A firsthand look at our bravest and brightest

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Carnival Cruise Line president Christine Duffy, center, with members of the 23rd Air Wing and fellow Joint Civilian Orientation Course participant Randy Anderson, second from right, former CEO of Canyon Vista Medical Center, at Moody Air Force Base near Valdosta, Ga.
Carnival Cruise Line president Christine Duffy, center, with members of the 23rd Air Wing and fellow Joint Civilian Orientation Course participant Randy Anderson, second from right, former CEO of Canyon Vista Medical Center, at Moody Air Force Base near Valdosta, Ga.

Christine Duffy
Christine Duffy

In June, I had the privilege of participating in the 88th class of the Joint Civilian Orientation Course (JCOC), the oldest and most prestigious public affairs program hosted by the Department of Defense. I was one of 36 business executives, community leaders and public officials who spent an intensive, eye-opening and inspiring week with members of our armed forces.

While we visited facilities across all the branches of the military, this was not a tour, at least not in the way those of us in the travel industry think of a tour. Rather, it was like a ride in the cockpit jump seat, where we experienced the training, witnessed the preparation and shared in the camaraderie of the military lifestyle.

I am careful not to say we shared in the sacrifice, because while the conditions were often challenging, especially for someone like me who does not like physical danger and is not particularly athletic, our short-term exposure to some difficult conditions and precarious situations in no way compared to what our military men and women face on a day-to-day basis.

Over the course of the week, I toured military facilities throughout the Southeast, including seeing how the men and women of the Coast Guard protect, patrol and secure our coasts; how Marines and air crews train; and how Army special operations forces prepare for global missions, among other experiences.

Perhaps more importantly, we had quality time with the outstanding men and women of the armed forces, ranging from Defense secretary James Mattis to commissioned officers, including an Air Force general who spent the week with us, to our newest recruits, some of them right out of high school but wise and poised beyond their years.

Motivated by service to their country and the opportunity for career and personal growth, these young people showed no traces of any millennial (and unfair) stereotypes of young adults with their noses in a device or a lack of interest in world events.

While many members of my family have served in the military, I never fully appreciated the rigors of military life.

Less than a third of all who apply to serve can meet the physical, academic and behavioral requirements. And ultimately, only 1% of those who apply actually serve.

As a business leader, I would not want to manage against a labor pool in which we have to assess 100 people to get one good hire. We all know the very competitive labor market that we currently face, both in attracting and retaining talent.

Over breakfast, the Army general who is responsible for recruiting 137,000 people this year talked about the tight market for recruits. While it might be friendly competition, each service is competing for the best and brightest, so marketing matters.

I was particularly struck by the level of training the military incorporates into everyday work life. In some roles, members of the armed forces train literally every day preparing for a menu of scenarios they will hopefully never face.

That discipline is intense. Moreover, the U.S. armed forces do not just train among themselves. They are the ultimate train-the-trainers, taking their skills and knowledge around the world. We need only look to the recent rescue of the youth soccer team in Thailand, where U.S. Air Force members aided in saving 12 teenagers and their coach under harrowing conditions.

For those of us in the travel industry, there were some other important takeaways from my JCOC experience.

First, getting back to the competitive labor pool from which we are all recruiting, military veterans make great employees. While I know that from my own experience at Carnival Cruise Line, I saw it on a much grander stage during JCOC, as I was exposed to a far wider cross section of people.

They are smart. They are prepared. They are polite and service-oriented. They are well-trained. They are well-traveled. They are mission-focused.

They are collaborators. They are everything most of us want in a candidate and an employee.

What's more, they have skills that our organizations need, spanning technology, customer service, logistics, finance, project management, operations and human resources.

Our businesses might not be as complicated as a military operation or as rigorous as the day-to-day operations of the military, but a career in the travel industry can play to many of the strengths our veterans bring to the table. We should all be open to bringing people into the industry who might not have travel experience but bring the right attitude, passion and commitment to their work.

I was also struck by how important the travel experience is for members of the military. These folks have limited amounts of free time and are often away from friends, family and loved ones for long stretches of time. Vacation and downtime are extremely important to them.

It's not only their time to relax but also to reconnect with their spouses or partners, children and parents. So they are fans of the industry, and they know who does things right. Their enthusiasm for travel and creating memorable experiences with their families drives home how we can all do a better job of supporting our troops in terms of customer relations and also tapping into this important source of talent.

I hope you'll visit http://knowyourmili tary.osd.mil to learn more about our servicemen and servicewomen, and if given a chance to participate in JCOC or any similar program, I encourage you to jump at the opportunity.

There's also a great video that elaborates on the JCOC experience at http://jcoc.osd.mil/content/jcoc-88.

Christine Duffy is the president of Carnival Cruise Line.

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