Having served in the U.S. Navy, Terry Schmidt liked to connect with his former shipmates. However, his civilian job, selling information technology to the U.S. Marine Corps, kept him too busy to attend gatherings of the Naval Reserve Recruiter Association (NRRA), until he retired in 2012. He had attended the NRRA reunions for three years when the previous reunion coordinator sought to pass the baton along to someone younger, whom he could trust to make sure the organization survived.
Schmidt was greatly suited to the task. “Once I retired, I was looking for some type of volunteer position which was related to my Navy background and especially one that I could connect to my previous shipmates, so this was a perfect fit for me,” he said. An added bonus was that his wife, who served in the same command and had many of the same friends in the organization, decided to help him with the endeavor. “We both had backgrounds in planning meetings at our commands with the Navy and the knowledge we gained there has proven invaluable,” Schmidt added.
Within a few years, Schmidt was also called upon by the ship he had served on during the Vietnam War, the USS Henry B. Wilson DDG 7 (shipmates 70-75), to start planning reunions. One of his key initiatives was to set up closed Facebook pages to establish the lines of communication and get the word out about reunions. Later, using the template for the first two organizations, he set up the Tri-State Chief Petty Officers Association to get their reunions underway.
What are your current roles and responsibilities as a planner?
We (my wife and I) are responsible for scouting locations for future reunions and dealing with all aspects of the three reunions in interaction with the hospitality industry. This includes site visits, attraction scouting and banquet arrangements with guest speakers.
What types of professional training have you had that have been helpful to you in planning reunions?
In addition to the hands-on training that I gained planning meetings as Human Resource Manager at Naval Reserve Recruiting Command during my naval career, I picked up an MBA with emphasis on Human Resource Development. Additionally, my wife and I attend four to five seminars and trainings per year with the Military Reunion Network (MRN) and Your Military Reunion Connection (YMRC). In addition to getting updated training on new industry trends, we interact with other military reunion planners from around the country. The resultant brainstorming and best practices sessions have been invaluable in developing our reunions into highly efficient and rewarding get-togethers. Also, my experience in the information technology industry exposed me to the power of e-commerce and social media and their application to effective organizations.
What types of changes have you seen in this industry during your years as a planner and how have they affected you?
The biggest change we have seen in planning reunions is the more effective use of social media, without abandoning the traditional email and old-fashioned snail mail. It’s an uphill battle to get some people onboard with the closed Facebook page, but after they try it, the vast majority become believers. Additionally, the absorption of smaller hotel chains by larger more well-known companies has led to some hiccups in military reunions. This makes communication with the hotel staff an imperative, and I mean weekly.
What are the best things about your job? What parts of planning events do you most enjoy?
The best part of my job when wrapping up a successful military reunion is the look on people’s faces when they reunite with someone they served with long ago. My Vietnam vets hadn’t seen each other in 45 years when we started having reunions and these were men that served in combat together when your life depended on the guy on your right and the guy on your left. That type of bond may sound strange to people who have not been there, but if you ask any combat veteran about his unit he can probably rattle off those names and stories like it was yesterday. Site visits at the hotels are probably the most enjoyable part of the job as you get to see different areas and different hotel chains. I did join the Navy to see the world and still love to travel.
What are the biggest day-to-day challenges you face?
The biggest day-to-day challenge is recruiting new members to the organizations and keeping current members informed on our activities and future plans. We have to build to a crescendo for the reunion to be a success.
What are some of the most interesting experiences you have had as a planner?
The most interesting of my ship’s reunions included a visit to a modern fleet DDG (Guided Missile Destroyer). The data that was collected from the missile system we had during the Vietnam days has evolved into a much more robust system that can shoot down cruise missiles, aircraft and even ICBM’s. These Ballistic Missile Defense
Destroyers could play a key role in keeping us all safe should the crazies of this world ever launch on us. It’s something we all played a role in and we are very proud of that.
What advice would you offer to other reunion planners, especially those just starting out?
For other planners just starting out, I would advise attending an MRN or YMRC seminar to take advantage of the training and the groupthink of their peers that have been doing this for long periods of time. It’s not rocket science, but it’s a lot easier if you are not reinventing the wheel.