"Day in and day out in aviation you have a rapidly changing environment around you, and you have to adjust to it. Those skills transfer really well into the business world."
Ingo Hentschel has a framed newspaper article hanging in his garage that describes one very memorable day during his Marine Corps service.
It was October 1988, and he was flying in a CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter over a remote desert in Arizona. Hentschel's CH-46 was the third in a line of four copters flying for a final exam of an advanced aviation course run by the Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron 1 out of Marine Corps Air Station Yuma.
Suddenly, a UH-1N Huey from Camp Pendleton collided with the lead CH-46 and the two aircraft exploded, killing all 10 servicemen on board.
Hentschel said witnessing that crash changed his life forever.
"That particular moment, as horrible as it was, was also probably the most transformational moment I've had in my life outside of my kids being born," he said. "It changed the way I looked at my life, my goals and who I wanted to be.
"After that night, I really felt a strong desire that whatever I did in my life would count, would make some contribution to society. It's hard to put into words what an event like that does."
He may not be able to put it into words, but Hentschel's actions speak loudly. They reveal a man who has made something of his life.
After joining the Marines in 1985, Hentschel worked his way up from flight mechanic to crew chief on CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters. He attended the aviation crewman school in Pensacola, Fla., and served in Korea and Japan, amassing more than 1,000 flight hours before going off active duty in 1991.
Since leaving Marine aviation, Hentschel has continued to climb. He first looked for jobs in the flight industry, but the recession in the 1990s meant there were none to be found. So instead he found work at Cox Communications as a field service technician.
He worked his way through the ranks again -- this time the corporate world's ranks -- and was promoted to Cox's director of broadband operations in 2004, director of field operations in 2005, and finally to his current role as vice president of field operations for San Diego, Orange County, Palos Verdes and Santa Barbara in 2008.
The 44-year-old Hentschel said much of his ability to adjust to those rapid career transitions came from his military service.
"Being in aviation made me think on my feet quickly and made me more relaxed when I was in stressful situations," he said. "Day in and day out in aviation you have a rapidly changing environment around you, and you have to adjust to it. Those skills transfer really well into the business world."
Hentschel also has the ability to connect with people, and as a result commands high levels of respect, said Dave Bialis, the senior vice president and general manager of Cox.
"The primary reason for that is that he really connects with people, especially people on the front line doing the work," Bialis said. "Part of that I'm sure comes from his military background, because he understands the role of front line employees. Also, working his way through the organization, he has a deep appreciation for people doing that work, and that translates into that respect.
"He's one of my favorite people, because he's one of these guys who's just matter of fact and gets the work done."
Hentschel also said his experience in the Marines played into his ease in leadership positions.
"The military is a natural breeding ground for leaders because you're dealing with the most extreme part of leadership, people's lives," he said. "It doesn't get more important than that.
"Having the type of pressure and expectations the military places on leaders helps when they enter the civilian world, where there are significantly reduced stakes."
One of Hentschel's helicopter flights from Maui to Oahu made even the most stressful day in the office seem tame. His aircraft was carrying a full load, including a jeep and trailer, when a light for the transmission chip turned on. He pulled out the chip, wiped it off and put it back, but the light went off again.
"I was relatively new, but I knew if I got worked up about this, the pilot and crew would get worked up," Hentschel said. "Regardless of what's going on, there has to be one person who is completely calm and is thinking through the process.
"Your job at that point is not to be concerned about all the 'what ifs.' Your job is just to work through the problem in front of you."
That philosophy extends to any problem Hentschel now faces in his civilian career. He has faced stressful situations at Cox, including negotiations over the company's budget and a computer glitch in 2000 that accidentally led to 11,455 unlisted phone numbers being published in Pacific Bell phone books, but he said aviation taught him to keep his cool no matter what.
"If you set the tone of, 'this is our challenge, what can we do to work with it?' usually things work out pretty well," he said.
That's the reason Hentschel hung the newspaper article about the helicopter crash in his garage: to remind himself of this sense of perspective.
"There are tons of things that go wrong during the course of a day, and it's easy to get wrapped up in that day-to-day routine and lose track of what's really important," he said. "But every day when I get home, I walk by that article and know that no matter how bad things are, there are 10 people who would gladly change positions with me.
"It reminds me of how lucky I am, that I should be more thankful and happy with my lot in life."
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