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Life and Leadership Lessons I Learned In The Military: “The military taught me how to be reliable, consistent, and meticulous about planning.” with Jerry Haffey Jr. and Marco Derhy

The military taught me how to be reliable, consistent, and meticulous about planning. I had to think on my feet every day. At a moment’s notice, everything can change and a new challenge presents itself. A part of me still functions under those conditions, so I’m prepared and never caught off guard when things change at the last minute. Addiction and mental health treatment is a dynamic field, so I carry a lot of the mindset I developed in the military into my work.

As a part of my series about “Life and Leadership Lessons Learned In The Military”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jerry Haffey Jr. Jeffrey joined Ambrosia Treatment Center in 2007 and serves as the President of Business Development. He and his team bridge the gap between the family struggling with addiction and the lifesaving treatment that they need. Jerry oversees the marketing, outreach, wellness, and admissions departments.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?

I was born and raised just outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in a blue-collar household. I had an amazing childhood and a lot of great role models growing up. Joining the army wasn’t something that I dreamed of as a kid, but as I got older and the circumstances overseas got worse and worse, it felt right. I realized early on that serving was going to be difficult, but it was going to help me get to where I wanted to go. It gave me the opportunity to grow into who I am today.

And what are you doing today? Can you share a story that exemplifies the unique work that you are doing?

I’m the President of Business Development at Ambrosia Treatment Center, and we specialize in treating drug and alcohol addiction. I’ve been with Ambrosia for a little over 10 years. We opened our first facility in 2007, and since then we’ve expanded to five facilities. It’s been an exciting ride seeing the growth of the company, both in size and the impact on the communities that we serve.

Recently, a friend that I met in the army got in touch with me, and he was really struggling to keep his head above water. His PTSD symptoms were getting worse, and he had reached a point where he was putting himself and others around him in danger. He reached out for help, and Ambrosia was able to help him get the treatment that he needed. There is a lot of comorbidity between PTSD and substance abuse, so it’s something that we deal with all the time, so we had the resources to get him the right treatment. You could hear the difference in his voice from the time he came to when he left. That was by far one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had.

Can you tell us a bit about your military background?

I served in the US Army’s 5th Cavalry 1st Armor Training Brigade. Back in 2004, I finished basic training at Fort Knox and was deployed to Iraq shortly after that. I was there for two years, and then came back to the states in 2006. During those two years, I participated in over 150 joint patrols and over 35 raids to capture insurgents and insurgent equipment.

Can you share the most interesting story that you experienced during your military career? What “take away” did you learn from that story?

The most profound thing I experienced was the camaraderie between a group of men that would never have otherwise interacted, from different backgrounds with different circumstances. There was something about coming in as individuals and leaving as one that was very humbling and made me appreciate the fact that people are more similar than they are different.

Being in the army also gives you an appreciation for sacrifice, and what it means that so many men and women leave their safety and their families to fight for something bigger.

I’m interested in fleshing out what a hero is. Did you experience or hear about a story of heroism, during your military experience? Can you share that story with us? Feel free to be as elaborate as you’d like.

Too many to count. I’ve witnessed people running into gunfire to save a fellow soldier who was down. I’ve seen a vehicle destroyed by IEDs while soldiers rushed to pull out the driver who was trapped inside, not knowing if they were going to get hit by another IED in the process. There were plenty of situations where everything was on the line and heroes sprung into action. But most people who served don’t want to accept the title of hero because they were simply doing their job.

Based on that story, how would you define what a “hero” is? Can you explain?

To me, a hero is someone who makes sacrifices to help something or someone they believe in. They’ll risk it all to make sure the task at hand is accomplished, no matter what kind of danger they are facing.

Does a person need to be facing a life and death situation to do something heroic or to be called a hero?

I don’t think so. People do heroic things every day. Heroes come in all different shapes and sizes. Life or death situations bring out the hero in certain people, but it isn’t necessary to be in that level of danger to do something heroic.

Based on your military experience, can you share with our readers 5 Leadership or Life Lessons that you learned from your experience”? (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. As a leader, it’s your job to help others see their own potential.

In the military, you’re constantly being pushed beyond your limits, and before you know it, you’ve accomplished something that you didn’t think you could. As a business leader, the same rule applies. When I see potential in someone, it’s my job to push them out of their comfort zone. Even if they fall short of perfection, they end up accomplishing more than they did yesterday, last week or last year.

2. Accept help when you need it.

When I got out of the military, I had a difficult time adjusting to civilian life. It’s something that a lot of veterans go through, but many — including some that I know personally — refuse to acknowledge that they are struggling. I went to therapy for my PTSD, and it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Working in the mental health field, I appreciate how important it is to know that sometimes you need to accept help from others. Knowing what you need and asking for it isn’t a weakness, it’s a strength.

3. Listen to your employees, they are the most powerful resource at your disposal.

Good ideas come from the bottom up more often than they come from the top down. When you’re leading multiple teams, it’s even more important to listen because you’re more likely to miss the details if you don’t. In the army, directions come from the top down, but some of the best decisions I’ve made in my career have been because of ideas that came from employees.

4. Positivity goes a long way.

I try to go above and beyond when it comes to creating a workplace that is productive but also fun. From my own experience, I’m more focused and effective when I am in a good mood, and the opposite is true for when I’m having a bad day. When it’s time to spring into action, you don’t want people to be bored or distracted. If they feel uplifted, they will engage problem creatively and find a solution much faster.

5. Be competent.

If you aren’t willing or able to do the job yourself, it’s hard to motivate other people to do it. Simply put, you need to know what you are doing and be willing to show that you’ll do it too. It’s always been important to me to be a part of the team, not above the team. I always want to lead from the inside.

Do you think your in the military helped prepare you for business? Can you explain?

Absolutely. The military taught me how to be reliable, consistent, and meticulous about planning. I had to think on my feet every day. At a moment’s notice, everything can change and a new challenge presents itself. A part of me still functions under those conditions, so I’m prepared and never caught off guard when things change at the last minute. Addiction and mental health treatment is a dynamic field, so I carry a lot of the mindset I developed in the military into my work.

As you know, some people are scarred for life by their experience in the military. How did you struggle after your deployment was over? What have you done to adjust and thrive in civilian life that others may want to emulate?

When I got back from Iraq, I started showing symptoms of PTSD that really scared me. My palms would sweat sitting at a traffic light because I thought the car next to me was going to explode. It was difficult to be anywhere where I couldn’t see my surroundings. Reintegrating back into civilian life is a long road, and I still have symptoms and feel anxious every now and then.

Therapy played a huge role in getting well after I came back. It takes work, but it’s nothing compared to the constant anxiety and frustration I was experiencing. The hardest part is being open about how you are feeling because it seems like nobody can understand. I was fortunate enough to get a private therapist who walked me through the healing process. I would urge anyone who is struggling with a mental health issue to get help as soon as possible. I tried to do it alone thinking things would fix themselves, but I’m forever grateful for the help I got from my therapist and my family and friends.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

So many veterans come back after service and struggle with the transition into civilian life, and unfortunately, many of them choose to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. Right now, we’re working on coordinating addiction care for veterans while addressing the underlying mental health issues that they may be struggling with, from PTSD to depression to anxiety.

What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive?

One of the most important aspects of leadership is practicing what you preach and leading by example. The way you act is the way that your team will act. In my opinion, the most important trait of being a leader is positivity. I believe in the work we do at Ambrosia just like I believed in my brothers in arms, and that mindset has always produced results.

What advice would you give to other leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

When you’re in charge of a large team, you have to delegate and lean on your teammates. Let them take control of their own work and they will feel a sense of responsibility for its performance. It’s impossible to know what every single person is working on every day, but you should always be able to see the bigger picture. Each team is a piece of a puzzle. You need to know how they interact and support each other so you can make sure everything is running as a complete machine.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My wife Jade has done so much for me and really helped me get through those tough moments where I felt caught between military life and civilian life. She’s been with me every step of the way, from recovering from PTSD after I got back to the states to putting up with my long hours at work trying to build my career. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without her.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Every time someone with an addiction starts the recovery process, the world becomes a better place. Behind every success story, there is a mother who can sleep better at night and a father who can feel proud of his child’s accomplishments. Being able to contribute to something that makes the world a better place is a gift.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

Because of my line of work and my own experiences, I’d love to be a part of a movement to fight addiction, mental health and the stigma in the veteran community. I saw a tremendous amount of brotherhood when I was fighting alongside fellow soldiers in Iraq, but I think we lose a little bit of that when we return home and fight our own battles. Understanding that you can’t fight something by yourself, whether it’s a war, depression, drug abuse or PTSD is the first step to healing and recovery.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“It’s not the events of our lives that shape us, but our beliefs as to what those events mean.” — Tony Robbins

When I came home from deployment and was struggling with post-traumatic stress, I realized that I had two choices: I could continue being a victim of what I experienced, or I could use it as a power and turn it into something positive. I chose positivity, and that decision has led me on a journey that has made me a better person and allowed me to help other people who are struggling.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)

I would love to have a conversation with Michael Jordan. I loved basketball growing up, but he represents a lot more to me than just his sports career. When I think of dedication, he is the person that comes to mind. The way he chased success is unparalleled. He refused to stop until he became the greatest, and then kept going. I think that’s something everyone can aspire to.

Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was truly uplifting.



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Entrepreneur | Author | 20 years in publication | Interviews Content Creator with Media Impact | Writer|Film producer|Founder@ Derhy Enterprises. “God is First”