“The Shirt Off His Back: Derek Flinn”
Describe to me the moment you decided to join the military.
My Mom woke me up on September 11, 2001, and told me that our country was under attack. I had absolutely no idea what that meant, but as I stood in the family room with my family and watched the Twin Towers collapse, I knew that one day I needed to serve my country.
When you hear the term “leader” who is the first person who comes to mind?
My Dad. He led an organization for 36 years, bringing different personalities together towards a common goal. Through his example, I witnessed what it really means to be a leader. Whether it was in his professional life, or during his time volunteering at church and in the community. He showed me that it doesn’t matter who gets the credit (as many times he often was not recognized for his hard work), but rather the focus should be around the end result. I have never witnessed someone as humble as my Dad. And he truly cared about people. I remember a few years ago the power was knocked out in my hometown and one of my Dad’s employees was stranded without heat in the middle of winter. My Dad offered to put her family up in a hotel with his own money. He would never tell anyone that he offered that (I heard it from my Mom), but that’s the kind of person my Dad is. He will give you the shirt off of his back if you need it and is constantly helping people.
Describe one Soldier who positively impacted your service.
This one is definitely a tie. As many Platoon Leaders will say, I had the best Platoon a guy could ask for. From the NCOs to the Soldiers straight out of Basic Training, I rarely had to ask for anything. I was blessed to have the best Bradley gunner in the Company in SGT Ryan Williams and what turned out to be the most dependable driver in SPC Kyle Horstmann. I never had to worry about anything on the Bradley because Ryan would lead, and Kyle would follow. Through two NTC rotations, all I ever had to worry about was planning our Platoon’s next move and that was an incredible blessing. They also balanced each other perfectly. When I would do what all LTs do and poke my head where it didn’t belong on the Bradley, Kyle would kindly say “Hey sir, we got this”. While in contrast, Ryan would come running to the Bradley screaming “SIR, STOP TOUCHING MY BRADLEY!” I’m pretty sure Ryan had to set-up our radios at least 20 different times because I touched something I wasn’t supposed to. But his patience was incredible. They really embodied what it meant to have initiative and taught me how to trust subordinates completely.
What was your most profound experience while wearing a uniform?
Being a Platoon Leader. There is no job that is more humbling and rewarding than leading a Platoon of men who have put their entire faith in you when your lack of experience gives them every reason not to.
What does service mean to you? How will you continue to serve when done with the military?
Service is denying something for the greater good. Obviously, this can be found in many different places within society, and I strive to find a meaningful impact by mentoring young people who are just starting their adult life. I have just recently relocated to the Columbus, Ohio area and am actively searching out opportunities to serve my community. It is important to not just throw a particular amount of money toward a “cause” but rather to dive deep into the community and engage with those who can benefit from your life experiences.
Who are some of your heroes?
First and foremost, my Dad is my hero. As stated above, he is capable of unifying a group of people to accomplish a common goal. This is something I rarely see in the leaders we witness today. On that same token, I look up to the example Abraham Lincoln provided to us. He took a country completely divided, set a standard of freedom for every man and woman, and made it happen. I don’t think we acknowledge truly what an accomplishment it was for him to bring the country back together at a time when unification seemed like it would never happen.
What should the average civilian know about the military?
It is a ton of work, and not a lot of praise. You spend a lot of time in the field, and many hours at work to become experts in your craft. It is not a walk in the park.
What are your post-service career goals?
Right now, I am working for a furniture company in Columbus, Ohio as a member of the Store Operations Team. My goal is to become an expert in logistical process that will enable my company to cut costs and boost profits by reducing waste in the supply chain. Further down the road, I would like to go back to school to enhance my management skills and ultimately own a business, although I am not 100% sure in what field yet.
What advice would you give to a young civilian about to join the military?
Do it and go combat arms. No disrespect to the support side of the military because they are definitely needed, but combat arms makes you a completely different person. I wanted nothing to do with the Infantry, but looking back, I wouldn’t want it any other way now.