Always Out Front

Military Intelligence Insignia

My leadership journey began as an intelligence analyst and paratrooper in the U.S. Army. Why a paratrooper? What 17-year old from Roundup, Montana could turn down an extra $100 per month for hazardous pay?!

The motto of the U.S. Military Intelligence Corps, ALWAYS OUT FRONT, is reflective of the forward location required for gathering intelligence information. The key, flash, and sphinx symbolize the fundamental categories of intelligence: human, signal, and tactical. The regimental insignia pictured above was worn on our Class A uniforms.

Jumping Out of a Perfectly Good Airplane

One of the most profound leadership lessons I’ve experienced took place at Ft. Benning, Georgia while attending Airborne School. Airborne school is an intense 3-week infantry school. A typical day started with physical training including 30-40 minutes of intense calisthenics, guerilla/grass drills and a 3.2 to 4 mile formation run, followed by 7 hours of rigorous training. Check out this 5-minute video to get a glimpse of the training:

The goal of the first week, “ground week” (AKA hell week) is to eliminate the weakest performers, so those remaining have a high likelihood of graduating. If you fall out of formation while running (“falling out”), you are automatically eliminated from the school. There were lots of hills on the course, and we ran in combat boots.

Falling Out

At the end of the first week, I began to notice sharp pains in both of my shins. By the end of the second week, the pain had become severe. I successfully completed two jumps. My sergeant airborne noticed my limp, but I was hesitant to say anything because in military culture admitting pain is a sign of weakness, and I knew they would kick me out of the class. He was persistent, as he was worried about me. After describing the pain, he told me if I were to jump even one more time, I would be taking a risk of shattering my legs.

On the run to the drop zone for the third jump, the pain overcame me, and I fell out of formation. Automatic elimination. No one gets kicked out in week three…that’s what week one is for! I was devastated and felt ashamed that I wasn’t strong enough to keep going. I felt as though I’d let my sergeant airborne down, as well as my fellow soldiers. Worst of all, I would be up for world-wide assignment instead of getting assigned for Ft. Bragg, North Carolina.

The Encounter

For two weeks, I waited for my new orders and recovered from two stress fractures in one leg, and one in the other. One day I was sitting quietly and sadly by myself in a hallway. A sergeant walked by and asked how I was doing. I said “fine.” I must have been pitiful. He didn’t for one second believe my response. He inquired about my situation, and I shared my story with him. He listened intently. He looked me in the eyes and said, “I can get you to Ft. Bragg, where you can complete your last three jumps and graduate there after your legs have healed.”

He asked me directly if I’d like for his assistance. Yes, Sergeant! I politely smiled and thanked him, thinking…yeah right. YOU have the power to change my military trajectory. Looking back, and as an aside, it reminds me of the behind-the-scenes magic that university classroom scheduling staff have over the campus. Who knew THEY were so powerful.

Leadership in Action

A few days later, I received my orders to Ft. Bragg. Apparently, I had crossed paths with one of the soldiers who worked in the administrative office responsible for issuing orders. What are the odds?! A one-time encounter with a stranger who ended up putting me back in the game. He provided me with a pathway to success. What a tremendous example of leadership in action! The soldier:
  • practiced emotional intelligence – he made a decision to engage in contact; listened actively; asked questions, sought to gain understanding, and showed empathy;
  • articulated a vision and his willingness to assist me toward the end goal;
  • followed through in a timely manner; and
  • demonstrated integrity – his words and actions aligned.    

The Happy Ending

Six months after arriving to Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, I completed my last two jumps. The last one happened to be with a brigadier general. He and I were the only jumpers. He pinned my wings on me and gave me a general’s coin!

Twenty years later, while I still enjoy adventure and finding that perfect vantage point, I prefer to keep my feet on the ground. Yet, I remain humbled by this experience. Indeed, a small act of kindness helped shape my core characteristics: integrity, respect, duty, and excellence.

Nicole Rovig Hiking in the Valley of Fire


Where did your leadership journey begin? What moments have had the largest impact on you? Where ever you’re at right now, remember to always be out front – lead by example, have awareness of the people with whom you interact, and proactively find ways to serve others each day. Small gestures can make a huge difference. ALWAYS OUT FRONT.

Nicole Rovig is an innovative executive in higher education hailed by institutions as “Collaborative…Innovative…a Thought Leader.” With more than 20 years of leadership experience at Michigan State University, Missouri State University, the University of Missouri, and the U.S. Army, and a Ph.D. from Saint Louis University, Rovig is known for her leadership in student success, organizational effectiveness, information technology, and enrollment services. When Rovig is not being a very busy and sought after administrator, she enjoys traveling, exercising, gardening, and experiencing nature.


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