GARY — Dan Riordan learned three things from the Marines. You can fix anything with duct tape. You can do anything with the right amount of caffeine. Finally, always make sure your vehicle’s gas gauge is working.
An Iraq veteran and founder of the Military Service Association at Indiana University Northwest, Riordan was among three panel members for an Indiana University Northwest symposium Monday that explored military life before, during and after active service.
Riordan was joined by panelists Dee Dotson, IUN alumna, military mom, and producer and host at Lakeshore Public Media; and Charles Hobson, IUN business administration professor and Army veteran. The moderator was Joseph S. Pete, business reporter for The Times of Northwest Indiana and an Army veteran who served in Iraq.
Riordan, 36, was in Iraq from 2004 to 2005. He said that in joining the Marines, “there was no other option. It’s what I was born to do.”
Dotson’s son Aaron Jones, 23, is an Army Reservist and full-time student at Western Illinois University, majoring in business administration. Hobson, coming from a military family, served from 1972 to 1975 and 1986 to 1988.
Panelists spoke about the impact the military has made on them and their families.
Riordan cautioned his parents not to watch the news, but they did anyway.
“The family does serve along with soldiers,” the Griffith resident said. “We can’t do it without the families.”
For Riordan, the toughest part of military life was the schedule and structure, as high school days and parties were over. “You immerse yourself in the lifestyle,” he said. “You accept that you’re no longer a civilian. You realize there can be disastrous results if you make a mistake. You accept that, move on and do your job.”
As a mother of five with her oldest in the service, Dotson said the toughest part is “not knowing what my son’s next assignment will be. Deployment is always in the back of my mind. My son is highly deployable.”
As to challenges, Hobson admitted, “I don’t like to take orders from morons.”
The symposium was part of a daylong Veterans Day observance on campus. Activities included hands-on demonstrations, military equipment and MRE (meals ready to eat) tasting.
Hobson, who finished college on the GI bill, said the military offers “great training, providing a skill-set to be very successful long after the military.”
Those skills gained through military experience, panelists said, include organization, discipline, maturity, self-confidence, work ethic and the ability to follow orders.
Hobson recently concluded a study that showed that veteran-friendly companies outperform similar companies that are not as prone to hire veterans.
Through military experiences in her family, Dotson said she has learned to be empathetic and seek permission rather than assume veterans want to share their wartime experiences.
For her other children, Dotson noted, “I have to stay strong for them. As a mother, if I show weakness, (the children) will see it. Staying strong for my family is what keeps me strong.”