Culture News

Double Duty

September 18, 2019

LMI Staff

Zack McLernon was just about settled into his new job when he got the call to deploy again.

A surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve, McLernon returned from a yearlong deployment to the Middle East in late 2018. Six months later—two into his LMI tenure as a human capital consultant—another yearlong deployment abroad was on the horizon. He will leave LMI later this month, returning no earlier than October 2020.

Zack McLernon

— Zack McLernon

Someone can infer McLernon does something very dangerous, very well, to deploy this frequently. His return date to LMI is a lesser concern than how soon he will reunite with his wife and their five-year-old daughter, and how to stay connected in the meantime.

“You really want to believe a deployment doesn’t affect your kids, but it does,” he said. “Some kids just don’t understand why mom or dad is leaving.”  

It’s one of the few concerns for McLernon, who seems to take everything in stride after 10 years of combined active and reserve duty service. He credits LMI for helping where it can.

“The last couple of months I have been learning the ropes here while getting ready to go out again,” he said. “There’s never been a point when LMI put me in a position where I didn’t think I could succeed.”

McLernon served six years in the Navy after graduating from Virginia Tech. In 2013, he decided to transition from active duty, signing a three-year contract with the Reserve to pursue a civilian career and a more stable home life.

“The turning point for me was my daughter being born. I want to focus on being a family man,” he said. “For a lot of people in the surface warfare community, family life is difficult.”

For his civilian career, McLernon joined a large government contractor, assisting the Navy, Air Force, and other defense and national security organizations with modernization and change management initiatives. For reserve duty, a friend introduced him to the Coastal Riverine Force (CRF), part of the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command. CRF provides maritime security in brown- and green-water environments, patrolling inland waterways, escorting high-value military assets, and conducting occasional inland missions.

“It was like a duck to water,” said McLernon, who as one of CRF’s few reserve officers served as patrol leader on his last deployment. He presently serves as platoon assistant officer in charge and will soon be promoted to lieutenant commander.

The unanticipated drawback of McLernon’s officership has been how frequently CRF relies on him. “That type of work deploys at minimum every two years; the tempo is insane,” he said. “They looked at me and said you’re one of the few officers in the reserves [with this experience]. We need you to go again.”

“LMI has been nothing but supportive”

Even before deployment, McLernon discovered reserve duty in the surface warfare community would be more than monthly training and annual service commitments.

“When I showed up to my first drill [session], they said to me, ‘You’re going to be the admin department head,” the equivalent of a human resources director for the 600-member squadron. Before long, phone calls and clerical tasks happened as often as lunch. Long evenings at home followed.

“It’s like having two full-time jobs,” he said. “When I get home every night, I try to spend at least 2–3 hours with my family because that’s what matters the most. Once they’re asleep, I’m doing phone calls with the Navy and admin work.”

Those responsibilities—from scheduling dental appointments to securing passports—have increased as deployment nears, leading to late nights and weekend trips to Norfolk, Virginia, or Joint Base Andrews, Maryland.

“It’s intense and can put a strain on me at times, but it’s something that has to be done,” he said.

After his first deployment, McLernon returned to his employer. He soon explored whether another opportunity would better fit his obligations.

“LMI sounded like one of the best places to be a reservist and a civilian professional,” he said. “The biggest thing for me was to have an employer that understands there are going to be times when I won’t be here and will roll with the punches. LMI has been nothing but supportive.”

When McLernon’s impending departure posed a disruption for his client, LMI helped him find a new project. He quickly caught on with a logistics and procurement modernization effort for the Department of State, assessing the organization’s current state.  

One of the first people at LMI McLernon told of his deployment was his project leader, Ed Sherman.

“Zack was a valued member of our team during a critical surge requirement. I was sad to see him go so abruptly for another deployment,” said Sherman, a reservist in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “I completely relate to the stress that comes with a mobilization order. I'm glad to see LMI stand by him like they did for me for both of my deployments.”

— Ed Sherman

“Any time with family is good time”

A duck to water notwithstanding, McLernon expects to step away from CRF after this deployment, temporarily at least. He’d like to serve next at the Pentagon, which he’s never done, and “give my family a break.”

McLernon says his wife, Amanda, has been “a saint” through his deployments; they make the best of the time apart when video calls permit.

“It’s more finding time to talk to my daughter and maintain that relationship,” he said of Arya, who will turn six and start kindergarten while he’s away. He hopes school will be a welcome distraction but knows better.

“My absence is going to become more obvious as time goes on,” he said. “That is still a concern that I have.”

For the next two weeks, McLernon is using LMI’s unlimited leave policy for dedicated family time. They drove through the Shenandoah National Park to see the fall foliage before he left in 2017. He mentions a visit to the National Zoo and museums around Washington, DC, as possibilities this time. Ultimately, it won’t matter where.  

“The way I look at it,” he said, “any time with family is good time.”

Zack McLernon

— Zack McLernon

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