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Episode 66: Choosing Your Battles: Balancing Family & Service with Irene Glaeser

Episode 66: Choosing Your Battles: Balancing Family & Service with Irene Glaeser


In this episode of Veteran Led, Col. (Retired) and CEO of Spahr Solutions Group Irene Vaishvila Glaeser shares her journey from the military to leading an IT services company providing communication solutions for Federal and DoD agencies. Having started her career during the Cold War era, Irene brings a unique blend of humor, authenticity, and earnest advocacy for veterans navigating their transition to civilian life.​

Emphasizing the importance of leveraging the leadership skills learned during military service; Irene passionately advocates for veterans to enter the government contracting space. She highlights the many resources and programs available to support any veteran seeking to become an entrepreneur.​

From being a pioneering female paratrooper to navigating leadership roles while balancing family life, Irene has had a diverse range of challenges that few military service members have faced, but an equally shared resilience to overcome them. This episode is not only a compelling story of personal achievement but also a guide for veterans striving for success beyond the military.​

Follow this link to learn more about Spahr Solution Group.

Connect with Irene of LinkedIn.​

To order Irene’s book Choose Your Battles: One Woman’s Inspiring Journey Through The Ranks.


Irene Vaishvila Glaeser: It’s very, very rewarding because the idea of having a family owned business, we will have a legacy business. Our son, who is a transitioned Green Beret, um, but he’s still serving in the National Guard, but he has every interest in taking over this business. And so that’s a decision, um, that, that every, uh, entrepreneur needs to think about.

John Berry: Welcome to the Veteran Led podcast, where we talk with leaders who use their military experiences to develop great organizations and continue to serve their communities. Today’s guest is Colonel (Retired) Irene Glaeser. Now, Colonel Glaeser is currently the CEO of Spahr Solutions. More importantly, the author of “Choose Your Battles.” Welcome to Veteran Led, Colonel Glaeser.

Irene Vaishvila Glaeser: Thank you so much, John. It’s such an honor to be here. And I want to just say up front, I really am grateful for all the work you do to promote the well-being and success of veterans as they transition into the afterlife, to use one of the ways of describing it.

John Berry: Well, and it’s not just the afterlife or the transition, right? I bring veterans on who have been successful. There’s a transition period, but I’m more interested in telling the stories of those who were successful in the military and have been even more successful as civilians. And your story is amazing. You come into the United States Army in the 80s when there are not a lot of women, especially not a lot of women paratroopers. So you come in and you’re also pregnant as a new second lieutenant, showing up at your unit, which is interesting, especially back in the 80s. So there’s all these things that are going on and, and you find a way to have a great military career while having children in the military. And then after your career, you could retire, but no, you become the CEO of a company and you’ve got some great information to share with our veterans today about how to get into the GovCon space and some of the assets and resources that are available to veterans who start businesses who may not be aware of them. So I’m really looking forward to this. And let’s start from the beginning for the sake of being comfortable, I’ll just call you Irene, if that’s. If that’s fine with you.

Irene Vaishvila Glaeser: No, no, I really expected you to call me Colonel throughout. So you need to be in the front leaning rest position right now. Just kidding. Irene is great.

John Berry: Well, Irene, let’s go ahead and get started. Uh, tell us a little bit about what drew you to the military.

Irene Vaishvila Glaeser: I’m the daughter of naturalized citizens. My father escaped Lithuania, hence the complicated middle name, um, along with his Russian mother and father in 1940, upon which time he was drafted, sent to Hungary as basically someone to listen in on the Russians there. Um, his military service continued, and the grandfathers on both sides were in the military but different countries. And my big sister had joined. So, um, all of that served to lay the groundwork. Um, but I think what really drove me was I wanted to leave my hometown and see the world and have a job that was very, very exciting. So a lot of the same reasons that drive a lot of our veterans to join the military; great benefits, great pay, see the world.

John Berry: And due to your Lithuanian heritage, you show up and you get a nickname. Like most of us in the military, the drill sergeant, drill sergeants love to assign nicknames, and sometimes they stay with us through the unit or through our through our time in our units. What was your nickname?

Irene Vaishvila Glaeser: I did a lot to try to kill this one, John, but it was “Vice Versa.” And I don’t know when it first happened, but that one stuck for way too long. Um, and you know that that did give me a pass. Uh, there have been some pretty heinous nicknames out there, and I was talking to you before this podcast and Jump School. You know, the squad is called a chalk. And the chalk behind me had two very tall guys who looked like twins wearing those hideous glasses that we all got back in the 80s and they were called E.T. and E.T. junior. And so these are people that get singled out by their funny names and get told to do extra pushups, and that would have been me as well.

John Berry: And the crazy thing is, there are probably veterans listening to this who don’t even know what E.T. is. So ate was a movie by Steven Spielberg called Extraterrestrial. Uh. Great movie. Everybody knows the E.T. phone home. Uh, saying but yes, E.T. one, E.T. two, and we had to wear those. The BCGs, the birth control glasses they called them back in the day, and that was just part of it. And you had to wear those as well back then, correct?

Irene Vaishvila Glaeser: I’ve always worn glasses and, um, you know, it’s funny because those, those RPGs, the rape prevention glasses end up coming in fashion and I venture to say I’m wearing a version of them today. And, uh, so but it was it was difficult to wear glasses and some of that really tough training and jumping out of planes and all of that. But you don’t want to do that blind, do you? So glasses it is.

John Berry: And you graduate Jump School and it’s after Jump School that you receive your commission. Is that correct?

Irene Vaishvila Glaeser: Yeah, I finished up college. Um, was commissioned in my first choice of military police, which was a tiny branch, 3% of all officers, but it looked to me like the most exciting branch that had, um, that women could join back then. Uh, most of the combat arms branches that are available to women today were not available back then and I had majored in law enforcement. So military police and off to Cold War Germany.

John Berry: Now you’re a new lieutenant in Cold War Germany. And we talk about in the book, you talk about there aren’t a lot of females in Jump School, so you get your airborne wings, and you go to Germany as an officer. Are there a lot of female lieutenants there?

Irene Vaishvila Glaeser: Very few. Um, and to make matters even worse, in terms of support, I got basically stationed on an outpost, and those of us who were in Germany back then know that there were all these little German concerns or bases, if you will, that the US leased. So I was placed kind of away from the base that had the 16th MP Brigade, and I had an odd mission of military customs, which involved black market investigations and preclearance of troops and cargo headed back to the US. So while it was a really exciting assignment, I was very much alone as an officer female, soon to be married and pregnant.

John Berry: And let’s get into that. When I was a young lieutenant, I was told that lieutenants should be single, captains can get married, and majors must be married. There was this thought that as your career progresses, as a field grade officer, you are expected to be married. But as a lieutenant, you were expected to be single. And that’s the way the military worked. Tell us about your experience, showing up as that pregnant second lieutenant.

Irene Vaishvila Glaeser: Well, it’s funny you say that because, um, I was featured on the cover of a 1984 defense report on women in defense, and there were whole sections on military wives in there. So the word spouse didn’t even come about for a long time. So all of these sorts of norms really were aimed at gentlemen. And it’s funny because I worked in the, the field of, um, general officer, not exactly management, but overseeing allegations of impropriety and wrongdoing. And I just happened to know that general officers weren’t, weren’t expected to have ever been divorced. It was kind of frowned upon to be divorced as a general officer. And I’m sure all of this is all in the past. But in my personal situation, when I got pregnant, um, I was always queasy, and I couldn’t wait to get to the nearest Burger King. So you had to go on military bases for that. I stopped really caring about what anybody thought. I just needed to eat and get my job done. I just knew I was toast, and in some respects, I kind of was toast because this was a kiss of death as I say in the book, it was a career killer. So I thought, my career is done. I might as well just keep driving on.

John Berry: And you’re driving on to Burger King every day. And I remember, now some of our younger veterans don’t know this, but back in the day, Burger King was like the only fast food available in most bases.

Irene Vaishvila Glaeser: That’s a fact. Actually we had field offices throughout Germany where customs mission was carried out, and my job as the platoon leader and company XO was to go out and check the operation, check to see everything was okay. Um, one day I walked into the Rhein-Main field office and the sergeant first class had his feet up on the desk, and he had an entire Playboy centerfold spread out, which he did not put down when I walked in. These are not stories that are uncommon to women serving during this time period. And that’s why you had the book my I named it, “Choose Your Battles” because you can’t just fight with people day in and day out. You have to pick the really important things. So what did I do? I said, really? And he put it away.

John Berry: Right? And I believe back then they sold Playboy magazine at the PX. So this was something that the military provided, and it’s kind of gone the way of tobacco, where there are things that the military would provide comfort, things to soldiers. And now they’re mostly not available to soldiers and in fact prohibited. But back in those days, it was a different army. And you still had the spit shine boots, the starched uniform, which of course was a waste of time if you considered yourself to be a soldier who’s going to spend any time in the field, and I can remember those days. But when you were pregnant, it’s not like they created uniforms back then for pregnant soldiers.

Irene Vaishvila Glaeser: They didn’t have the camouflage. So what do I have to do when everybody’s wearing our beautiful BDUs? And by the way, I’m old enough to where I wore the pickle suit, which was all green, had a little black belt, and you checked the gig line, white t shirt underneath. Very much post-Vietnam, but the BDU uniform came next, and they didn’t have them in maternity, so I had to wear the class B uniform, basically dress up for work when everyone else was in BDUs. And this is one of those things where, you know, sometimes you stick out and when you really stick out, you just have to stand tall and get through it because believe it or not, you’re earning respect for not crawling in a hole and dying at that point. Um, and then I mean, talking about the pregnancy and the guilt, I know you brought this up earlier is something you’d like for me to mention, but as a mother serving in a career like the military, there were so many times when I did not tell anyone I was a mother because the first thing they would think is, you’re a weaker soldier, you’re a weaker officer. You’re always going to be gone taking your kids to appointments or taking off when they’re sick and you do the best you can.

Irene Vaishvila Glaeser: I’m a little saddened that I had to hide that fact, but the rest of the part really was feeling guilty that you couldn’t be there for them more and that you couldn’t be as present at work. And all this is going on in your mind and then you couple it by a senior rater calling you in, and he was about to give you an outstanding report card. I had a good relationship with this colonel, and he looked at me and said, Irene, what is your priority, your family or your work in the military? And I looked at him and I said, well, both. That was the first thing that came out of my mind. And he said, you can’t have both. You have to pick one. And I can’t imagine that being the narrative today. But back then, I just knew I wasn’t going to pick one unless the circumstances would warrant that I had to, and then the family would come first. But, um, to be a soldier and to be a parent, those are two institutions which I’m very proud of. And I know most of our veterans have been in the same boat and are proud of that as well. These family members will be there for us long after our careers are over.

John Berry: And in fact, your pregnancy was not a kiss of death. You had two children while serving on active duty and ended up reaching, attaining the rank of colonel, many deployments, many exciting opportunities and it didn’t slow you down. I think there’s another lesson here which as lieutenants, regardless of the circumstances, we have things that sometimes are disabilities, injuries or mistakes that we make that we think are the kiss of death, that that my career trajectory has now changed for the worse. But that wasn’t true for you. At what point did you realize that this was not the kiss of death, and that you were going to have a long and successful military career?

Irene Vaishvila Glaeser: Um, a couple of years ago when my son became a Green Beret, and that’s the one I was pregnant with on the night train to Berlin through East Germany. Um, I, you know, I didn’t ever think it junk because I didn’t have that luxury, I just kept driving on. And one of the things that I came to realize, having spent a lot of time working twice as hard to get average ratings than my male peers, something changed at the field grade officer level. And suddenly these guys that I’d worked with all these years were going through a lot of crises on the home front as well, and started to look to me for advice and counsel because I was approachable. And that is actually one of the leadership traits that I talk about is availability. But I started to realize my value as a female for the first time. Before that, I was like, look, I’m just going to be really funny and easy to get along with and so they don’t hate me, and they want to work with me. And it worked. You know, having a sense of humor is so important when things get tough out there, if we can have one.

John Berry: Yeah. And the sense of humor we had back then wasn’t appropriate today. Uh, the if you think of the cadences, the jokes, we had a lot of fun. A lot of people laugh, but a lot of it was insensitive. And we’ve learned from that, and we’ve evolved. Just as you’ve seen the military evolve over 30 years in service, you’ve seen how we’ve grown up. And I would say, when did that change happen where you started seeing the modernization of the military, not just in how we behaved, but all of a sudden, we have better equipment, we’re looking at logistical support from contractors becoming more prevalent on the battlefield, and all these things just start happening and changing quickly. When did you first experience that?

Irene Vaishvila Glaeser: I’m going to kind of back it up a little to say that from Cold War Germany, I’ve been in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we became a lethal force. We had better and better equipment. On the flip side, we spent billions of dollars creating things that we turn around and say, no, that doesn’t work. And I, um, you remember the mine, the MRAP, Mine-Resistant, um, Assault something. But that that vehicle took years to build to, to replace the Humvees so that people wouldn’t get blown up. Well, it was about the size of a two story building. And guess what happened? It would fall down and roll over and people got soldiers got injured and hurt. So I say this because while the military is a very big bureaucracy, at the same time, it’s constantly adjusting to fit new doctrine. So it was a lot of fun during the Cold War, the Fulda Gap was where the Russian tanks were going to line up, and we were all going to go to war and big lines, and we had the rear echelon, and the rear echelon was never going to change. It was always going to be in the back somewhere and look at where we are today. And we started guerrilla warfare tactics in Vietnam, and we kind of returned to them. Now that we’re doing, um, combat and we’re training for it in cities. So things have evolved and changed, but some things return to us. And I say this because in my father’s country, which became communist and stayed that way till 1991, the Baltic states are very, very concerned about the Russian threat yet again and this time there’s a lot more troop support there to help defend and protect them. But yeah, you see some things kind of go full cycle.

John Berry: That’s one of the things that why I think veterans are so well equipped to lead after military service. Because we run into this huge bureaucracy where change is difficult, yet we make it happen. We evolve quickly in the military. There’s this need to evolve, the need to grow and expand and contract as needed. And we do that in a way that helps us defeat our enemies, but also in a way that is sometimes efficient, sometimes grossly inefficient. Uh, I want to move, and I want to come back to some of the military stuff in a bit. But you’re now the CEO of Spahr Solutions Group, and as the CEO of a smaller company now, can you feel that that agility? Do you enjoy that agility that you didn’t see in the military when it functioned as a larger bureaucracy in some instances?

Irene Vaishvila Glaeser: Well, what’s so liberating about being your own, being a CEO is we’ve all been through really bad bosses and really great leaders, and we learned from both. But it is refreshing to be your own boss, I’m not going to lie. So I actually went into federal government after I retired, and when I made this leap, I realized that if I’m having a bad day, I can only blame me. If I’m having a really good day, I got to give credit to everyone else, and that’s not a bad place to be. Um, there are a lot of advantages to being a veteran for those who want to go into government contracting, there are a lot of resources available to veterans, both service-disabled and non-service-disabled, who want to operate in that GovCon space, and not the least of which is the Small Business Administration. They find ways to give grants and loans very low interest because a lot of people don’t think of themselves this way, but a veteran is considered an underserved, underutilized demographic right along with women and minorities. And there are special programs and set asides, um, for, for these groups of people and they serve to do two things grow the industrial defense industrial base from the ground up, give the mom and pops a chance to contribute to the national economy and, um, promote small business at the same time. If it weren’t for these programs, I think Lockheed Martin and Boeing would be running all the work and there wouldn’t be any for a small business. So it’s actually a very it’s evolving as well, but it’s a tremendous advantage, in my opinion, to be a veteran in this space.

John Berry: And if you could, for our listeners, list some of these opportunities and what they do. I’ve noticed several of them on your website. I had not seen some of the acronyms before, so I’d love to hear them. And I know you shared that, hey, you’re 100% service-disabled veteran and a lot of veterans I work with say, well, I got my 100% disability. Now what? What’s my purpose? What do I do? How do I get started? Who can help me? I want to do more. I want to give back. I want a mission. I want to work with great people again. How do I do it? What opportunities are there? And it seems like you’ve really figured this out, so please share. Share that experience with us.

Irene Vaishvila Glaeser: To me, there’s a lot of ways I can go with that question, but I will start by, first of all, encouraging all veterans to file and then file with, um, changes to their existing claim or appeals, because it’s out there. And I have met so many veterans that say, I don’t want to take from the government, I don’t want to do that. That’s for that’s for amputees, that’s for people who were shot at. Well, some of these are Vietnam veterans. And in one case, I spent a lot of energy convincing a neighbor of mine to file when he got cancer four years later, the VA paid for everything. So you earned it. You’re entitled to it. It’s not a privilege. It’s a right. So go after that. Use John Berry to help you. Use me. I’ve helped a lot of folks with that, and I’m proud of it because it pays off. The second thing about that is there’s a lot of stigma sometimes with being called a disabled vet or that label. Um, and the military does not encourage us to seek medical treatment or mental health, particularly the second one. So we have invisible wounds. Many of us do. There’s disability ratings for those invisible wounds, and I’ll leave that at that. There’s support for you. And in many nonprofits, if you’re still dealing with the with the challenges of having served. But one of the greatest ways to fight that, and I know this from experience, is to find things that you’re passionate about and start contributing.

Irene Vaishvila Glaeser: And maybe it’s monetarily, but I’m thinking more in terms of service. So the first thing I did was volunteer for a couple of different veteran-led events and I’m on two boards, but one of the boards in particular is there for veteran business owners in government contracting, and it is the largest organization that advocates for them, supports them, trains them, and um, and also allows for a lot of networking events. And that’s the NVSBC. So that’s one of your alphabet soup acronyms, which stands for the National Veterans Small Business Coalition. All you have to do is Google them. But I will say there are 47,000, that number keeps changing, veteran led businesses in government contracting. So if this is a path you take, you’re not alone. If you join this organization, there’s virtual training. As a matter of fact, I’m on the next one. You’ll see it on my LinkedIn. I think it posts in a half an hour. Um, and there’s events around the country where you can just show up and have a beer or a glass of wine or a water, if that’s what you like at networking reception make valuable connections, because in the end, your connections and your relationships are what will make you be an effective strategic partner. It’s ways to find larger businesses that will become either bring you on their team or, in my case, enter the Mentor-Protege program, which is a small business administration program where the larger business provides the resources and the past experience, but the smaller business allows larger business and now the new joint venture to enjoy the veteran owned business set asides in the federal government.

Irene Vaishvila Glaeser: So there’s a lot of reasons to get off the couch, get in the car or on an airplane and go to these events if government contracting is what you are looking for. And then the last resource is the Institute for Military Veterans and Families, the IMVF, and this is a very big program out of Syracuse, New York. It’s not focused entirely on GovCon. It’s focused on veteran entrepreneurship writ large. And I like the terms veteranpreneurship. I just can’t say it. But same thing big, uh, they’ve got classes, support groups, um, Boots to Business where you, you learn about how to stand up from the ground up. And if you can’t remember anything else, just go on the Syracuse University website where you will find it. And then finally, there’s small business, um, offices in every state. They have different names PTAC, VBAC, SBDC but um, these, these offices are designed to help you start your business. In my case, they’re at the local university in the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. But, um, a quick a quick look at the Small Business Administration website will find links to those offices. So I hope I hope that was helpful.

John Berry: Absolutely. And from an infantryman’s perspective at least, that’s that was my MOS. I had to change the logistics later. I was heartbroken, but I want to make sure that I spell this out, which is there is collaboration at the top. And what you’re saying, Irene, because I didn’t understand this until this year in the GovCon space there. If you’re new to the GovCon space, there are larger contractors with more experience that may want to take you under their wing because they can financially benefit from that, that they are looking for qualified, veteran led subcontractors to help them achieve their mission. So could you tell us a little bit more about that?

Irene Vaishvila Glaeser: That is 100% accurate for an infantryman. No, I’m only kidding. You know, we always told our infantry jokes, but I kept my mouth shut because payback is a bitch. Hahaha. Um, but yes, exactly what you said. And there’s different types of support. But in my personal experience, a very large defense contractor literally found me in the um SAM database, which is where every small business has to register to do business with the government, System of Award Management. So there I am with my veteran owned business certifications, which they are not, you can’t just say I’m a veteran. You go through this process documentation, and you become certified that way. Um, they found me through a search, and I got a phone call, uh, very large defense firm, and they said, I have found ten companies that have your veteran certification and also, you know, noticeably woman-owned. And there’s a couple others out there. I had them all. And he said, we’ve called all of them. You’re the first one that’s returned my call. So now I’m on a team. Um, and so if it’s a contract that the big dogs can go after, they’re going to want to say, hey, I’m, I’m fulfilling those supplier diversity goals, and I’ve got this many service-disabled, I’ve got this many women, and they’re all on my team so that it’s not just me, me, me.

Irene Vaishvila Glaeser: I’m giving them work share. And that’s one way to go about it. A joint venture is kind of the gold standard, and for that it just takes a little bit longer, but basically you apply along with a larger company that wants you to be a permanent partner for the next several years, win contracts together and the contracts can last forever. Not forever, the length of the contract. And that can be ten years. That feels like forever to me right now. But yeah, there’s so much out there and it can be very intimidating, which is why it’s a great idea to start with one of these programs. I mentioned earlier, um, where you will find the basic support to help launch you. And there are some big funders for these programs. I’ll point out JP Morgan Chase, which has spent millions of dollars to help veteran, minority and women owned business, um, get going in both entrepreneurship and GovCon entrepreneurship, and they are present both physically and um, in, uh, in financial dollars at all of the events that I attend.

John Berry: And that’s a big part of it, because when we look at these $100 million contracts that are coming in and some of them even bigger, and you’re trying to figure out, how do I partner, how do I collaborate, how do I get all this done? Having a financial institution to help you walk through what your needs are going to be is crucial, because you don’t know what you don’t know. And it seems to me, I get approached by veterans who say, I’m going to the GovCon space. John, what do I need? I’m like at first, like, what’s GovCon? Well, it’s government contract. Well, why do you need my help? Well, you run a business. I’m like, yeah, but I don’t know anything about government contracts. And so it’s great when the private sector knows what you’re up against and has seen the success stories. So tell us a little bit about some of the partnerships you’ve had. Not necessarily specifics, but just how the partnerships have helped you, whether they were joint ventures or the big the big firm comes in and says, hey, you fit the criteria for the company we want to hire, whether it’s IT or something or one of the other functions that Spahr uh, performs. Tell us about the opportunity to learn and what you have learned.

Irene Vaishvila Glaeser: Um, I, I’m going to go off the exact gov contract just to back it up a little and talk about the importance of our networks for our strategic partnerships, for our support, and just for having good relations to begin with. So, um, my biggest success stories go back to where somebody knew somebody who knew me. And I’ve already talked about availability of bosses. But I also one of my qualities that I emphasize is authenticity. So me, Irene, I have not changed very much since I was a kid that couldn’t wait to join the military. I have always been true to myself and my values and when you are that way, and I didn’t do it with anything in mind, I just knew what I believed, and I knew what to stick up for, and that was usually what I felt was the truth. I definitely was in the, you know, business of enforcing laws, rules and regulations in various capacities, both as a government inspector general and as a military one and as a military police officer. But I, I dealt with it very fairly and consistently, and I delivered news that was not good news in a compassionate manner. And having those qualities has earned me a very good reputation, and that reputation has followed me. So when I go to networking events, I never know who I’m going to bump into, who is going to lead me by the hand to someone I need to know. And that’s what’s been so effective, is the ability to stay connected with individuals from every walk of your life. Never dismiss them and treat everyone like they could be your next lift up. And I, um, so that’s happened for me. And so I’ll transition back to GovCon. That was just a little background because we can’t do anything without our connections.

John Berry: Well, let me let me add to that before we go to GovCon your but your skills as well, I mean, you were an MP. So you’ve been involved in investigations and then at the inspector general level, you are looking into looking deep into problems. And so you’ve developed these investigatory skills that people know you have you’ve proven you have them. And so not only do you have the connections, but you’ve built these skills in the military. So you combine these and now you have several opportunities. And now I got to take my dig at MP. I can remember a cadence. So you can’t spell wimp without MP. Remember that I remember that. Sorry. Okay. Let’s go back to GovCon.

Irene Vaishvila Glaeser: Well there were other names for us. Mud Puppy comes to mind. And then they called us, um, doggies. Which little side note, I wasn’t just a platoon leader, an XO in Germany. I actually had a dog platoon, I kid you not, a drug sniffing dog platoon. And if you ever want to see something and you never will, because I don’t think this happens again. But I participated in parades with the German military police, customs, drug sniffing dogs and the US dogs. And those dogs know how to stand at parade rest, and they know how to stand at attention. It is the most amazing thing. But I think, um, it’s almost comical that I that I was into police work, and I’ve been teased about being too German for whatever that means, but, um, it’s nice to know that I can kind of read body language, and it’s pretty easy for me to figure out if you got no use for me. I’ve been, um, kind of subject to that on and off in my career. Um, but I also help others learn about body language, because if someone’s looking at their watch while you’re talking to them, you have them locked and loaded, and it’s a networking event and they’ve got like one hour to work a room. It’s important to pick up some of those body cues. Um, and, you know, it never hurts to have delved out justice and or been on the receiving end of it.

Irene Vaishvila Glaeser: But either way, and I, I really haven’t been on the receiving end of it unless you consider extra pushups all the time. But, um, you know you should be learning compassion out of all of this. You should be learning that we are human beings. We are fallible, and the best bosses allow you to get up and have another chance. So I like to, I like to describe a compassion incident where, you know, Jump School is a very harsh environment, and I watched very large and fit looking men just wash out immediately because they looked at the towers and said, I’m not doing that. I had the company guide on. So I carried a flag in front of hundreds and hundreds. We graduated 600, um, uh, uh, troops, all branches, and one of the Black Hawks who get paid to be very nasty individuals, notice the flag dipping and he waited till a situation, I think I was sitting in polishing my boots where he asked me if I was okay and I wasn’t, but I didn’t, I had a stress fracture in my foot, didn’t want anyone to know. So that compassion that he showed me is something that we all have to keep in mind, because no matter what our struggle, somebody else is struggling also. And the ones you help, you never know when they’re going to be there for you.

John Berry: That’s a great story. And I found some compassion at Airborne School as well, although it was a little bit different at the end of Airborne School when I went through, I went through when was a little bit easier. I went through in ‘97, but I had to. I remember at the end we were supposed to do pull ups and so I ran to the bar, did like 20 pull ups, and a bunch of people couldn’t do enough pull ups. So then they smoked us, which was kind of a joke, you know, like do like 20 pushups, roll over, do flutter kicks, whatever. But I was I was getting ready to go to Ranger School. And I’m thinking during these three weeks I’m going to get out of shape because we’re doing airborne shuffle, you know, and it’s just there wasn’t hard, intense PT. And I’m about 220 lbs. Now, I could run a sub 12 minute, two mile. Uh, but I was, I was big, I played football in college. So I’m going in and this NCO sees me jump back up on the pull up bar after they’re done smoking us. Right. And he’s like, he’s like, Lieutenant, what are you doing? And I told him, I said, well, hey, Sergeant, I’m going to Ranger School after this, I can’t get out of shape.

John Berry: He’s like, okay, tomorrow I want you to sprint to that pull up bar, do as many as you can do and then just get out of here. Now, we lived in the BOQs, so it was no big deal. And I and I said, okay. And he said, now when you get out of here, what are you going to do? I said, well, I’m going to put my ruck on. I’m going to go over to this place where they had there’s this, uh, sand, uh, sawdust pit where they had a climbing pit. Yeah, yeah. And so, so I could climb the ropes. And then I was going to do some running and he said, well, he said, well, why are you doing that? And I said, well, I’m worried about the monkey bars and the Darby Queen and I’m worried about my weight, you know, being able to. And I want to come in as heavy as I can because I know I’m going to lose a lot of weight. And he’s like, yeah, carry on. He said, I want you to remember this, Lieutenant, that when you have a soldier that is pursuing a goal or a dream, you let him pursue it

John Berry: And so I’m not going to play these games with you and make you do pushups and flutter kicks. You already have a training plan. Go execute. And I thought that was just great NCO leadership. Uh, first of all, to let me out of whatever silliness was going to happen, uh, to the people who are stuck in the barracks, but more importantly, uh, it was saying, you know, as an NCO, I understand that I need to take care of my soldiers. And you as a young lieutenant, when you become a platoon leader and you get out of Fort Benning, this is how you need to behave. This is how you need to treat your soldiers. And it always left its mark on me that if I have a team member that is pursuing excellence, my job is to encourage them and help them get there and not make them do a bunch of worthless or menial exercises just to smoke the group. But if they’re, you know, eagles don’t fly in flocks, and when you got that eagle, you let them fly.

Irene Vaishvila Glaeser: Yeah, yeah. Are you sure we’re not talking about squawking chickens here?

John Berry: Chicken squawk, that’s fair. Yeah.

Irene Vaishvila Glaeser: Well, I’ll tell you, um, what you just described is just really good, strong leadership. And we’re fortunate when we can learn from good leaders like that. Um, but I really do think Ranger School is probably easier for you than it was for us in ‘83.

John Berry: Airborne School yeah, yeah. No. All right. It was.

Irene Vaishvila Glaeser: I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Airborne School? No, no, women didn’t get into Ranger School till, I think 2013, ‘14,’ 15, something like that. Um, but, yeah, I mean, and you had asked me at one point. Well, what can you really learn from bad leaders? But there’s, um, I think the biggest thing and being an inspector general and investigating general officers, which is what I did, and very senior officials in both the government and the military, there’s something called does the audio match the video, um, or look at the feet, not the mouth, but there’s a lot of lip service that happens at the very senior leader level, because some officers come up through the ranks and learn that pleasing their superiors is the most important thing for them. It’s very easy, and the system can be set up to where if you don’t have like the perfect ratings, then your career kind of takes a back seat to some other people’s careers. It’s and there are a few bad apples, but the majority of all soldiers, all officers are good patriots who signed up to defend their countries. And I’ll just say that I get I did have an example of a leader who would say every time he had the opportunity, always do your best, always do what’s right, treat others the way you like to be treated. And then at the end of the day, when I’m trying to get out of the office because my daycare’s about to close and my husband’s on a trip and I’ve got an hour drive and I’m going to get charged every single minute that daycare is closed. He’d put a little sticky note on my chair that said, ‘See me’ and I would run around frantically to look for him, and he’d make himself scarce until he wasn’t, and he’d watch me sweat dripping, turning red. And that’s just an example of a really bad leader that talked a really good game.

John Berry: Well, let me, you know, and if the leader didn’t intentionally, that’s horrible, but throughout my career, and this is just poor time management, but especially as a lawyer, I would have all these things I wanted to get done, and all of a sudden, I look at the clock and it’s 5:00, right? And I’d be like, oh my God, no, don’t, don’t leave, don’t leave. And I realized, like, I had totally mismanaged my time, mismanaged my team. I was a bad leader because I didn’t set the priorities. I didn’t give them the one third two thirds rule. I didn’t give them time to react. And I was keeping people late because I hadn’t managed my work and my priorities. And that, yeah, that’s a huge failure as a leader. The only thing worse you can do is intentionally make someone stick around to look for you because you think you’re important. Yeah.

Irene Vaishvila Glaeser: See, you just opened that door up. I never even thought it wasn’t intentional. I just assumed it was. So now I’m like, gee, I gotta give him a little compassion because he’s probably at his wit’s end, like you said, trying to get it all done. There’s so much we got to get done in a day in the military. There is so much.

John Berry: Sure, but it’s not an excuse; that is poor leadership. If you can’t, you know, if you can’t lead yourself, how are you going to lead anybody else? And if this individual has to leave you a sticky note, find me or see me before you leave. Right. Well, what does that tell you? Why did he tell you that eight in the morning, what his priorities were for the day or what he needed to happen? And if it was an emergency, why didn’t he come find you? And so, you know, for me, like, that’s just poor leadership all around. But let’s go into the AAR, the After Action Review. I want to talk about your three examples of the best leadership you experienced, and the three examples of the worst leadership that you saw or experienced.

Irene Vaishvila Glaeser: Okay. Um, I actually have kind of covered some of my accountability, authenticity and availability mantra. But at the same time, the best leaders in my mind are compassionate. So I know that we have these army, the Warrior Creed, the Soldier Creed, and never leave a fallen comrade as number seven. But a good officer will look around and check the troops every day. And it’s funny, as an inspector general, I harken back to George Washington’s inspector general, Baron von Steuben, who was the first one ever, but he was set up to be the eyes and ears of the commander and check on the troops, the health and welfare and morale. And this is really built into the NCO ranks, and they do it very well. I don’t know if always the officer ranks do it as well. So compassion, communication, there are so many ways that you can communicate even from the furthest distance. I had a friend, I won’t mention the base or the friend’s name, but I loved what he did on a very large army base. He was garrison commander, and he had a button on the command website, and it said, Ask Colonel and I’ll just say, Bob, because that wasn’t his name asked Colonel Bob. And Colonel Bob went to those links and read those emails every day, and he wanted to see what the folks on the garrison were concerned about, and no concern was too small.

Irene Vaishvila Glaeser: There are town halls where you can communicate. I was around for the Base Realignment and Commission or Consolidation, sorry, the BRAC where they were taking our whole army bases, where people had established roots and had kids in high school and were going to serve out the rest of their careers there and boom, guess what? We are now in Rock Island, not Fort Gillem, Georgia. And you can either come or you can retire. So that’s bad news. And a good commander will have town hall meetings where they, at least the people who have to deal with these upper level decisions have a chance to be heard. And finally, you can communicate through, back then you remember VTCs, and they probably still have the video teleconferences because they are secure there. You can do those off a secure line. But look at the Army/Navy game. Big Army fan here, married, married an Army football player, but you know, they beam in troops from around the country, um, via satellite who are rooting for one team or another. But you can do that yourself to your troops who are serving. So it’s most important that a commander communicate well and that their formations know that they are doing the first thing, which is being compassionate and letting their voices be heard. Um, and that those are kind of the things that I’ve looked for in good leaders.

Irene Vaishvila Glaeser: And I’ve kind of woven in the bad leaders throughout this discussion. But I would say that a real bad leader only hears from the people that look like him. And I say this on behalf of women and minorities and disabled veterans, for people who feel left out of a conversation or a mission or a rule, and it can be very difficult sometimes for commanders to, to, um, allow those voices when that’s just not something they’re used to doing its way out of their comfort zone. But I, I’ve been in environments where I was asked for my input, and as soon as I opened my mouth, it was over. So let the folks that are really quiet, let the folks that don’t look like you, let the folks that come from completely different cultures feel included in your organization. And I say this long before the terms diversity and inclusion were even a thing, were even part of the American consciousness. I’m talking about many, many years ago. So that’s another thing that a bad leader will focus on, folks that look just like them for their advisors. Those are some examples of really good leadership qualities and not so good leadership qualities that have kind of sustained me, um, throughout the years. And what I’ve learned from.

John Berry: Well, and as a leader, the leader of your company, Spahr Solutions group, your husband works for you, but you’re the CEO. The irony here is that back in our day in the military, you, the spouse, are the household six, right? Remember that your wife is the household six uh, for those of you that I assume every veteran knows that the six is the number of the commander and that that, you know, that that was the thought was that, uh. Well, I got a check with the household six before I could do this, but now you are the CEO of the company. Your husband works at the company as well. Uh, both of you veterans, uh, how does how does that work? Uh, you know, there’s so much time in our military careers where we have to stay apart from our families. And certainly, uh, you went through that difficult period of raising your children with both of you in the military. I’m sure you had a great family care plan, but how do you deal with that now? Where the kids are grown up and your husband is now working with you in the company, how does that dynamic, how does that dynamic work for some veterans that say, I want to bring my spouse into the company, good idea or bad idea?

Irene Vaishvila Glaeser: Actually, John, I’ve heard the opposite. I can never work with my wife. I could never work with my husband. So I think it’s very much relationship-dependent. Um, we were both we’re very different personalities, but we were both kind of type A anyway. We’re both driven. He spent 15, 20 years in defense contracting. I think, so I just got built in expertise by having him on my immediate team. So, you know, all of that support and help that, um, a newly emerging company needs to locate by hiring really good people or getting really good advisors. I kind of had that right, living in my under my roof. And so I was fortunate and that said, you really got to redefine your marriage too, because the other day I said, okay, talking about work stops after dinner and the next thing out of my mouth was like, you need to respond to that email you got. So it’s, um, it’s lively, but in a sense, it’s very, very rewarding because the idea of having a family owned business, we will have a legacy business. Our son, who is a transitioned Green Beret, um, but he’s still serving in the National Guard, but he has every interest in taking over this business. And so that’s a decision, um, that, that every, uh, entrepreneur needs to think about. Am I going to eventually sell this company, make a bunch of money off it? Am I going to buy and sell companies, mergers and acquisitions? I’ve heard veterans have a lot of success with that as well. Or is this going to be truly family based and continue after I’m not working in it anymore. So those are just some other dynamics. But it definitely after all these years and yes, I’ve been married 35 years and I’ve been in business with him after federal service for two of those. It definitely forced us to reexamine our right and left limits as husband and wife.

John Berry: That’s great. And that’s great advice. Irene, where can veterans get a hold of you now? We’ll have all your contact information in the show notes along with your bio. I know you’re active on LinkedIn, but what’s the best way to get Ahold of Irene? What’s the best way to get a copy of “Choose Your Battles?”

Irene Vaishvila Glaeser: Well, not to be flip. I have actually mailed a lot of those copies with signatures to people, but it’s getting harder to keep up with that. I’m on Amazon, I’m on Barnes & Noble. If you like it, please write a review because it’s so cool. I just want to be a best seller someday. I wrote this whole thing to keep stories alive that are really, um, almost a forgotten narrative as far as getting a hold of me and I. I put my money where my mouth is when I talk about accessibility, but I think LinkedIn is the absolute best platform because you don’t have to write down my long email address, get lost in my inbox. I spent a little time on LinkedIn every day and kind of see what’s going on. I can’t wait to repost this. Um, because I want to reach the broadest audience that you, John, for all the great things you’re doing, um, can possibly reach. Um, and I and I read the messages, so I get, I get some great messages from. I actually got asked to speak by someone who I haven’t seen in 30 years. He said, I’ve seen you online. I’d like you to come speak to my, by the way, global consulting company. So it’s really cool. I love LinkedIn to me it’s the best, um, it is the only professional networking platform that there really is. Uh, Facebook’s great. Um, but in GovCon, you need to be on LinkedIn.

John Berry: And that’s what everybody told me. Hey, the veterans are on LinkedIn, at least the veterans in the business space. And I kind of ignored it. And I’m not huge on social media, Facebook as well, but what I’ve been told is you either use social media or you get used by it. And I’ve been approached by a lot of veterans who are really interested in getting involved, and they see this as a great opportunity, but they don’t know where to start. So I would ask you, brand new veteran, day one, they want to get into GovCon. What is they first thing they should do? What’s that first step, that first step in that thousand step or that thousand mile journey? What do they need to do first?

Irene Vaishvila Glaeser: The first thing they need to do is assess what their goals are. And the second thing they need to do is find the right resources and they are available to them. Some of them are just Google searches, some of them I’ve talked about before. But the third thing is, just realize you are not alone. I already mentioned the 47,000 GovCon related veteran owned businesses and their support from so many nonprofits for other aspects of things you’re wrestling with. And I, um, I’ve really got to say to you, John, first of all, for everything you do, um, I owe a debt of gratitude, and so does every veteran. And when you said I use the platform to further my career, I’m also using it to further, better, um, improved lives and careers for veterans. And that’s the biggest reason why I want to get my messaging out.

John Berry: And I and I want to end this on the note that is, because I want to make sure that we haven’t gone too far to the side of, well, there are a great lot of great opportunities because people want to give back to veterans. Let me tell you something, they need us more than we need them. It is the leadership, the experience, the desire to give back to our communities. This is what veterans bring, and this is why veterans are so important in the business world. Because we have those leadership skills. We know what it’s like to deal with adversity, to solve difficult problems. But most importantly, we want to give back. We have a sense of duty. We raised our right hand. We took an oath. And that oath never ended. And so for me, when I say when you talk about LinkedIn, it’s not just to build your business, but it’s to build your business, to build a legacy and not just your legacy, but the legacy of the American veteran. And so we’ve learned so much through our military training and experience. It would be a shame to not take it to the next level as a civilian. And so I appreciate what you’re doing there. Uh, through being that CEO, being that leader, that let’s face it, the Army invested a lot of money in building you to that, to that, uh, part in life where you can do whatever you want to do and you’ve chosen to give back, to build a company, to employ people, and most importantly, to employ veterans and to show veterans how they can get involved in their civilian and entrepreneurial communities as well.

Irene Vaishvila Glaeser: Thank you, John. It’s just been a real pleasure to be on your show, and I can’t wait to get out there and start responding to the veterans that reach out to me looking for, hey, how do I get started? Or hey, who do you know? Because I have no problem with making introductions. We’re all in this together, and the more we can demonstrate the value that veterans and our values and our leadership bring to the workforce, the more the workforce will recognize it and want to hire more of us.

John Berry: Outstanding. Thank you so much, Irene, and thank you for coming on. Veteran Led.

Irene Vaishvila Glaeser: It’s been a pleasure. Thank you.

John Berry: Thank you for joining us today on Veteran Led, where we pursue our mission of promoting veteran leadership in business, strengthening the veteran community, and getting veterans all of the benefits that they earned. If you know a leader who should be on the Veteran Led podcast, report to our online community by searching @veteranled on your favorite social channels and posting in the comments, we want to hear how your military challenges prepared you to lead your industry or community, and we will let the world know. And of course, hit subscribe and join me next time on Veteran Led.

Berry Law

The attorneys at Berry Law are dedicated to helping injured Veterans. With extensive experience working with VA disability claims, Berry Law can help you with your disability appeals.

This material is for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship between the Firm and the reader, and does not constitute legal advice. Legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and the contents of this blog are not a substitute for legal counsel.

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