Let’s hear it for the Betio Bastards! Or, what can the catastrophe adjuster learn from military slogans? – Adjust U

by Gene Strother, President of Adjust U

There are few for whom I have more respect than soldiers. Those men and women who choose to put themselves to the test in unimaginably difficult ways under extreme conditions, who risk life and limb in the service of their country, and who stand guard over liberty have my highest respect and deepest thanks.

I, therefore, tread cautiously into these waters of comparing what we do as catastrophe adjusters to what the defenders of freedom do every day. There are, however, similarities. Consider deployment, for instance. We use this military term to describe an assignment to work a catastrophic storm and we do so because it fits. When you deploy to a storm you are going to ground zero, where the trouble is, where the devastation has occurred. You are there to bring order to the chaos, to begin the process of restoring the people impacted by the storm to their state before the storm. This requires commitment, sacrifice, knowledge, insight, patience, and genuine concern for those you serve.

I recently read Admiral William McRaven’s book The Wisdom of the Bullfrog. It is all about leadership and I highly recommend it to anyone in a position of leadership of any kind, which is, if you think about it, practically everyone. For my purpose here, it was McRaven’s use of various military saying and slogans that got me thinking about you, the catastrophe adjuster. I also thought about those of us here to provide support and guidance to the stormtroopers wading into the devastation.

“The only easy day was yesterday.”

This is a favorite saying of the Navy SEALS. McRaven was a SEAL.

It seems no force on earth goes through a more vigorous and challenging training program than the ones who proudly call themselves “frogmen.” McRaven referred to the SEALS’ “Hell Week” as “arguably the toughest week in any military training.”

One thing I stress to every class that comes through Adjust U training is this: “If you are looking for an easy job, you are in the wrong place. If, however, you are looking for a rewarding job where you can make a real difference through hard work, teamwork, and sacrifice, then let’s get this training underway.”

Catastrophe adjusters do a difficult job under difficult circumstances. There are no easy days in the teeth of the storm. Every day is a challenge. Those who accept the challenge, and who properly prepare and commit themselves to excellence are handsomely rewarded. I am talking about financial rewards, yes, but it is so much more than that. To know that you made a real difference and that you had a positive impact on the lives of those who have suffered loss is its own reward.

If it was easy, anyone could do it.

“Who dares, wins.”

In 1942, a British officer named David Stirling convinced his superior officers to allow him to take a small group of commandos and raid Erwin Rommel’s panzer forces in North Africa. His commandos were effective. Rommel and his forces were frustrated and distracted by the hit-and-run tactics and suffered significant losses. Stirling became a legend and a hero. He would later be asked to develop a motto for the SAS. His response was the Latin phrase, Qui audet adipiscitur, or Who dares, wins.

In 2005, I was in a personal slump. I was coming off of a four-year run as a middle school teacher. I knew I needed a change. I needed a chance to make a better living for my family. I was lying in bed early Monday morning August 29 2005 watching one of the most devastating hurricanes in American history come ashore. Hurricane Katrina would take 1,392 lives and change millions of others forever. My heart went out to those devastated by her fierce winds and surging tides. Later, when the levees in New Orleans failed, the devastation worsened exponentially.

I had no idea Katrina would also change the course and trajectory of my life. One of my best friends had a friend whose son was a catastrophe adjuster. She knew of an opportunity. Her words to me were, “They say if you can stand up straight and spell your name, you have a shot. They are desperate for people.”

Later, the phone rang. It was the deployment/recruitment department of the firm. They were offering me a job. All I had to do was show up at a hotel in Grand Prairie Texas for training. I told them I needed to talk to my wife about it and that I would get back to them. I did not know a thing about insurance claims or adjusting. I had no idea how to do the job or how I would be compensated for doing the job. I also had no idea how quickly a deployment opportunity can disappear while you “think about it.”

We were at a low point, financially. I had no safety net, no nest egg. If I accepted this deployment and it did not go well, we might lose everything. With the support of my wife, I took the chance and that has made all the difference.

Who dares, wins.

Sua Sponte

The Army Rangers have a Latin saying, Sua Sponte. It means “of your own accord.” The idea is that you take the initiative to do what needs to be done without being told to do so.

McRaven writes, “There is often the misguided belief that soldiers only follow orders, but the strength of the American military is that great soldiers, the truly great leaders, do what is right without being told.”

I was discussing sua sponte with Mark Glass, the Vice President of Operations for Mid-America Catastrophe Services. Mark recalled a time when one of his team leads demonstrated the essence of the term.

Khanh Tran is one of my desk adjuster managers that absolutely conducts himself by the motto Sua Sponta. Once while I was out of town attending the PLRB Conference a situation arose in our home office back in Mobile. I had my phone on silent and when I was able to step away and check my emails and messages, I had multiple texts from multiple people about a problem at the office. I immediately called and was relieved to find that it had been handled by Khanh.

I can use the term “relieved” because of the way Khanh conducts himself. He is a critical thinker, always open to learning and growing in his position at work. When he displays Sua Sponta it is proper training and self-motivation combining to meet a need.  

Mark Glass

Mark makes a good point. Before doing something sua sponte, you first have to understand your job, your organization’s goals, and the relative processes; then you can take action if you have the foresight to see a need and the insight to meet it.

Whatever it Takes

“Whatever it takes” is the motto of the 1st Battalion, 4th Marines. This military unit first saw combat in 1916. They have a proud history built on a can-do attitude and a willingness to do whatever it takes to secure their objectives.

The hardest battlefield – whether you are an adjuster or a Marine – is often between the ears. The mind can be its own minefield, conjuring excuses, entertaining fears, and breaking the will.

When I arrived in New Orleans, Louisiana early September 2005, the area was still mostly occupied by first responders. Soldiers carrying M16s, police, firefighters, medical personnel…and us, the insurance adjusters. It looked like a war zone or a third-world country…or a war zone in a third-world country. There was structural devastation everywhere, trash and debris everywhere. There was a rotting stench in the heavy, humid air And there was nowhere to lodge. I was discouraged and pretty sure I had made a bad decision becoming a catastrophe adjuster.

A new adjuster friend, as new to adjusting as I was but a resourceful fellow, found out from another friend of his that there was a hotel in Metairie where adjusters, FEMA workers, contractors, and other responders were staying. The first floor of the hotel was unusable because it had flooded to a depth of six feet or so but they were renting out the rooms on the second floor. My friend and I stayed with four other adjusters in a room with two beds. The crowd got smaller because some did quit and go home before they even got started. Part of me wanted to follow them, to go home, to admit defeat.

I could not. I was all in. It was sink or swim for me and I would not sink. I would do whatever it took to make this new job work for me. I had already spent two nights sleeping in the cab of my truck. I would sleep on the ground if I had to, or not at all. Katrina called and I knew I would do whatever it took to answer that call. I would do whatever I could to make a difference in the lives of the people I served and to find better footing and a hopeful future for my family.

Retreat, Hell!

In the first world war, Captain Lloyd Williams was informed by a French officer that his unit would have to retreat. His response was, “Retreat? Hell, we just got here.”

The 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines took “Retreat Hell” as its motto. This battalion is the most highly decorated in the Marine Corps.

It is often right there at the outset of deployment when most questions are unanswered and the biggest challenges must be met. Everyone is stressed. The insured is stressed. The insured’s agent is stressed. The storm manager is stressed. The admin manager barking orders in your ear is stressed. You need to make first contact with your insureds and you have 24 hours to do so. You need to schedule your appointments. You need to put good notes into each of your files. You need the Internet! You need sleep! You’re hungry! You need to call home! You are living in a cheap motel room or a 5th wheel. Times are tough in the teeth of the storm.

In my second conversation with my admin manager, he invited me to turn in my claims and go home.

Retreat, Hell! I just got here!

“No, sir,” I said. “I am here for the work. I just got here. I cannot go home.”

The next day that dog-cussing, stressed-out manager was sent home and I was assigned a new admin manager. The new guy was the calm in the storm. He was insightful, supportive, and empathetic. He believed I had the potential to be something in this industry. He was exactly what I needed.

Just get past the start so you can finish!

We quell the storm and ride the thunder.

The 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines are known by the nickname “The Betio Bastards.” In World War II, in 1942, During the Battle of Tarawa, the battalion participated in an amphibious assault and captured the small island of Betio in the Tarawa atoll, earning them the nickname “the Betio Bastards.”

One of their mottos is, “We quell the storm and ride the thunder.”

Some years ago, I coined a saying, put it on a plaque, and hung it on a wall here at Adjust U. It goes like this: “Some bring a storm to the calm; others bring calm to the storm. Be the calm.”

The best adjusters don’t just ride the thunder; they quell the storm. They bring peace into a chaotic environment. They adjust themselves, they adjust their insureds, they adjust expectations, and then they adjust claims. They don’t make promises they can’t keep and they don’t make promises they won’t keep. But they do make promises. They set expectations and then meet or exceed them. They get up early. They stay up late. They work hard. They do the hard things the right way. And then they go home satisfied that they met every challenge, cleared every hurdle, and earned the right, the privilege to be called adjuster.


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