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MJ (Interpeter) & Chris Kolenda

Americans commemorate September 11th in their own ways. I spent the day at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, which houses roughly 13,000 Afghan refugees. A former interpreter from one of my units, MJ, is there with his family.

MJ served in one of the most remote outposts of Afghanistan. In such areas, interpreter turnover can be very high. Some take leave and don’t return; others get reassigned to more peaceful areas and larger bases closer to their families.

MJ stayed with his company for the full 15 months. I asked MJ why he stuck it out.  “I respected Captain Page and the company. They took good care of me, and we were making a difference.” What had been one of the most violent areas in Afghanistan in 2007 was one of the more peaceful a year later.

More Americans than ever are leaving their jobs for different employers or careers. Employee turnover, which can range from 50% to 200% of the employee’s annual salary, is one of the highest costs any company faces. For solopreneurs, turnover in your partners and subcontractors results in lost momentum, increased rework, higher expenses, and a greater risk of things falling through the cracks.

MJ provides insight on how to retain your top talent. Gain buy-in by letting people know what you need them to do and why, and having them figure out how. Set clear expectations and hold people accountable. Treat them well and make sure they’ve got the resources and support they need to be successful. Captain John Page did that for his company, which kept MJ on the team. MJ’s support and understanding helped save American lives and change Afghan lives for the better.  

MJ and his family of 8 left Afghanistan with only the clothes on their backs. The conditions in refugee camps, even ones like Fort McCoy, are difficult. MJ never complained. He’s grateful to have a chance to build a new life for his family and wants to open an Afghan restaurant.