How do you get through a 12-month deployment with the US Army to the Middle East? For me, much of it was through my Cisco Family.

As you can imagine, life in a combat theater can be quite lonely, especially for a person of my rank, Command Sergeant Major. The good news is that, after having been deployed four times now, I knew what to expect before leaving. And, while I was away, I was never too far from home.

Cisco was with me every step of the way – but two of those moments mattered the most to me. It started with our leadership.

Before I left, our CEO Chuck Robbins, and VP’s Brian Marlier and Sandy Hogan made things even more personal.  Each, without coordination or the others knowing, called me before I left and gave me their personal cell phone numbers.

These numbers were not for me — they were for my wife!

I was told by each of them separately to tell my wife that if she needed ANYTHING at all while I was away, whether Cisco related or not, that she was to call them directly. This moment floored me.

This is the second time I have deployed overseas while working at Cisco. The first time it was John Chambers and a host of other leaders that did this same thing.  I am sure they did not collaborate to do it again, but somehow they each got it right in my opinion.  Our leaders truly care about us, and our families.

In a company of over 70k people – have you ever heard of the CEO making a call such as that?  It’s an easy answer for me, there’s only one company of that caliber – and you’re reading about them right now. And that sentiment is a companywide approach that I have seen many places.

Which leads me to my other moment that mattered – My Team:

When I found out about my deployment, I was instructed to quickly transfer all knowledge of projects to fellow team members so that I could focus on the upcoming deployment. The team didn’t even flinch. They were more concerned that I start preparing for the trip and would not allow me to take on any more while I got things in order. After I deployed into theater, they were determined to stay in contact and help as much as they could.


Here’s some of the ways they achieved this:

1. Cisco Spark: Logging into Cisco Spark after each mission became my “post-game” routine where I was always greeted by my co-workers back here in the states. My fellow Cisconians were always curious about what my day had been like, and wanted to help take my mind off of the missions – they were never without an encouraging word.

From all things Cisco to exchanged pictures, and care packages – my extended Cisco family kept me going.  Whether our chat was a quick instant, five minutes, or an hour – those moments transported me back home and everything I was experiencing overseas was forgotten.  In that span of time, everything was normal again, and the insanity of supporting the war was the last thing on my mind.

2. Mail Call: Receiving packages is always a moment to look forward to when you’re deployed, and my Cisco co-workers routinely sent really well thought out packages which I would share with my buddies overseas. There were always treats like candy and gourmet beef jerky, drink mix, and even apparel from my favorite team – the Minnesota Vikings.  I came home from one mission and there were 23 boxes waiting for me – it was like Christmas in the sand!

Some packages even included a personal item from where my co-workers were from! In one care package there was a Canadian flag and delicious maple syrup, another had a summer sausage that their area was known for. It was such a great way to get to know my co-workers while knowing that we were being thought of back home.

3. Toast of the Troops: One of my colleagues, Jim Henschel, hosts a semi-annual “Toast of the Troops” to raise money to support deployed soldiers – this time they had someone they knew on the receiving end! This event purchased the parts for a complex tactical operations kit that we delivered to partner nation forces.

When part of your job is to gain access to other militaries, and you are able to leave behind a useful gift of this high caliber – the small exercise in generosity that the Toast of the Troops provided helped me to do my job by enabling me to make friends with the right people in the countries I was completing missions in.

4. Celebrating the Good Times: Bookending my trip overseas was also an amazing effort by the team to show their support. Co-workers flew in from around the US to go to dinner here in Raleigh. We even had a virtual happy hour over TP before dinner for those who could not join!  My wife was invited to share in the Cisco family culture, which was an impactful moment for us both.

Finally, I want to point out that Cisco paid differential pay (the difference between my Army pay and Cisco pay) for the entire time I was gone, and then allowed me up to 90 days paid transition leave to decompress before coming back to work.  They are not required to do this but, once again, their generosity ensured we were taken care of.

I feel that words simply do not convey how grateful I am to Cisco, our leaders, and my team for the support they provided throughout my deployment. But for them to also extend that care and concern to my wife…it took my love and respect for these people to an all new level that I know I could simply never repay.

How do you thank people who cannot truly grasp the impact they had on your life and the life of your family?  “Thank you” cannot be enough, and gifts seem too ordinary to equal what they have given me. To some people, the people alongside them in the office are just that. But here at Cisco, the people in these offices are so much more, and I am certainly proud to be amongst them.

Love supporting our troops? We do too! We’re hiring! Join us!



Jim Shepard

Business Architect.Sales