a link. But it's Caroline, and then o n o e, Ll. E is the Noela spelling and then underscore art. So I have my art. And then I have Yeah, things about my book on there. And then where else and I have a website. It's Caroline and w.com. That also that has all my other links on there as well. So yeah, and then the arm service Arts Partnership with free arts classes. They're now virtual. That's ASAP asap.org. Free for veterans and military spouses, family members, caretakers. They're online. They're in person. Really cool opportunity there.

KP:

Yeah, I'll make sure I put all that in the show notes. So anyone out there that's listened to the one information podcast? Definitely. I include all that information to scroll down to the bottom and you can find those links to add yourself to her Instagram. And follow Caroline. So since you're a comedian, Caroline, can you tell me a joke? No, I'm just kidding. Yeah. How many times have people told you like, put you on the spot? Like you've been at a party or something? I'd be like, okay, like, tell me a joke.

Caroline Walsh:

There's a video of Kanye West doing that to Dave Chappelle. And Dave Chappelle gets really uncomfortable. So I'm like, Okay, that's a normal response.

KP:

Yeah, yeah. No, no, it's a it's what I figure you know, it's kind of a stereotype type thing where Oh, this is a comedian will tell me a joke comedian. And you're just kind of like, okay, no, Caroline, thank you so much for being part of the morning formation. podcasts and just to summarize anything out, is there anything that you'd like for audience to know any advice or just any message out there for them?

Caroline Walsh:

Yeah, I mean, I think if you're transitioning out of the military just get connected connect with me on Instagram, I have so many random job things I can point out to you or put in your direction and people to connect you with lunch, you just start reaching out to other veterans, your your, if you're struggling, you're gonna find something someone's gonna help you out.

KP:

Yeah, you've got so many fascinating things. I mean, to cover, you know, Coast Guard, CIA analyst, PhD, author, all these comedian, all these different things would have taken us probably hours to do but I wanted to put you out there and, you know, as a resource for folks to contact. You know, because folks like Caroline are actually really, really great to connect with because they they're willing, they're able to provide the information or the advice for you. So certainly reach out to Caroline Walsh. I want to thank you for being on the morning information podcast, Caroline. And for folks out there listening. There's three things I want you to do. Stay tuned, stay focused, and stay motivated. Warriors Fallout