-The Debrief Series is a venture to collect and publish the thoughts, memories, past failures, and lessons learned from leaders all across the force. These leaders can be Active Duty Enlisted, Former/Retired Enlisted, and civilians who have made incredible contributions to the military community. –
Today, I have the privilege of speaking with the HM1 John Housinga, an Independent Duty Corpsman serving with 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines. He acts as the enlisted medical provider for over 1,000 marines and sailors. He is also a sought-after subject matter expert, incredible mentor, and a dependable leader. Housinga sheds light on the reality of being a leader in today’s military, how he has recovered personally from failures, and provides guidance to the future leaders of our armed services.
Let the questions begin…
How long have you been in the service?
14 years total. 8 active and 5 reserves.
What command are you currently at?
2D Marine Division, 3D Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment.
What family do you have? Kids? Spouse? Pets?
I am married and have 3 kids: 2 sons and a daughter. My wife is a stay-at-home mom, and we have 1 dog.
Where are you originally from?
What has been your favorite duty station?
This one, there’s a lot of very bro-like comradery and trash-talking between co-workers that makes it good. Seabees were a very close second though.
What are you reading right now? Books, podcasts, articles, websites, etc.
Dr. Jordan B. Peterson’s Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life. Also listen to his Podcast, The JRE.
What makes a good leader in your eyes? What examples have you seen?
Anyone who leads by action and owns their mistakes. People that work with, or for, or under you need to know you aren’t infallible and it’s okay to make mistakes. HMC Mike Valverde was my BN LCPO and exemplified sternness and leadership while also managing to be down to earth and one of the guys. If we ran, he ran. He went to the field. He made sure he set the example for the type of sailor he expected you to be.
What makes a bad leader? What examples have you seen?
Being unclear with expectations you set for your people and not living up to them yourself. Also, not owning your mistakes. I’ve seen this in instructors at a certain C School. They expected so much from the students but wouldn’t mentor or offer feedback.
What is something that shook you to your core? Emotionally/Mentally/Physically, that helped to shape who you are today?
My marriage almost ended; I was in a bad spot mentally. It could be argued physically too since my thyroid had stopped working, my body stopped producing testosterone, and I had gained weight. But I felt I was at a dead end and was taking it out on my family, which wasn’t fair to them. I started addressing those concerns through counseling, medications, and developing some insight through books, and podcasts. I still get stressed out but manage way better now.
IF you could write a book, what would it be about? If you have authored a book, what did you write? Tell us about it. What motivated you to write it?
I’d write something about developing resiliency and dealing with stress. I’ve noticed that among the younger service members I deal with, people seem to let things build up and don’t seem to cope well with stress. Everyone goes to such extremes now.
What is an example of a time when you have failed as a leader? What did you learn and how did you bounce back from it?
HM3 Trevor Fajardo was a Sailor of mine from way back. We deployed together and kept in touch. He committed suicide in 2021. I’ve always questioned myself on if I could have done more. I still have the last text message he sent on my phone. That’s a failure, to not get back to someone or check up on them, and it’s a hell of a price to pay for that failure. So now I make sure everyone knows they can come to me with whatever they need, marines or sailors. I give out my number and make sure they have it and try to be intentional and immediate with responding.
What was the most challenging thing you have accomplished in your military career? In your personal life?
Military-wise, IDC School (Independent Duty Corpsman) takes the cake, so far.
Personal life? I’ve been married for 15 years now and hoping it stays that way, THAT’S a challenge, especially in today’s world.
What is something you wish you would’ve been told as a junior enlisted person?
I would have liked to sit down with someone E7 or up in my career field and had a broad view of what is available for my career, how the whole system works with promotion, evals, etc., and be shown some resources. Also wish someone would have told me to be patient, make decisions, and stick with them. All this too shall pass.
What is a skill you hold, that the military has helped teach you?
Outside the obvious medical knowledge, organization, and leadership skills. It sounds cliché but it’s true, and I still hold that it’s the reason most of us are more employable on the civilian side.
What are you nervous or anxious about?
My family, my kids’ future, the world is complete chaos with everything and my main concern is for them to grow up okay, with as little stress as possible, and become good people.
What is something that you would change about the military?
I would re-do the whole VA Benefits thing, it’s broken and taken advantage of. I would also do a billet re-alignment fleet-wide top to bottom, cut out excess and toxic people and redo the recruiting process. We need to get back to some core tenets of resisting pop culture and making people proud to be here.
What would you say are your life tenets? The things you live your life by. That guides you.
Discipline equals freedom, basically, if you do what you have to now and avoid the distractions you’ll benefit later. Only change what you can control and don’t worry about what you can’t. Trust in a higher power that has a plan for you, for the whole world. Challenge yourself in some small way daily. Be willing to sacrifice for those you love and what you want.
How would you help to change the mind of someone who wishes to get out of the military?
Start by asking them why they want out, sometimes the reasons are pretty short-sighted. If they want to pursue college, why not get paid to do that and utilize TA? Make them aware of what they’ve accomplished so far and point out why they are a good fit here. People often can’t see the difference they make and pointing that out can help.
What do you think of the spike in suicide rates over the past few years? What would you do to change this increase?
People can’t handle stress and don’t address their past appropriately to deal with issues. I’m guilty of that. We’re a pretty nihilistic, self-absorbed, attention-seeking society with no higher purpose. People seek happiness and not meaning. Often by getting people to think of their problems from another angle or by talking about what they’ve accomplished versus what is weighing on them, they feel better.
With the looming threat of war in the future, what can we do to prepare? Besides Physical fitness, technical prowess, and mental agility. What are you doing to prepare?
Prepare your family, your sailors/marines by talking to them in a straightforward manner. You preparing them helps you to consider the same issues as well. You get all your affairs in order well ahead of time to reduce stress right before leaving (wills/bills/etc.). Then you focus on the time you have with your family and then all that’s left is the physical/technical areas to practice.
Who is your go-to motivational speaker, leader, spiritual leader, or philosopher?
I like Jordan Peterson for philosophical and psychological stuff, Tony Robbins for that emotional, spiritual, attitude side, Jocko Willick, Cameron Hanes, and David Goggins are pretty effective for working it out, discipline, and general suck it up and do it attitude stuff. Lifes not one-sided, got to address all sides.
What is a piece of advice that you like to give to your juniors?
Take responsibility for your actions and take your job seriously. If I’m leading you and you can’t be trusted to sweep the floor, you don’t get to do the cool stuff. Also treat others as you want to be treated, develop resiliency, and forget what other people think.
What are your decision-making processes? How do you implement them?
I take the problem, issue, and concern and get as much information as I can then consider all the possible directions I could go, all decisions available. Consider the outcomes and pick the best one and run with it.
How do you feel about how your life has turned out? What have been some of the greatest obstacles and challenges?
Definitely not as expected, to be honest, I was my own greatest obstacle looking back at it and I wish I had gotten out of my own way and had less self-doubt. But I also believe everything for a reason, so I’m good with where I’m at. Depression and lack of confidence were real, still are real obstacles and challenges for me. I worried too much about being accepted socially, but it has been a wild ride, if you told me 20 years ago I’d be practicing medicine I would have laughed.
What are some social issues we experience in the military? How would you solve them?
Same as above, no resiliency and coping skills. Also, the military as a whole still doesn’t know how to handle social media. I would focus on people coming through boot camp and educate them there to deal with stress and to [use] resources available. We should also place more emphasis on a mentorship program at every command.
Who is your mentor? Why should people gain a mentor in their lives?
I have too many throughout the years to list, there’s been a ton both enlisted and officer and civilian that have influenced and guided me in different ways and that I respect for different reasons. People need that, people need someone they respect or can grow to respect in their lives to lean on, ask questions, and help make tough decisions, it would solve a myriad of issues in society today.
Lastly, is there any additional wisdom or knowledge you would like to pass on to other leaders?
I will simply quote Retired Navy Chief Petty Officer Micheal Valverde, “Just focus on your dudes and everything else will work out along with it, make sure they’re taken care of.” I’ve carried that with me for 5 years now and it’s never guided me wrong.
HM1 (FMF/SCW/SW/IW) John Housinga is an Independent Duty Corpsman (IDC), currently attached to 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines in Camp Lejeune, NC. He has been serving in the Naval service for over fourteen years, spending much of that time with the Seabees, various Military Treatment Facilities, and now with Marine Corps Infantry. HM1 Housinga attended the nearly year-long, academically intense, and clinically rigorous: Surface Force Independent Duty Corpsman School. This process forged him into a technical expert in all things expeditionary and clinical medicine. He is sought out not only as a knowledgeable medical provider but also as a leader and mentor of sailors throughout the force. His goal for the future is to provide the best care he can to his sailors and marines, while also focusing on spending quality time with his family.
He can be found on LinkedIn: http://linkedin.com/in/john-housinga-34a14444