The word service is defined as the action of helping or doing work for someone. The Honorable Patrick Murphy has served…and led…in many arenas. He was America’s first Iraq War Veteran elected to Congress. He was later appointed by President Obama to serve as the Undersecretary of the Army and the acting Secretary of the Army. He was the youngest professor to ever teach at West Point.
Today, Patrick is a Vetrepreneur, where he serves as an angel investor for Veteran-owned businesses, advocates for mental health programs, and mentors the next generation of our nation’s leaders. Patrick joins this episode to discuss his journey from Soldier to Congressman to leading the Army’s over one million people. We cover his thoughts on leading in combat, why he felt compelled to enter politics and run for Congress, and how service to others is the greatest role a leader can play in any organization.
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About Patrick J. Murphy
At age 19, Patrick joined the Army, launching a lifelong commitment to our nation’s military and veterans. Patrick has served as a soldier, America’s first Iraq War veteran elected to Congress, and the 32nd Under Secretary of the Army.
Today, Patrick continues to advocate and empower veterans through his work in the public and private sectors. As a “Vetrepreneur,” he spearheads a wide range of business interests and offers veterans the opportunity to launch their own dreams by investing in their companies. As a public speaker and media executive, Patrick helps amplify the voices and experiences of veterans on MSNBC, CBS, the Discovery Network, and elsewhere.
Patrick currently lives in Pennsylvania with his two children, Maggie and Jack.
Taking The Hill – The Honorable Patrick Murphy – Congressman, Secretary Of The Army, Vetrepreneur
The word service is defined as the action of helping or doing work for someone. Leadership requires us to embrace service as a core value. Leaders at any level in any industry must put their people first and above all else. The Honorable Patrick Murphy has served and led in many arenas. Patrick served as America’s first Iraq War veteran, elected to Congress from the Eighth Congressional District of Pennsylvania. Congressman Murphy served on the Armed Services, Select Intelligence and Appropriations Committees.
He authored and co-authored several veteran initiatives, including the 21st Century GI Bill, the Repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and Hire Our Heroes legislation. Patrick was later appointed by President Obama to serve as the Undersecretary of the Army and the Acting Secretary of the Army. He led initiatives to increase public-private partnerships, expanded the Soldier for Life Program and streamlined the Army’s talent management process.
Patrick started his career as an officer in the US Army, where he was the youngest professor to ever teach at West Point. In 2003, he deployed Operation Iraqi Freedom and was instrumental in developing a judicial process resulting in the prosecution and conviction of many high-level terrorists. Now, Patrick is a self-described Vetrepreneur, where he serves as an Angel investor for veteran-owned businesses, advocates for mental health programs and mentors the next generation of our nation’s leaders.
Patrick joins me in this episode to discuss his journey from soldier to congressman to leading the Army’s over one million people. We cover his thoughts on leading in combat, why he felt compelled to enter politics and run for Congress and how service to others is the greatest role a leader can play in any organization.
Patrick, welcome to the show.
It’s great to be with you.
I define leadership as the ability to lead people in organizations in any environment across political and socioeconomic divides in the military and business. Many leaders excel in one arena, but few leaders excel in a number of arenas. You’ve led soldiers in combat as an officer in the Army. You’ve led the Congress in the House of Representatives and our Army as the senior civilian leader. You served as an attorney across multiple industries and now, in journalism, as a broadcaster, a commentator, in your work as what you call a Vetrepreneur. You also advocate for mental health and healthcare and invest in many different veteran businesses. I know there are a few more things that I probably left out there and I’m hoping we’re going to get to them in here, but it’s an honor to sit with you. Thanks for taking the time.
I appreciate it. I’m a big fan of the show. Thanks for having me on.
I want to start a little bit in the beginning. You were born into a family of veterans. Your father served in the Navy. Your uncles were in Vietnam. Your brother is in the Air Force. You came into Army ROTC at nineteen, but it wasn’t always necessarily the plan to go in the Army. When I read your book, I identified so much with it because you said that life as a teenager was a bit loose.
I think about those and I texted one of my buddies that same week. We were reminiscing about all the crazy stupid things we used to do, but we had these defining moments. We look and say, “I think I can go into the military, make a difference and do something.” You had a rejection from college, the loss of a close friend and then this opportunity to earn $150 a month in ROTC. Talk a little bit about those days and what led to you deciding, “I can go into the military. I got to do this.”Service to others is the greatest role a leader can play in any organization. Click To Tweet
I grew up in a row house in Northeast Philadelphia, so I grew up with that row house mentality. My dad was a Navy veteran. My uncles were Army veterans and two of them served in Vietnam. My dad served in Vietnam. It wasn’t that they ever pushed the military. My dad served for 22 years as a Philly cop. He never pushed the police force, but being around public servants, people who put that uniform to represent our community or country was always around me.
Growing up in Philadelphia, you have the Army-Navy game. I thought those Army guys were esteemed because I didn’t know it was the academy. I’m embarrassed to say that. Most of my friends didn’t go to college where I grew up and to grow up in the city of Philadelphia, I’ve been very blessed in my life, but I do remember I had a gun pulled on me three different times before I turned eighteen. I remember being like, “There’s something better than this.”
For me, when I lost my friend, I had gone through the loss of not being able to go play college hockey at the one school I thought I was going to apply it with my older brother. I had to go to community college. I was always a hard worker, but I was like, “I’m going to work smart. I’m going to make sure I put effort into it.” Making the dean’s list in college and transferring to that school that rejected me at first.
Being a three-year collegian hockey captain and for me, ROTC was lucky. My college roommates said, “Do you know about this ROTC program? We should look into it.” The more I read about it, I didn’t realize the difference between enlisted and officer, all those things. I signed up. First, you can sign up, you don’t have to commit and take the military science classes, but I immediately fell in love with it. I loved the discipline, the drive and the fact that they give you metrics.
All you had to do was two minutes of pushups, sit-ups and a two-mile run. It pushed me. They go compete with other cadets against other universities. I remember in my platoon at Fort Knox, Kentucky, when I was going through what they called Basic Camp. I’m at Fort Knox, Kentucky. In my platoon, there were guys and gals from the University of Notre Dame and Harvard and other schools like Georgetown.
I was thinking to myself like, “I’m as good if not better than these cats.” I’ve been a hockey player and I still was, but I remember thinking, “I could do this well.” I loved it. For me to serve at nineteen, I never thought that a few years later, I would be a professor at West Point, deploy to combat twice and be in places like Baghdad, Iraq with the 82nd Airborne Division. It opened up a lot of doors. I fell in love with the military and the structure.
You entered the JAG Corps, and then you brought up West Point. You were the youngest professor ever to teach at West Point. We spoke previously with General Peter Chiarelli, the 32nd Vice Chief of Staff. He spoke so much about his time at West Point and how formative it was. He was in the Department of Social Sciences. The legendary performance coach, who we had on, Dr. Jack Stark has a great quote. He said, “The greatest leaders are the greatest teachers.”
What did the West Point experience teach you about not only leadership but about taking the experiences that you had growing up in the Army and then developing that next generation? We’re going to talk a bit about grit because that’s come up and that I think defines you a lot. As you develop the next generation, what did that experience do for you?
It was a game-changer for me to go teach there. Never in a million years did I think that I was going to join the Army, become an officer, go to law school, go into the JAG Corps and go to West Point. It was pretty special. I will say that West Point is the Athens and Sparta of America, where you have over 4,000 of our country’s best and brightest that go there.
They can go anywhere and they choose to serve our country and go to the United States Military Academy at West Point to become a leader of character for lifetime service. For me to be there on the faculty to compete in staff and faculty basketball, softball, volleyball and athletics, and then to be a lector at the Most Holy Trinity Church there on campus.
I coached hockey to 5- and 6-year-olds. I remember when a parent one time said, “Which one is your son?” I remember saying, “No, I’m here coaching.” It’s about being that civic asset in that community. It opened up so many doors, but partially, as you mentioned, it’s I dove in and not just did to learn the material and become a better military officer, but also to go back, teach and mentor. Those cadets that I had back then, I’m still friends with now. They’re doing great things. They’re battalion commanders and one is an executive at Nike.
To me, it’s pretty special the three years of my life to go teach there. My favorite quote from West Point is when Colin Powell was there and he said, “You cannot leave West Point without the love of country stamped on your heart.” It’s one of those special places. I’m still up there every other month, moving and shaking up there and doing some things because it’s phenomenal.
9/11 was during your time at West Point and you had this call to serve. There’s a great story in your book about you marching into your commander’s office and demanding, “Sir, I immediately will deploy to combat.” How’d that work out?
Luckily, he was a mentor of mine and I agreed to stay there. This is before 9/11. I gave a two-year commitment that I would go there and will go to the 82nd Airborne Division or the Ranger Regimen was my next either assignment. When our nation was attacked, I had lost friends of mine that I knew. I’ve been at Army Air Assault School getting ready for Ranger school, but you got to get in the game and the fight. I got to deploy. This is what you trained me to do. I’ve been in the Army now for several years. It’s my time. He’s like, “Patrick, I appreciate you. You are a true warrior. I know that and you’ll get there. You got to give me time.”
He’s like, “We called Pentagon and said you want to deploy now. They’re going to call me anyway.” A few months later, he was a man of his word. I deployed and served under General Petraeus. At that time, our ground forces commander was an Army Colonel with the 25th Infantry Division. That Army colonel was Colonel Mark Milley, now the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He put me with the varsity team.
I was there and made friendships. I came back from that deployment and was part of the invasion in Iraq, my second deployment with the 82nd Airborne Division. It goes back to West Point and that Colonel Patrick Finnegan, who went on to become a general. He’s one of my mentors. I know he’s smiling up in heaven and looking down on all of us now.
I want to ask about Iraq because that first deployment you went to was to Bosnia and that was a cool mission. A lot of the guys that I started with in the 10th Special Forces Group had done that Bosnia mission. It’s the genocide in that region of the world. There were great stories that they all had, but Iraq was a different story. Iraq, in so many ways, is a polarizing war. I think for you, it was definitely a turning point that I think we got into here where it shaped your mindset, the path certainly and your perspective moving forward after that. It was so different than Afghanistan. After Afghanistan, 9/11, everybody was ready to kick someone’s ass.
It didn’t matter who was getting their ass kicked. Somebody was getting their ass kicked and that was it. Iraq was tougher. It was something that so many people questioned before nobody questioned going to Afghanistan. I was a college student, a junior at Boston University. I was a senior when we went into Iraq. It was like, “What are we doing? What’s the goal?” You were there a couple of months after the invasion.
There were so many increasing challenges that we almost created for ourselves, like disbanding the government, the military, the law enforcement, putting force caps and announcing withdrawal plans publicly while there were still trying to get into certain cities. You led a Brigade Operational Law Team in Baghdad. You were responsible for what I called having to will a lot of the Iraqi government to prosecute so many of these terrorists and people we’re attacking, not only the US Forces but also Iraqi citizens and the structure of Iraq. Talk about the early days of Iraq and how you approached the mission or even the lack thereof the mission and how, as a leader, do you go into an environment where everyone’s questioning what’s going on, but there’s a job to do.
Essentially when I was in college, I read Colin Powell’s book, My American Journey. He talked about the Powell Doctrine, where you have a clear mission, an overwhelming force to accomplish a mission and a clear exit strategy. For me, the Bosnia mission was a righteous war. We stopped the worst ethnic cleansing in Europe since World War II. They were killing thousands of Muslims because they’re Muslims in towns like Srebrenica on the side of the road.
I was proud to serve in that, but then there was the ramp-up to the Iraq War. We were in Afghanistan and we knew that’s where Bin Laden was. I had read all these books about Al Qaeda and intelligence reports. I’ve been in the mix. I remember the ramp-up to the Iraq war, thinking to myself, why are we doing this? It has nothing to do with 9/11. There was no connection to that. There were political leaders that were trying to make the connection, but in my heart of hearts and gut, I could tell it was flaky.With different leaders and organizations, you hire for talent and train for skill. Click To Tweet
I was a captain and said, “What do I know? I’m an Army captain.” When they asked me to go, I was told, “You’re going.” I was there to do a job. I wasn’t there to question our strategy or what we were doing. My soldiers constantly said, “Sir, what the hell are we doing over here in 130-degree heat?” We were responsible for the district, which was Sunni and Shia with 1.5 million Iraqis. It’s the size of my hometown in the City of Philadelphia, where there are 7,000 cops for 1.5 Philadelphians. There were only 3,500 of us Brigade Combat Team for 1.5 million Iraqis.
We don’t have as much law enforcement because the political leaders said, “No, we don’t need that many troops.” We had military leaders. General Eric Shinseki was the Chief of Staff of the Army at the time. He testified at Congress like, “If we go to Iraq, we need 700,000 troops,” and have political leaders speak out, “The general’s wildly off the mark,” and basically asking for him to retire.
I’ve read books like H.R. McMaster, Dereliction of Duty. You have to stand up sometimes. When I was in Baghdad, we did a phenomenal job with what we were given. I’m proud of our service over there, but it was the wrong war. Most Americans knew it. We were not focused on Bin Laden and bringing him to justice. We still hadn’t captured him. We have political leaders that were literally trying to cut our combat pay when I was over there.
They read the Early Bird and stuff like that and hearing them say, “They don’t need hazard duty pay anymore. The mission is accomplished. It’s over.” I’m thinking to myself, “We just lost two guys in a roadside bomb,” which killed most of our guys, these IEDs. I was dumbfounded. From my time teaching at West Point, I also knew that we had the least number of veterans serving in Congress. To me, I felt like God gave me a lot of talents and opportunities.
I knew that I had to get involved in political public service to be a voice of reason and to fight for my brothers and sisters to do what’s right. I came back from that deployment. The Army was very generous. They offered me Hawaii or whatever I wanted to do. I could go to teach at the JAG School or West Point. I said, “No, I’m ready for the next chapter. I’ll always be a soldier for life. I will always give back and be a fan of America’s Varsity Team or the Army.” That’s why I got into political public service.
That started to like the day you were discharged, where you got in the car and drove immediately to support John Kerry’s presidential campaign. Politics can be a nasty game. It’s something that you know certainly much better than I and most. You experienced that early on, though, with Senator Kerry and also in your own congressional run for sure. Some thought that you were crazy jumping in and others believed immediately in it.
When you got into politics, you had to learn that. You had this call to action. You understood, “These are my positions. This is what I want to do.” You also had to read a book, How To Win A Local Election, to educate yourself. Can you talk a little bit about how did you think about jumping into this new career? We say all the time on the show and on work with different leaders and organizations that you hire for talent and train for skill.
You didn’t necessarily have the skill as the politician, but you certainly understood I have the talent, the drive and the desire. How am I going to now bring myself up to a point in which I can be competitive? Maybe if you can talk a little bit about those first couple of weeks and how did you build the team? What were the things you were looking for and set out on that campaign trail?
I advise veterans and military family members now who want to run for Congress. I often say, “Don’t do what I did.” I got very lucky to win my first race ever and to be in Congress. I always say, “There are 600,000 elected positions in America and there are only 535 in the Federal government. You should start small, which is not what I did.
I read books, but I volunteered full-time. When I say full-time, I would work 80 hours a week for John Kerry’s presidential campaign. I’m a big fan. I think he’s a true public servant. He served in Vietnam and was decorated for service in the Navy in that time and served honorably, not as US Senator but also as a Secretary of State. I did see that he got beat up on that campaign. I was one of the ones that were punching back. People were attacking his military service. People who have never served attacked his military service, which ticked me off. I defended him vigorously and I am proud of that.
I’m a happy warrior. I’m a nice guy. I get along with everybody, but I’m a Roadhouse kid from Northeast Philadelphia. You’re not going to mess with my colleagues and me. When I ran for office, I loved the quote, “Hire for talent. You can train for skill.” Part of it was, I knew I had the talent. I knew I had to learn the skills and jumped right in. A lot of folks say, “Patrick, you might not win. You’ll get your name out there.” I’m like, “I’m not doing this to get my name out there. I’m doing this because I lost nineteen guys in Iraq.”
We don’t have veterans in Congress that are willing to stand up and say what we should be doing over there. We should be focused on Bin Laden. I ran for office and had not about why the other person should be fired. I talked about why I should be hired too. I think we missed that in politics. It’s easy to criticize and turn down, but people should also stand on their own merits and what their vision is. For me, I ran saying, “We need a new GI Bill for the next generation.” I ran to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell because they kicked out 13,000 troops after 9/11 because of who folks loved back home. When I got to Congress, I was able to effectuate that change and make it come to fruition.
How do you work across the aisle? On November 7th, 2006, you became the nation’s first Iraq War vet elected to Congress and now you’re there. You talked about advancing the GI Bill and the Repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. You also worked on raising the Federal minimum wage, Student Credit Card Transparency Act and the Improper Payments Elimination Recovery Act. Those are a couple, but you also served on the House Armed Services Committee, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and the Appropriations Committee.
All of those require what we call on the show team ability. It’s how are you going to work in and among a team and get everybody to coalesce. We could have an entire episode on what’s going on right now with the politics and divide in America. This is a little side note, but our last episode was with a guy named Travis Hollman. He owns Hollman Inc., the world’s largest manufacturer of lockers.
We had an interesting conversation in that episode about this divide. The majority of people probably sit somewhere in the middle, yet we have started to focus on these extremes where everybody lives at the edge and someone has to lose, for someone has to win. When we were kids, you came together and fought it out. We didn’t have social media. Everything wasn’t on an iPhone with video, but you were able to solve problems sometimes when we were young, less civilly, but at least it got solved. You can sit down and start talking to people when you grow up. It’s not so public, but you can find a commonality. How do you bridge that? How do we bring people together? Not only how did you do it, but also how do we do it now?
Action speaks louder than words and you got to be cognizant of what the other side is saying and listen. My mom was a Republican. My dad was a Democrat growing up. For me, I was independent my whole life. When I ran for Congress, I became a Democrat. To me, with every bill I introduced, I always had a Republican co-sponsor. I worked with Republicans. I lifted weights with them early in the morning. I used to do P90X with Paul Ryan, who went on to become the speaker of the House.
For me, that was important, but I’d also say like, “It was always about putting the country first.” It was always about where we can find common ground. Even in a bill that was talked about for decades like the Repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, I got a ton of Republicans who are supportive, but partly it’s because I listened to what their concerns were.
I listened when they say, “We’re wasting too much taxpayer dollars on this and this.” We wasted $1.2 billion because it costs on average $50,000 to recruit these young Americans who come into our force and train them. We’re throwing them out, not because of misconduct, but because of who they love. I would say to them, “If there’s misconduct, whether you’re gay or straight, you get thrown out.” It’s called the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
I would say, “We’re wasting taxpayer dollars on this. Do you think that’s right?” They’d be like, “No.” I’m like, “Let’s do something about it. Let’s repeal this thing,” and we got there. The majority of Republicans were for it, but we could disagree on things, but you never become disagreeable. I think my most proud moment was when we did pass that one bill, the Repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. A person who voted against it came to me prior and he said, “Patrick, I will vote for this if you need my vote as a deciding vote. My constituents, I represent 700,000 folks. They would not be happy with me if I voted for this. I’m going to hold my power. If you need me, I’m there for you. If not, I’m going to vote against it.”
I was like, “If that’s what you can do, I appreciate it.” I didn’t like it. He was the first person to shake my hand on the floor and say, “Patrick, we made history. You did a great job.” It was genuine. I say that because, too often, they make it personal. Part of that was when you go in history, members of Congress still live there full-time. I’m only two and a half hours away from Washington. I’m up in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. It’s North of Philadelphia.To bring people together, you got to have empathy and be cognizant of what the other side is saying. Click To Tweet
I would take the Amtrak down. The point is I was home every weekend. I didn’t spend any weekends down there. I was raising kids back home in Bucks County. I was in my community and doing events every weekend. I do think that we need more veterans in office because they tend to work as teams and put the country first. They tend to tend not to answer this to political bosses or parties. They try to genuinely find commonality and common ground.
Not all veterans, but we have some folks that are team players and they don’t have a long career. Those that genuinely care tend to find each other and would go forward. I will say in another note, my best friend in the Army became my best friend in Congress. I was an Iraq War veteran, my first term, but it was a guy I went to Officer Basic Course. His name is Tom Rooney. He is the representative of Florida. We were in OBC and taught at West Point together. When I was first running, he helped me out.
He ran into a different party. I’m a Democrat. He’s Republican and won. We did bills together like things in Afghanistan. The press didn’t pick up on it. The press wouldn’t cover it. Why? If it bleeds, it leads. The media is also a problem. They want the far left, the far-right and want to show destruction. Foreign adversaries throw fuel on that fire because they’re pushing out social media from the far right and left in a hurtful way.
That’s what is also dividing our country. That’s why America is that shining city on a hill, but only if we stay together. We got to focus on our common bonds or good. It’s even in the Preamble of our Constitution, “In order to form a more perfect union.” We’re not perfect and we’re never going to be perfect, but we’re a good country, partially because we’re always trying to make it better. That’s our solemn duty.
I think we forget about the image that we portray when we have this divide and you brought it up, our adversaries. We spoke with Jack Devine, the former Head of Operations Director to the CIA for a long time. He ran the war in Afghanistan in the ’80s against the Soviets and he wrote this whole book, Spymaster’s Prism, that talks about social media and the use of social media by our foreign adversaries and how they’re exploiting it.
We’re giving them the fodder by which to exploit it when we do this. I also think about what you said, the bond. When we talk about team ability, building bonds and the lessons that the military teaches you that you can bring to other organizations, it’s this fact that you may not even like the person that you serve with. You’re willing to lay down your life to defend them. You’ll go back to the team room and hate these people.
You might not hang out with them, but it’s all about mission accomplishment when you go out and you have the mission to do. We have to create an environment, not only in politics but in organizations, where it’s mission first and set our differences aside. When we do that, we can achieve some level of success.
That’s the great thing about serving your country. If you’re a genuine soldier, it means you have a service heart that you are willing to be selfless in those darkest moments, when it can be life or death. I remembered serving in combat with folks and it affects some people in different ways. I remember a guy who was trying to convert Muslims to become Christian. I’m a devout Catholic, but I used to say to him, “Knock it off. That’s an order. Do not try to prophesize about Christianity. That is not our job here. It’s rubbing them the wrong way and hurting the cause here.”
That was the Iraqis. I would go to the service with our local chaplain. We didn’t have a Catholic chaplain because we were on cooperating base, but we had got a Christian chaplain and I would go there. I happen to be Catholic, but I don’t think my religion is better than anyone else’s. That’s what I do, the way I was raised, my culture and spirituality, but I don’t try to legislate that on any other person.
To your point, what leadership is, you inspire others to do things they wouldn’t otherwise do. I had one of my all-American teammates who, when we came back, we used to talk about it over there, but he wanted to go to West Point as an enlisted soldier and went to West Point. Another one who became a Catholic because they see you how you are and character is how you are when no one’s watching.” This is what they’ve told me. They would see how I conducted myself. I would talk about my faith if they asked me and if it was appropriate. Those quiet moments when you are up in the nest on the roof at 3:00 in the morning. To me, it’s one of the special things about the military and public service.
Weren’t you in the train derailment too?
Yeah. I’ve had nine lives.
I don’t have it here in my notes, but I remember that you are at the train derailment.
I have been in car accidents. I remember being in Bosnia. We were on the side of the mountain. We did a 360. Our car rolled on the side of the road. I jumped out of airplanes for a living. When I left Congress, I had my own TV show for NBC News. I went down there to interview Bob McDonald, who’s a great American. He was a West Point graduate and was a VA secretary. Prior to that, he was the CEO of Procter & Gamble. I’m on my way back from that interview, on the train. I’m in the cafe car with my earbuds in, on my iPad, banging out some work.
Senator Tom Carper from Delaware got off Delaware. We had a midshipman that got on. I offered to buy him a beer. When I first saw him, he was in uniform. He didn’t know who I was, but that’s how I roll. I take care of my brother and sisters. Unfortunately, the next thing I know, the train crashed. It flipped over. Eight of the twelve passengers were killed, including that one midshipman. It’s like anything else. The great thing about the military is we develop leaders of character for a lifetime of service. You might only serve three years. You might do ten years or whatever, but you were expected to be a civic asset and a leader of character for a lifetime.
What Uncle Sam taught me back at Fort Knox, Kentucky, or Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Fort Benning or wherever I had kicked in, I took care of the wounded. I punched out the window and got people off. The train flipped over, so I was getting them off onto the roof and to the window. I lifted them up. I stayed back with the wounded and put a tourniquet on somebody. There were a lot of blood and guts everywhere. People were flipping out. There were 200 folks that were wounded, but I was one of the lucky ones. I got knocked unconscious. I’m a former hockey player, so I’m used to getting hit. I came to and I sprang into action. I was very lucky. I don’t know when my day will end, but my time here on Earth is to make a difference, be a change agent, and lead a positive force for our country and my brother and sister veterans.
You brought up character and we’ve been talking about the context of leadership. You learn from the good, the bad, the positive experiences in life and from the defeats. You won reelection the first time and the second time, you were defeated. Can you talk a little bit about what you take away from that?
To me, I mentioned that there are 600,000 elected positions in America. I was in the top 535. It wasn’t my career or I grew up saying, “I want to be that congressman someday.” People would sometimes say stuff to me. I always read about and appreciate it, but they work on campaigns and stuff like that. I remember being at church with my family the Sunday before my reelection. I won for Congress. I won again for Congress and I’m running again, but there’s a national wave. We passed the bill of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, Obamacare, which gave healthcare to over 20 million more Americans. It gave them access to healthcare and health insurance. It made sure that kids could stay in their parent’s plan until age 26 and some of the things.
We have a new president. There was a tsunami coming. I’m in a swing district. I remember thinking, “They’re saying that I have a 50/50 chance to win or to not win.” I remember being at church with my family. I lit a candle. It wasn’t ever to win. I never asked that. I say, “God, whatever your will is and however, this Tuesday works, I trust in You. I’m going to do the best job in this journey that I can do given the circumstances.” I lost by a few points that election and I did what I always did.
I woke up the next day. It was my son’s first birthday. We sang happy birthday. After my concession speech, I went right in to say happy birthday to Jack Murphy. There were a lot of tears. A lot of people were distraught. People lost their jobs. I helped them all get other jobs. I woke up the next morning early and was at the train station the next morning thanking voters who let me serve them as a member of Congress. It was damp, dark, cold in that November, but again, character is how you are when no one’s looking. I knew there weren’t many reporters. I knew that the sun was over in the congressional run in my time, but I wanted to make sure that people knew I was very grateful. It was special to serve in that capacity and make a change like the Repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell or the post 9/11 GI Bill. I look at that and there are 1.1 million young Americans in colleges and universities across America right now because of that bill. That’s makes it all worthwhile.
The hiatus didn’t last for long because a few years, in 2015, President Obama nominated you for the role of Undersecretary of the Army where you lead Change Management. I think it’s the day that you go into that role and they’re like, “By the way, we need you to serve as the Secretary of the Army while we go through the confirmation process for Eric Fanning. What did he see in you?Leadership is inspiring others to do things they wouldn't otherwise do. Click To Tweet
I didn’t lobby for the job. I signed a two-year contract extension with NBC. I had the TV show, etc. This is right before the Amtrak crash, but long story short, I saw the president and he is like, “Patrick, my final two years is coming up. We’re making some changes in Pentagon. I want you to go help lead the Army.” I said, “Sir, I don’t need a job. I’m good.” He asked me before to serve, but it was in a role that was like a special assistant role. I was like, “Sir, if you want me to do something for you, I will do it. It has to be the right role. You’ve got to put me in the right spot.”
He is like, “I have this role for you. I need you to be the Undersecretary of the Army.” I will be honest with you. I apologize to all the readers out there. I didn’t know what the hell the Undersecretary of the Army was. I was on the Armed Services Committee. I knew there was the Secretary of the Army, but I didn’t realize there’s only one undersecretary, which is like the COO. There’s the secretary, the undersecretary and four assistant secretaries. I had to look up on Google the org chart of the Army. I was like, “It’s the number two job.”
I said, “If you want me to serve, absolutely. I’ll do it.” For me, I was one of the poorest members of Congress. I have great credit and a house, but I’m still paying my college and law school loans off. It was a pay cut to go back in public service, but to me, I’m not driven by money. It’s important. I got to make sure I pay my bills. To me, to go serve in that capacity was special. To your point, I went there as a number two and within three days, the number one.
Eric Fanning is a great American. He was incredibly gracious because he was put on the sidelines for a little bit until he went through the Senate confirmation, but he said, “Patrick, when you have the stick, you have the stick. You don’t have to come to me. You go run the show and you’re ready for this.” I did jump in right away. Unfortunately, I lost two soldiers within that first week. I had been up at Dover Air Force Base, but I didn’t file a transfer. I meet with their families. I sent the first email out, the Army-wide email. It was a Tuesday and I said, “If I want to be in the lead and people to know like, “This is who I am and what I expect.”
People are like, “Do you want to send an email to the 25,000 folks in Pentagon?” I was like, “No. There are 1.3 million people in the Army.” It’s everybody. They’re like, “We never do that.” I’m like, “You have three days to figure it out. I’ll write the email.” My favorite part of that was I wrote it on a Wednesday night at Starbucks. At 8:00 AM on Thursday, I was like, “I want to put this out tomorrow. Everyone take a look at it.” I had been on TV. I’d run a congressional campaign and I know how emails work. You don’t want to make them too long.
The email was at least eight paragraphs. These are initiatives. I’m like, “No. It’s going to be 3, maybe 2 small paragraphs. This is who I am and what we’re about.” I go, “This is the reason I’m doing this.” I said, “I’m going to send an email out every week, every ten days and not every Friday.” People write back, “Is this really Patrick Murphy?” I would get hundreds of responses and be like, “This is awesome.” This was January when I was in and then February is Black History Month. I talked about and I’ll never forget, Drill Sergeant Jeter, my drill sergeant in Fort Knox, Kentucky, who believed in the skinny kid from Northeast Philadelphia, who was 125 pounds at the time join the Army.
He was tough as nails. I didn’t realize that Drill Sergeant Jeter was still in the military and that he would get that email. We made that connection and my battle buddy when I was at Fort Knox, Kentucky, my bunkmate, saw it and was like, “I can’t believe it. I knew you were in Congress.” To me, it was very important. I knew I got sworn in and confirmed by the US Senate and all this stuff. People aren’t paying attention to the Undersecretary of the Army. They got through John McCain in the Senate and I was confirmed within a few days.
You were the Undersecretary when I was in the Army and I have no idea who you were at that point. I’ve come to know who you are after, but I had no idea at that point.
I said to my wife, “I want to go see the troops over the holiday.” We have two young kids. I said, “I’m going to go overseas. Do you have a preference if I go for Thanksgiving or Christmas?” She says, “The kids are young. I’d like you’d be here for Christmas. Could you do Thanksgiving and be with the troops for Thanksgiving? I know you’ll do stuff over Christmas, but maybe not on Christmas day. Could you be with the kids?” “I’m sure I could at least try to do that.” I remember I was going for Thanksgiving. I was telling them, “What are we doing? We’re going to go to a 5k Turkey Trot first in Kuwait before we go to Iraq. I’m like, “I always liked to do workouts with the troops.” I want to be with them.
They said you were the soldier secretary.
When that, I turned into that smoke secretary. I’m flipping tires over, but I would get out there. I love life. I love the military and being back on the team. I went to this USO function in Washington. I saw the new Miss America. She says she wants to support the troops. I’m like, “Can we ask her to see the troops over Thanksgiving?” They’re like, “You could ask whoever you want.” I called her up, “I know we just met and gave me your number.”
I’m like, “If you want to go to see the troops, I’m going to go on Thanksgiving. Do you want to go?” She’s like, “That’d be amazing.” She went and didn’t do the 5K with us and stuff, but the troops were like, “Sir, any time you want to hang out with Ms. America, bring her to see us. You’re welcome to come back.” “I’m trying to make you guys and gals smile.” To me, you have to have fun with it. Life’s too short. We all do such important work. You have to take the job seriously, but you can’t take yourself too seriously. You got to have that humble servant attitude.
You also have this perspective that you call the leader first concept and that led you to push for some monumental changes in the Army. We talked about a couple of things that you had led through Congress, but some of the big things in the Army, doubling maternity and paternity leave for the troops. You were instrumental in ending the ban on transgender people and opening combat arms for women.
You call that the right decision for the Army and that, “The personal courage and selfless service made by women in Army is no different than exhibited by our men. We owe them the respect and honor to offer them the opportunity to succeed anywhere in the Army, based upon only the merits of their performance.” I’ve got to invoke the name of our mutual friend and colleague Lisa Jaster into this.
I know you’re very close to her. I am too. She introduced us. She has been an awesome friend of mine and the show. We had her on Episode 16. She joined me with General McChrystal. I asked her to come into that conversation. When I read that quote in your book, I thought about Lisa immediately, who embodies this. She can do anything. A leader is a leader and it doesn’t matter who you are and what you look like.
Lisa Jaster is one of my personal heroes. Change is never easy. To allow soldiers like Lisa Jaster to go through Ranger school, one of the first women ever. There were people who were like, “You’re going to lower the standards for Ranger schools.” I was like, “Let me be very clear. Most women will not be able to go through Ranger school. Most guys can say neither. I was upfront about it. We didn’t change the standards. She’s done a phenomenal job and a lot of other women going through the Q Course. It’s Special Forces now. It’s either believe in equality or you don’t. It’s either we’re going to fight for equality or you’re not.
I was always wanting to fight for, deal with what’s right, the fundamental principle of our country and our military. Our military has been an incredible change agent in America, where we democratized education after World War II with the original GI Bill, where we de-segregated the military when half of the country was still segregated in the 1950s during the Korean War. We passed the Repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which ushered in marriage equality. For me, it was absolutely the right thing to do and I was proud of that.
It has changed the military fundamentally. We couldn’t be more thankful for you for doing that. Let’s talk about post-military, the Vetrepreneur. I identify with this so much. I mentioned Travis Hollman. I asked him a lot of questions more for my personal knowledge. You, like me, wake up and have fifteen different ideas every day. It becomes, “Which of these can I execute on? Which one is should? Which one’s a pipe dream and what can work?”
You served as the Cofounder and Executive Chairman of a company called WorkMerk, providing tech-based business solutions to bring a suite of app-based tools. You’re also partnering with a number of other investment firms. Stony Lonesome Group is a venture capital firm that provides seed funding to companies owned and managed by veterans. Can you talk about these initiatives? Why is it so important for you now to look at veterans and say, “I know where you’re coming from and I want to support you?”
I’m the biggest champion for my brothers and sisters. The Army and the military had opened up so many doors for my family and me. My brothers served two deployments after 9/11. My dad, uncle and grandfather served. When you look at it being a Vetrepreneur, the great thing about America is we have the number one military and economy in the world. The economy is built on innovation, our work ethic as Americans, and our ability to create new things and new products.
Some of the most iconic brands in the world, the companies were started by American veterans. Walmart was started by Sam Walton, an Army veteran, Enterprise Car Rental, Comcast and Nike Shoes. We have a lot to be proud of. It’s not those companies that veterans started, but even veterans that are out there now that are leading Fortune 100 companies like Johnson & Johnson, run by Alex Gorsky, an Army Ranger.Making a difference in how people live their dreams and completing what they want to set out to do is incredibly important. Click To Tweet
To me, that’s a great source of pride, but I’m a problem solver at the core of it. I look at a problem and say, “That’s great. Those veterans built these iconic brands, but half the veterans started doing small business after World War II. In our generation of Iraq and Afghanistan, less than 5% have started their own company. Access to capital is a big deal. It’s very hard to acquire it. I invested over $20 million in 49 companies through Stony Lonesome Group. We’re looking for other partners out there that want to invest in veterans.
To me, I do that. I worked for Ankura Consulting. I worked with a guy named Vince Stewart. He is a Three-Star Marine General, retired. He’s one of the great African-American leaders in our country. He’s a cyber expert. I worked with him there. With WorkMerk, our partner is John New, a former Georgetown ROTC graduate. It’s a great tech company that’s doing phenomenal work. For me, all those things are passions of mine. They happen to be my work, but they’re passions. To be able to make a difference in how people live their dreams and accomplish what they want to set out to do is incredibly important.
The global war on terror, technically by definition, is over. The new battlefield is out there. Some of it may be defined. A lot of it’s probably not defined yet. It will certainly bear fruit and show itself here in ways that we expect and probably don’t expect. With the veterans, I call it now below the fold. People had looked at me when I’ve said that term and have to say, “A newspaper is folded in half when we used to have real newspapers, and if it was below the fold, that was the stuff that was deemed somewhat less important than what was on the top.”
With the focus on the military and the focus on veterans now out of the limelight, other topics are taking the front. How do we focus on veteran initiatives? How do we continue to help veterans transition out and move into positions whether it’s as entrepreneurs or veteran hiring initiatives? What are some of the ways that we can continue to keep the focus there when the rest of the world seemingly, at least for a period of time, now we’ll be focused on other stuff?
You have to redouble your efforts because we’re not above the fold. It’s less than 1% that have served in these longest wars in American history for years. You also have to remind people that right now, when we go to bed, there are 170,000 of our fellow troops who are deployed overseas and 900 of them happened to be in Syria. The war and terror might officially be over in Afghanistan and Iraq, but there are still terrorists out there that 100 families over here. We had to remain ever vigilant to make sure that we couldn’t let that happen again, like 9/11 and we had to bring them to justice. To me, that’s why I’m still training, doing CrossFit and playing Men’s League Hockey because you never know if Uncle Sam calls me and says, “Murphy, we need you to go back as a captain.” I’m ready to go.
I know it’s not going to happen, but you never know. It’s also the culture. When I say redouble our efforts, it doesn’t mean paying attention. You’ve got to amplify our brothers and sisters out there, whether they’re in a business community or service. We’ve got to be out there for each other. We can’t expect other people to sing their praises. That’s why when you did the show, I made time for you because I’m proud of you. It’s not easy to do these things. We need more veteran voices in the media like you are. You can’t say, “I support it.” You got to show actions behind those words. That’s why I’m always here for you and our other brothers and sisters.
I appreciate that very much. I told you I was going to re-invoke grit and this seems to be not necessarily by design. In the last couple of episodes, the term grit has come up and it’s defined very well in episode 41 by Rich Diviney, a former Navy SEAL, who wrote a book called The Attributes. He says, “Grit is this combination of courage, perseverance, adaptability, and resilience.” You brought up all these concepts. I think about our generation and the younger Millennial generation. I often have been saying because I’ve had this over the years as we built this show. I’ve been fortunate to speak with so many people like yourself, who’ve been influential.
I started to analyze leaders who exist now and yesterday. What’s the next generation look like? I think so many times that there is this element of grit that I think might be missing now. Do we fight it out? Not fight it out against each other, but do we dig deep to make it happen truly? I feel like we’re a bit spoiled. Our generation is a bit spoiled because we always looked up to the Baby Boomer generation, the World War II generation. We say, “They always solve the problems for us.” Whatever it was, they solved their problems. They saved the world in the 1940s, by and large, and then the Baby Boomer generation came and they capitalized on that.
We look at political leaders right now and they’re in their 80s, a lot of them. That younger generation, our generation, hasn’t stood up the way that maybe that Baby Boomer generation is now there’s a new generation. How do you assess what’s needed in our government, leaders of this next generation and how do we re-instill this concept of grit in them? America didn’t get to where it is by sitting back. We’ve got there because we fought it out at every turn.
It’s rolling up the sleeves and getting after it. In my opinion, we need next-generation veterans to get involved in political public service or as business leaders to continue the cause. I know the greatest generation is the greatest generation because Tom Brokaw wrote a book called The Greatest Generation. Look at the Vietnam generation, that generation where our country did not separate the work from the warrior. They bent over backward for us, Iraq, Afghanistan, veterans to say, “Welcome home, brother and my sister.” They could have sat home because they didn’t get the parades. They did the job that our political leaders asked them to do.
We learned that as a country. I am very optimistic about our generation, the little over 3 million of us who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The next generation of Jedburghs served behind enemy lines in World War II because they had that grit. I think we had to be a living embodiment of those men and women that are the next phase of the operation when we talk about what’s it going to look like in the 2020s and the 2030s? Who within our class of colleagues is going to step up and rise as the next generation of political, business and civic leaders? To me, I think that’s incredibly important.
I won’t forget. I ran for Congress and I had a guy I served with who I admired. I liked the Army Ranger. He was my colleague in the 82nd. He said, “Patrick Murphy, who the hell are you to run for Congress? It’s like me going back to Ohio and running for Congress.” I was like, “Go back to Ohio and run for Congress if you want to.” I got a few years of experience that I needed. There are some people that drink the haterade and I get it. Whether it’s you, Fran or me or whatever, I’m not always going to be someone’s cup of tea and that’s okay.
I sleep well at night knowing that. I was placed on this Earth and given talents to make a positive difference. I’m setting out on that journey and I’m doing it in a bunch of core communities. I’m doing it to get more veterans elected. I’m doing it raising two kids and leading by example. To me, that’s what life is about. There are sacrifices and opportunities. I don’t just talk about that grit or resiliency that you mentioned. I’m the embodiment of it and I try to be. By the way, I fell and I’m not perfect, but every day I’m going to put my pants and shoes on. I’m going to get after it. That’s what we all need to get after and try to do to better ourselves and live, frankly, that purpose-driven life. That is my purpose. Everyone has to find their own purpose and how they’re going to achieve it.
Patrick, as we close out, the Jedburgh’s had to do three things in World War II to be successful every day, three core foundational tasks. They had to be able to shoot, move and communicate. If they could do these things with the utmost precision, when other challenges came their way, they were able to devote their effort to solving those things because they were proficient at the core level. What are the three things that you do every day to set the conditions for success in your world?
I told people the military is easy. You’re good if you could shoot, move, and communicate, but you have to work at it. Part of that is to the point of jeopardy. It’s a snowball effect. That’s why I make my bed every day and still exercise. I would say to you, “I’m a mind, body and spirit guy.” You have to be a voracious reader and read books. I read the newspaper every day. I read it online. I’m still old school. I get the hard copy newspaper. Not just your daily work stuff, you got to expand your mind, look for new opportunities, look and see what’s going on out there. That’s number one. You have to have that mental curiosity and be an avid reader.
Number two, you have to stay physically fit. Whatever your cup of tea is, whether it’s walking, running, CrossFit, lifting weights or yoga. I got done playing Men’s League Hockey and won the championship. We had a late-night celebration. To me, they’re my brothers. I’m going to be a veteran on the team. I happened to be the oldest guy. There are 20-year-olds and 30-year-olds. I’m the old head now on the team, but that’s okay. I still got it. Number two is physical fitness. When you’re physically fit, the endorphins and everything else, so it does tie to physical as well.
The third thing is that at the core, you have to know what your purpose is. You have to be focused on that purpose. To me, every day, I start and say, “WMI, What’s Most Important?” To accomplish what you’re trying to accomplish, what do you need to do? You can get caught up in the morass of daily life, daily schedules and daily things, but you got to make time to say, “I’m going to set it aside for the bigger picture. I’m doing this to accomplish this. I’m setting 2 or 3 things that I got to get done.
I don’t mean like show up for work on time. Things that you need to get done, get done. It’s like eating the elephant. It’s one bite at a time. I tried to do that. Most days, I’m successful. Some days I’m not. I say to myself at the beginning of the year, “I’m going to be a good dad. I’m going to earn as much money. I’m going to do these new opportunities.” For me, there are things every day, read, exercise and live a purpose-driven life. Also, ask yourself, “What’s most important? What can I get done to accomplish it?” I would say those are the three things.
I can sum so much of your career up in what we’ve talked about here and what you’ve embodied as, “What does it take to make it happen?” At the end of every one of these episodes, I take one of our characteristics or one of our attributes. I use that one to define my guests. I’ve got to go back to this grit. What does it take to make it happen? You made it happen when you were growing up in Pennsylvania. You made it happen when you were an Army officer. You did in Congress and leading our Army.
You’ve done it in the veteran community and the veteran workforce. You’re doing it on the hockey rink, but that’s what it is. It’s, “What do we have to do to dig down, identify the opportunities, seize them and get it done?” Patrick, thank you so much for joining me on the show. I’ve loved getting to know you and the relationship that we’ve built. I look forward to talking to you again soon.
Me too, Fran. Thank you so much and thank you, everybody.
- Patrick Murphy
- General Peter Chiarelli – Past episode
- Dr. Jack Stark – Past episode
- My American Journey
- Dereliction of Duty
- How To Win A Local Election
- Jack Devine – Past episode
- Spymaster’s Prism
- Episode 16 – Past episode
- Stony Lonesome Group
- Rich Diviney – Past episode
- The Attributes
- The Greatest Generation