“I can’t over emphasize how great this company has been for my family and my marriage and in all honesty, I wouldn’t trade these people or this experience for the world.” – Earl Kennedy, Field Sales Leader, USHEALTH Advisors
They call him Big E and with good reason; standing 6 feet, 4 inches tall, Earl Kennedy is a big man and he’s lived a big life. But Big E, like so many in life, has also come back from a big obstacle – the darkness.
For 30 years of his life Earl Kennedy served this country, retiring in 2008 as a Lieutenant Colonel in the US Army. Earl credits his time in the service as one of his greatest accomplishments, and with good reason, he was awarded the opportunity to lead.
“The army selects you for command and about 25% of those chosen are picked to head up a battalion. A battalion can be made up of anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 soldiers, so being selected is a pretty high honor. I was selected for command while in Germany in 2003. I came back to the states to Williamsburg, Virginia, to Fort Eustis and from 2004-to-2006 I commanded about 1600 people.”
It’s been a life of service, but also a life of constant change.
Between basic training in 1978 and his retirement from the Army in 2008, Earl has traveled the world and seen it all…deployed to too many places to mention, he’s seen it from all different corners of the globe, including as he describes, some “terrible places”. But one of the toughest battles he waged in his life was when he returned back home.
Life after the military.
“One of the biggest challenges of my life was dealing with the post-traumatic stress after being out of the army”, says Earl. “After being deployed for so long, you feel isolated when you return, you don’t have the same support systems anymore. You feel less of a larger thing. When you’re in the army individuality is subordinated to the larger thing, the platoon, the battalion. You wear a uniform because you are expected to be part of a uniform mentality of life and service is more important than your own personal welfare.”
Earl continues, “A lot of people, when they leave the army, realize the world can’t replicate or understand what they have experienced. The business world is about winners and losers, profits and losses and not about the guy in the foxhole beside you. When you leave the army there is this great ceremony and then suddenly you have to get up and decide what you are going to wear the next day and now you are surrounded by people who don’t understand anything about being a warrior. That’s challenging. There’s the post traumatic stress felt by soldiers deployed for a long time, the anxiety, isolation, even desperation. Others can be sympathetic, but they can’t be empathetic. It’s not their fault, but they haven’t experienced the same thing themselves.”
Shortly after retirement from the Army however, Earl went right back to that same thing. He took a job that took him back over to the Middle East, but this time as a civilian contractor for the military. He worked there until the end of 2013, when he realized some other things in life could no longer survive the stress of separation. “At the end of 2013 I hit what I now know was this crucial decision point. Relationships can’t last forever when they are not properly tended. My wife Carole and I decided that was more important.”
Earl came back to the states for good in 2014, but so did the darkness. Big E felt small, spending hours in his house, not going out, not wanting to talk to people, making excuses that he was renovating his Nashville farmhouse. “But in reality, I wasn’t really doing much of anything,” says Earl. “My wife told me, ‘you need to get out of the house’.” So Earl decided he would do two things: he reached out to the Veteran’s Administration for counseling and he looked for something to keep him busy – a job.
“The most terrifying thing I did in years was to put my resume online,” says Earl. “It was heart-stopping to hit that SEND button. I knew if someone responded I’d have to get up and get dressed and see people.”
But deep down Earl knew he’d have to push through, back to the front lines, battle back, and be the leader he’d been for so much of his life.
That’s when Big E got a call from Big A – Andy Montague, at the time a Division Leader for USHEALTH Advisors. Earl says, “Andy called me and said he saw my resume online and thought I’d be a great fit here. So I went down to his office in Tennessee and sat for the pitch. I was wearing a suit for the first time in years, and I sat there quietly, with about a dozen other people, I assume with a scowl on my face. Then I eventually went into a room to talk to Andy one-on-one and he tells me he’d really like for me to come back for a second interview. I left and I’ve now been told the story that when Andy asked his Field Training Agent, Josiah Graves, who he thought would come back for a second interview, Josiah said he wasn’t sure, but he knew who was NOT coming back – the big bald guy!”
Earl went home and when Carole asked him what happened he told her it was an insurance sales job and he had never sold anything in his life, so it probably wasn’t a good fit. But then Andy called again and told Earl he wanted to see him for the second interview. Still doubting, Earl went back in.
“My second short interview turned into 90 minutes. My wife asked me again, ‘how did it go’, I said I’m still not sure, but what impressed me most about Andy is he seems to be a man of integrity and ethics, and it’s such a rare commodity in this marketplace of dog-eat-dog. Carole told me to give it a shot. I said OK. Unlike some others who come here for a second chance financially, my wife and I have been unbelievably blessed in life, she is also a retired colonel, and she’s a senior adviser for NASA, so we didn’t need the money.”
It wasn’t the dollars, it was the darkness. “I was looking for a place to begin the healing process,” says Earl.
As an agent for USHEALTH Advisors it was Earl’s responsibility to help others find affordable health options, but more importantly he found he entered an environment of H.O.P.E, Helping Other People Everyday. “I realized I’m pretty good at this,” says Earl. “I did not know I could do this. My ability to retain information, even trivia, works well and my ability to develop an environment of trust is key. And I had no idea how much I would learn from people younger than me. I’m a retired colonel, but people like Joe Baskin, Josiah Graves, Hunter East, Rochelle Brown, Andy Montague – who have never faced the challenges I faced – became this nexus for education. They had the ethics, the integrity and they gave a damn!”
“This company honestly took me from a very dark hole, to a place where I can pull other people along in my wake and help people out of deep financial holes, or who were recently divorced, or facing other tragedies in their lives, and lead them to a path for a brighter day.”
The days have remained bright for Earl since he joined USHEATLH, he quickly became a successful agent and has been promoted to a Field Sales Leader with the company. As the business has expanded for Big E, so have the blessings in his personal life. For Earl that means his goals and focus have changed as well.
“My bucket list has shifted significantly”, says Earl. “I’ve been to 61 countries in my life, so I don’t need to travel. My goal is to build as good a relationship with my kids as I possibly can. Being gone so much, (in the service), it was hard and they are very independent because if it. But I want my kids to know I’m here to be a good dad, a good husband, a good grandfather. Between Carole and I we now have five grandchildren, including Emily, the first granddaughter born just five months ago.
What you focus on expands. With family on his mind, his desire to help his agents and his clients to flourish, and USHEATLH poised to have it’s best year ever, (Earl’s birthday is November 1st when open enrollment for health benefits begins across the country), Earl is back to feeling like Big E again.
“I had this conversation with someone in the home office and I know it sounds melodramatic, but I think this company saved my life. I was not going in a good direction, not good at all. I was simply, immeasurably depressed. But being part of this company where people are so excited, so driven and so filled with ethics and integrity, have made me feel like I was back with my battalion.”
A place where Big E felt needed, worked in service and looked out for his fellow man. It’s almost like coming home.
Until next time thanks for taking the time.