A 7‑Eleven veteran’s perspective on the value, sacrifices and lessons of service to country.

A view aft of the USS West Virginia on the surface of the Atlantic Ocean

A view aft of the USS West Virginia on the surface of the Atlantic Ocean

In 1937, a young man from Missoula, Montana, joined the United States Marine Corps to escape what many would consider a difficult upbringing, with the hope of finding adventure and seeing the world.

He found himself in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and fought in several major battles during the Pacific Campaign of World War II. On March 6, 1945, now Platoon Sergeant, Company D, Second Battalion, Twenty-Seventh Marines, FIFTH Marine Division, he led a charge during the Battle of Iwo Jima for which he was awarded the Navy Cross and found himself wounded by enemy fire. After the battle he was transferred to Naval Hospital Farragut, Idaho to recover.

Meanwhile, in 1942, a daughter of Italian immigrants who settled in rural Wisconsin graduated from nursing school. It was the middle of the war. She was commissioned as an Ensign in the United States Navy Nursing Corps. After her training, she was stationed at Naval Hospital Farragut, taking care of wounded sailors and Marines as they returned from the battlefront.

Bob and Liz on their wedding day in 1945

Bob and Liz on their wedding day in 1945

This is not a screenplay pitch for the next Hollywood blockbuster. This is how my fraternal grandparents, Robert Harkness and Elizabeth Ranallo, found each other. Since he was enlisted and she was an officer, Bob had to get permission from Liz’s commanding officer to ask her on a date. They married mere weeks later.

That beginning created an enduring call to service in my family – a family full of veterans both enlisted and officer across the Navy, the Marines, and the Air Force (I’m sure we will have one in the Army before too long).

My family’s history of service heavily influenced my decision to accept an NROTC scholarship to the University of Notre Dame. Upon graduating, I was commissioned into the Navy where I qualified as a Submarine Warfare Officer, completing six strategic deterrent patrols on the USS West Virginia (SSBN 736), before I resigned my commission to join the civilian workplace and grow my family.

Beyond having the privilege of serving, I learned many valuable leadership and life lessons from my time in the Navy. Here are my top three.

  • Effective teams are diverse teams. Navy personnel come from all walks of life and often look and behave much differently than I do. Having a common mission unites a team, no matter how different the individual members are.
  • Surround yourself with people who have a better answer than you, then create an environment where those answers are heard. People think of the military as command and control, but when you’re on a nuclear sub with nuclear weapons, you need people who not only can speak up, but are encouraged to do so.
  • Technical competence is a leadership quality. It is not enough to read books about leadership and hand out directives. If you don’t know your stuff – and know enough of your team’s stuff, you are not being an effective leader.

All of this leads me to why I am so proud to work for 7‑Eleven, a company that models leadership qualities and values I embrace.

The author's commissioning ceremony

The author's commissioning ceremony

7‑Eleven values active and veteran military and first responders. As the executive sponsor of the 7‑Eleven Veterans Outreach Organization, I have a front row seat to some of the amazing things we support, including the Army Partnership for Youth Success Program, Rolling Remembrance, the Johnny Mac Soldiers Fund, UCLA Operation Mend, Armed Services YMCA Operation Heroes and Our Community Salutes Program.

With May being Military Appreciation Month, which culminates with Memorial Day on May 31, we will once again mark this holiday as the beginning of Summer. But it is so much more than that. It is the day we set aside to remember those who have given their lives for us. It is a solemn day, especially for those directly impacted by such incredible loss. While it is completely appropriate to be proud of our military and veterans (we get our day in November), I hope you can take a moment to reflect on those who protected us with all they had to give.

I have the deepest of appreciation for our current members of the military and first responders. I understand the sacrifices they make as well as the sacrifices their loved ones make. They pay so much of the costs for the freedoms we all hold so dearly. On behalf of the thousands of reservists, veterans, and veteran family members who are part of Team 7‑Eleven, thank you for all that you do!

Chris Harkness
Vice President of Merchandising Strategy & Analytics, 7‑Eleven

7‑Eleven - 4,750 Veterans and spouses hired, $6.7 million contributed to military aid organizations, top 100 military friendly employers, 106 veteran owned stores in the US.