The gavel twirled in the hand of the juvenile judge as he looked down on the young man standing before him.  “Because one of your teachers spoke on your behalf, I am going to give you one more chance. If you will finish school without appearing before this court again and then commit to me you will enlist in the National Guard or other service upon graduation, I will not drop this gavel and invoke the sentence you brought upon yourself.” 

The boy looked up and mumbled a “Yes sir” at which the judge made him repeat the pledge loud enough for all to hear.  The Vo-Tech teacher left the courtroom with the student and parole officer and said he would see him in school the next day.  

It was the beginning of a relationship that resulted in the wayward young man developing into a master of welding and metal fabrication.  Graduation came and afterward James (not his real name) did join the Guard, as promised. 

All was uneventful until the unit was mobilized and deployed to Iraq in 2010. The war, although technically over, was turning nasty as elements of Persian Gulf states started attacking the patrolling U.S. troops with IEDs, mines and other means of destruction.

The Tennessee National Guard vehicles were not equipped with "Up-armor" kits as had been installed the regular army units.

These kits were for the trucks, Humvees and other vehicles and consisted of armor plating, flooring and other items to protect the soldiers from mines, shrapnel and bullets.  The kits were there, but there were no engineers to install them.  

Up steps young James. He asks for the kits and a welder, and starts to add the armor with consent from top command. 

The problem was one of time; they had one week before going in-country to the sandbox. So James again took control and started not only welding, but teaching others to weld.  The welds were not pretty but there was hope the new protection would somehow make a difference now.  A stoppage of the work occurred as they ran out of welding rods. 

James' teacher had taught him to weld with oxyacetylene and coat hangers — real country boy stuff.  They raided all the coat hangers in port and without hardly any sleep for a week, the last of the kits were installed even as the orders came to move out with, as some jokingly called them, “Hillbilly Armor Kits.”  

We were listening to the commanding General of the Tennessee 278th National Guard Division tell this story at a state school board convention as he thanked fhe teachers for quality students and for not giving up on the ones, like James, who were falling through the cracks. 

Because of one teacher who saw the potential in a young man, not a single one of his guard members lost their lives in Iraq. Many hits were taken by the unit, but not a single attack resulted in a fatality. Kind of makes one teary eyed, doesn't it?

We all need new talent in our dealerships and remembering this story, we reached out to our local Ag teacher and ask if any student would fit the needs we had for a younger team member,  "I think one student, James, might fit your needs, but you will have work with him on …"

We took the chance, did work with him and he has been an inspiration and exemplary employee.  

I have been guilty of saying the younger generation will “doom us all.” I was and am wrong to generalize and vocalize this sentiment. There are a lot of James-types out there. 

We must put on our HR caps and find them; they exist and will be the future life blood of our dealerships. Take a look around and find your own James; it could revitalize a part of your business reaching out and communicating to, a younger customer base.   

Til next time, we wish you profits and prosperity. 

Told from the perspective of an in-the-trenches owner/operator — Tim Brannon of B&G Equipment, Paris, Tenn. —  Equipment Dealer Tips, Tales & Takeaways shares knowledge, experiences and tips/lessons with fellow rural equipment dealerships throughout North America. Covering all aspects required of an equipment dealership general manager, Brannon will inform, entertain and provide a teachable moment for current — and future — leaders within equipment dealerships.



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