Bringing you all the way home

Jim Peak, co-author of the Introduction to Type and Reintegration manual, is a soft-spoken, intelligent, humble, and compassionate man. He grew up on a farm in Alabama, wanted to be in aerospace, never thinking he'd ever leave the State. He joined the Army Corps of Engineers, and his first assignment took him to Saudi Arabia. Both of us attended the 2011 Association for Psychological Type Conference in San Francisco, but we didn't connect until a few months later, when I started writing about Type and Reintegration. He generously shared his advice and experience about what it's like to come back home after spending time in a war zone. Our email exchange helped me work through some of the questions I had, and I was thrilled to now interview him and learn more.

Doris: What's your connection to the military?

Jim Peak: I'm currently the chief of a construction branch, managing all construction projects in our district. I've worked for the corps of engineers for 38 years, many times on civil works projects. But about half the time has been with military projects, which is where I worked alongside military guys, many times living on an Army installation. For example, we lived in Japan for eight years on the Army post, and all our neighbors were active-duty military. I've also working in Saudi Arabia for five years, partly on military projects. Sometimes I feel like I'm translating between the two military and civilian cultures.

D: I can imagine that can be quite challenging! So, how did you get started with Type?

JP: It's really a hobby, a passion, something I love, and it started probably in 1990. The Army corps offers a lot of leadership training, and sometimes we [civilian engineers] participated. We took the questionnaire and I remember thinking 'wow, this is really neat!' and it opened up a whole new avenue to understand not just myself but other people, too. I had the engineering training and all the technical stuff, but I found myself more and more interested in the people-side of things, which once I got into management became really useful. Now I bring in Type knowledge to work whenever I can, especially in terms of team building and mentoring young employees, for example.

Type knowledge also helped me understand the cultures I'm working in - engineering and military cultures are very STJ, or ST especially. My preferences are INFP, and it really helped me understand that situation. I was the type that always loved the "touchy-feely" stuff when other engineering colleagues or military personnel couldn't make sense of it and just wanted to get on with work. I can recognize other NF people in the room now.

D: When did you have your idea for combining Type and reintegration for service members?

JP: A friend of mine is a pastor and army military chaplain. He was doing a lot of work supporting members of the National Guard who were coming back. He knew I was involved in the Type community, I had just gotten certified, and he invited me to do a weekend seminar for military personnel and their spouses with him. Working with those groups I just realized that the MBTI was such a great tool, because you could use it for relationships, decision-making, career goals, communication - all those things that as you're dealing with when you're coming back. You have to reintegrate in your work environment, your teams, your family, you're probably facing some big decisions, like do you want to stay in this job or leave the military, and this helps figure out how to face them.

I could really relate to the National Guard guys, and the Army Reserve guys, because they for the most part deploy in small numbers. Not like a large group. And once they come back, they come back to their own individual offices. It's not like being part of the active Army and coming back to a major Army installation. They have all the support groups to plug back into, but these guys are expected to go back to their old jobs and just get along.

D: What reintegration support did you receive?

JP: The corps has a holiday program and award ceremony every year, and there were eight or nine engineers from our district who had gone to Iraq. They encouraged us to give a presentation at the ceremony, show slides, and present a summary of what we did. That little bit helped kind of get things out on the table and made other people aware of the kind of stuff we were doing while we were there. The corps in general is trying to offer some support, but on the civilian side they're kind of limited in what they can do, because you can't require these people to attend. The corps and the Army is offering much more these days, some of which is mandatory, so that helps remove the stigma of asking for help.

For example, my friend the chaplain was one of the founders of the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon program, that is now nationwide. When we left, you would answer questions on an automated form, 'what did you see?', 'what did you do?' - and at that point, everyone is anxious to get out and just answered 'yes, no problem'. The soldiers did that, too. That's why they started mandating 30, 60, and 90 day follow-ups. Because what they realized is that it's usually about six months until any issues start popping up.

D: Do you have some examples?

JP: A lot of it came in the form of risk taking. Young guys going crazy on their motorcycles. Doing sky-diving. Just trying to do all sorts of stuff that would match up the levels of adrenaline they had when they were there, I guess. And if they couldn't do that, then it usually lead to a depression. But your perspective simply changes. Now the question is, what's the worst that could happen? All the stuff you've been too afraid to try, now you just go for it.

D: New-found courage can be a very positive outcome.

JP: That's right. The key is, if you can turn your experience - no matter how bad it is - into a positive, everything can be a learning experience. Again, Type knowledge is helpful because it can help you channel that into something useful.


Part II of this interview tomorrow, thanks for joining us!

To connect with Jim, you can find him on twitter @peaktype or on the web