Smart About Money: Military service pays dividends now and later

Earlier this year, there was a report in The Washington Post about a teacher in Southern California who called U.S. service members “the lowest of our low.”

Apparently the school district was “deluged by thousands of emails, many from veterans, active-duty troops and military family members.”

How appropriate that people who know how wrong that teacher was were the first to stand up to correct the record.

As an American who deeply appreciates the liberty and freedoms protected by our U.S. service members and having had the privilege of serving for 10 years as a Captain in the Army National Guard, I also wanted to stand up for our military and, specifically, the opportunities it offers.

Like many young people, I joined the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) in college with a genuine interest in the military and also, very significantly, because of the ROTC scholarships that made college affordable.

(The ROTC scholarship program is even better now. In an era when 21-year-olds regularly get out of college with 6-figure debts, ROTC scholarships can be particularly appealing.)

While my training platoon took many worthwhile classes at college and had many good professors, there is no doubt in my mind that the ROTC classes I took were the ones where I learned the most. The across-the-board excellent ROTC instructors – all active-duty officers and non-commissioned officers (NCOs) – taught leadership, team-building and practical thinking in a way that was rare at college then and possibly more rare today.

Along with the importance of flexibility, delegation and the critical significance of being able to trust the people around you, the ROTC instructors emphasized valuable skills including focusing attention, communicating clearly and being able to realistically plan for successes that could be accomplished under existing circumstances. It’s a template that works. The American military has so many of those.

Developing self-discipline – which can be defined as an individual being okay with not always getting to do what they might want to do – may be the skill that my training platoon learned in the National Guard that has paid the most outside-military-life dividends for me, especially when it comes to finance and banking.

Our platoon also had to learn to be okay with being uncomfortable, sometimes very uncomfortable. But many still speak of being grateful to have been pushed far beyond what we thought we were capable of.

Military service offers the chance to be part of a system that encourages people from vastly different backgrounds – with very different experiences and perspectives – to work together to achieve goals and maximize a team’s chances for coming through safely together.

I once heard the then-President of State Street Bank – a veteran himself – say that most people feel like their time in the military gave them a chance to take a step in the right direction. He’s absolutely right.

Nick Maffeo is the President & CEO of Canton Co-operative Bank in Canton. “Smart About Money” is a regular column he writes for the Canton Citizen. Have a financial question you’d like to ask? Email to


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