Role modeling during the pandemic comes with a price costing veteran organizations time and money needed for investing in new methods of communication.
The swift adjustment to the pandemic derailed community outreach missions. Leaders addressed the needs of membership left without answers during the crisis.
The pandemic forced leaders into developing ways around meeting in person or their organization faced becoming extinct. Uncertainty mixed with unforeseen variables make up the crucible of virtual leadership.
Nonprofit organizations meet the challenges of upgrading their outreach online. Leaders face the frustration of membership shortages with their volunteer labor force. During the pandemic, both the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater shared factors affecting the nonprofit sector resulting from the pandemic.
On page 10, the report shared, “5 percent of nonprofit organizations ceased operations to ‘a great extent,’ 56 percent cancelled major fundraising events, and 53 percent greatly reduced their staff” (2021).
The hardship of being a chapter president and state of Wisconsin liaison for Rolling Thunder Inc. falls on the shoulders of a Vietnam veteran named Mark Herrmann.
Between role modeling crisis leadership and facing the hardship of uncertainty during the pandemic lockdown, statewide senior leaders like Herrmann were forced into confusion while scrambling for resources going into the shutdown.
Organizations went without the means for assembling chapter meetings resulting from a lack of training with upgrading modern technologies and communication methods never used before. Like in combat, communications became a dire need for keeping organizations running for community outreach.
Herrmann collaborated with his local Veterans of Foreign Wars Post with keeping the operation running full speed ahead. Herrmann is the epitome of perseverance, dedication, and guts as a leader during times of crisis.
Besides being a Vietnam veteran who served during the Tet Offensive, Herrmann goes down in history as one of the Wisconsin advocates who brought the POW MIA chair dedication to the Wisconsin State Capitol Rotunda, which originally signed into law in 2020.
The pandemic required the formal dedication ceremony postpone until another date. The Capitol dedicated the chair on Sept. 17, 2021, which was the third Friday of the month honoring POW MIA Recognition Day.
From Vietnam to the pandemic, Herrmann not only helped bring POW MIA legislation forward, but continued acting during a time where Americans stayed at home confined to quarters with COVID-19 no contact orders.
Understanding Herrmann’s leadership role is complex. Being the decision-making authority who doubles as a state of Wisconsin liaison and chapter president requires being on-call all hours of the day as the relay between state chapters and the Rolling Thunder Inc. national organization.
Herrmann’s chapter leads the state of Wisconsin by giving back to the community through cleanup efforts, suicide awareness runs, Memorial Day keynote speaking events, mentoring junior members like Henry Schoepke, while waking up each day with the memories of the Vietnam War and the pandemic aftermath.
Herrmann overcame the impossibility of both Vietnam and the pandemic in his lifetime defining the crucible journey of Herrmann’s legacy. Leading his chapter’s volunteer missions fuels his hope the next generation will step up for those who remain missing.
Herrmann will drop everything for his chapter and will not tolerate the misuse of the Rolling Thunder Inc. brand. Warriors like Herrmann lead with credos, who recently adopted the concept of creating a creed for his chapter’s followership.
The Rolling Thunder Inc. Chapter 5, WI credo states, “Be strong enough to stand alone. Be yourself enough to stand apart. But be wise enough to stand together when the time comes.” An unknown author published the credo.
Unity plays a significant role with Herrmann’s leadership, which began with military service.
Herrmann voluntarily joined the military right out of high school during the toughest times in America when serving received getting spit on at the airport when returning home. Herrmann chose serving in the United States Navy in both blue and brown water, while taking on the danger close mission being a patrol boat river crewmember during Operation Giant Slingshot.
His tours of duty, while recalling his experience, ranged from being the “State Patrol of the Mekong Delta,” where his efforts aided with stopping another Tet Offensive in 1969.
Herrmann indicated he served the operation from Dec. 7, 1968, to April 1969. Remembering the POW MIA is his dedication as a veteran. The POW MIA issue represents the lengths Herrmann will go for those who serve, which is his passion. Herrmann volunteered during the draft and did so with honor despite facing the hardship of returning home.
For those who are unaware, POW MIA stands for “Prisoner of war and missing-in-action.” The credo found on their memorial flag states “You are not forgotten.” Recovering the missing is Herrmann’s primary focus, whose chapter does so by donating recovery trowels to the University of Wisconsin Missing-in-action Recovery and Identification Project.
Herrmann, while sharing his experience during interview, discussed his early years serving as a member of the patrol boat rivers cruising the waters of the Mekong Delta. He shared his passion as a servant-leader while recalling his missions.
His experience with unity described picking up American G.I.s stranded in the jungles in times of duress, which was priority along with dropping off cargo to those serving on the frontlines.
Crisis was his daily diet deployed overseas, which became a part of his second nature entering the pandemic. Role modeling courage for the U.S. Navy in the brown river waters of Vietnam earned sailors like Herrmann the nickname “River Rats.”
The patrol boat river crew consisted of four members ranging from captain to seaman. Communication played a critical role with jamming enemy supply lines and rescuing the lost. From a leadership perspective, Herrmann’s duties required innovation and a quick reaction in times of crisis.
Michael Hackman and Craig Johnson, professors of communication and leadership, authors of Leadership, A Communication Perspective recommend “As a leader, you must fight the tendency to become complacent. Even during periods of relative calm, there are likely to be indications that another crisis is brewing” (2009).
Calm defines Herrmann’s demeanor facing the pandemic during his group’s meeting reports at VFW Post 1318 monthly membership meetings. Herrmann reported the frustrations of the chapter and the issues with bringing forward a POW MIA honorary chair to the Wisconsin State Capitol into legislation. Legislation requires ethical role modeling when approaching legislators.
The Naval Leadership and Ethics Center’s Facilitation Skills Handbook: A Reference Tool for New Facilitators (2017) offers incite regarding the United States Navy’s approach with virtuosity as a leader. The U.S. Navy’s handbook defines decision-making during hardship by reflecting upon toughness stating, “We can take a hit and keep going, tapping all sources of strength and resilience: rigorous training for operations and combat, the fighting spirit of our people, and the steadfast support of our families. We don’t give up the ship” (2017).
Herrmann’s aura upon meeting him demonstrates toughness. As an advocate, his efforts went beyond the call facing the pandemic while seeking legislators for support. He never gave up the ship.
Herrmann, along with his close friend Veterans of Foreign Wars Wisconsin Adjutant David Green, kept the momentum going with bringing the POW MIA chair forward on top of their additional leadership duties. Frustration and fear slowed the process.
Herrmann’s reports at meetings between the state, his chapter, and the VFW Post collaborated and opened lines of communication tasked with meeting with state representatives. Herrmann and Green met with the State of Wisconsin Secretary of the Department of Revenue Peter W. Barca noting he loves wearing purple as his distinguishing attribute.
Barca joined the mission and brought forward the bill that passed. The honorary chair signed into law. Herrmann noted that Barca was a key supporter.
Role models, according to Content Contributor Jennifer V. Miller of People Equation.org, which specializes in developing content strategy, writing, and editing, states “Exemplary leaders know that it’s their behavior that earns them respect.
The real test is whether they do what they say whether their words and deeds are consistent. Leaders set an example and build commitment through simple, daily acts that create progress and build momentum.”
Imagining during interview the 55-year span between the Mekong and the Capitol recalling both the Vietnam rivers and the time spent meeting with state leaders envisioned relentless advocacy, which provided a clear portrait of the work Herrmann invests his time and energy in.
The portrait of Herrmann’s character depicts unwavering dedication, which required guts while facing the momentum of where to turn once America shut businesses down. Guts, along with commitment to perseverance, helped weather the storm of virtual leadership leading Rolling Thunder Inc. of Wisconsin through the crisis.
Commitment takes guts, especially during a time when supply shortages plagued Americans, and legislators had their hands full with crises like horror stories heard from the jungle.
The greatest takeaway from Herrmann’s story was his business sense and strong character. Herrmann keeps cool in times of stress. One could learn the value of facing crisis through a sit-down conversation with a pen and paper about Herrmann’s success.
Upon reflection from our conversation, the two words that come to mind regarding the credo of Herrmann as a role model would be “no sweat.”
Driving away, looking in the review mirror, after leaving the Veterans of Foreign Wars Wisconsin Headquarters, a thought occurred to me. Leaders of the two veteran organizations were groomed in combat.
I will use my combat awareness as a POW MIA advocate recognizing emotional intelligence will help me see through crisis level-headed like Herrmann.
In conclusion, role modeling during hardship are tongue and cheek. Brevity in times of crisis, modeled by Herrmann, demonstrate the role modeling of how one ought to react in the moment.
After witnessing other veteran organizations refuse upgrading their communications online, I watched their treasuries and memberships suffer. Herrmann and I worked together between monthly meetings as staff member and president.
His stories of hardship as a Vietnam veteran shared at meetings, the hope of the POW MIA chair, and the enlightenment of his die-hard attitude contributed to the success of Herrmann’s chapter seeing through one of the most difficult periods in American history.
The Vietnam vet of the Mekong Delta helped navigate combat veterans safely across an entire state like his service on the rivers of Vietnam.
Hackman, Michael Z., and Craig E. Johnson. (2009). Leadership: A Communication Perspective. 5th ed., (pp. 374, 378, 380-406). Waveland Press.
Miller, J. (2022). Leaders as Role Models-What the Research Tells Us. People Equation.com. Retrieved from https://people-equation.com/leaders-as-role-models-research/
Naval Leadership and Ethics Center. (2017). Facilitation Skills Handbook-A Reference Tool for New Facilitators. Newport, RI: United States Navy.
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee/Whitewater. (2021). The Covid-19 Effects on Wisconsin Non-Profit Sector Report Two [pdf]. Retrieved from https://uwm.edu/hbi/wp-content/uploads/sites/435/2021/08/COVID-19-Effect-on-the-Nonprofit-Sector-Report-2_FINAL.pdf
The worker profile was the final paper for COMM 373 Communication Leadership for Dr. Katharine Miller at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. If you are a veteran or student passionate about POW MIA publishing, please fill out the contact form on the Outpost 422 website. We will publish and edit all submissions in a timely manner.