Senior executives share management lessons gained in Iraq

Lawyers in Washington take affidavits as a matter of practice, but according to recently retired Justice Department attorney John Euler, you haven't lived until you've taken one in Iraq while holding a gun, using an Arabic translator and "trying to look like you know what you're doing."

Euler's experience was similar to that of hundreds of civil servants who worked in Iraq under the Coalition Provisional Authority, which was established by the United States and other countries after the invasion of Iraq until civilian rule resumed in June 2004. Those civil servants helped to form the infrastructure of a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq.

While in the country, Euler said, he honed his management skills. For example, for years he had been told in training sessions to make sure the constituency he was serving was part of the process. But he said it wasn't until he helped Iraqis rebuild their country that he actually learned how critical that concept is.

It was very important to bring them "in at the ground level and help them to be a major force in developing their own country," Euler said.

After returning from Iraq, Euler, who was working on litigation involving vaccines, said he made certain, for example, that the parents of children who had problems with vaccines were made a central part of the process.

Four career executives, including Euler, recounted their experiences in Iraq during a forum Thursday hosted by the Senior Executives Association. Euler serves as chairman of SEA's board of directors.

John W. Vardaman, another panelist, acted as the CPA's federal liaison during the process of locating and repatriating the assets of Saddam and the former Iraqi regime, which were frozen abroad by a United Nations mandate.

Vardaman said he found himself taking cover in the basement of the palace on his first night in Iraq, wearing a "flak jacket and Kevlar helmet, thinking this was the worst decision I ever made." The Treasury Department attorney helped recover about $3 billion for the new government, money that he said was "immediately injected into the country for reconstruction."

Once he returned to the states, Vardaman said his overall attitude toward work changed. "You just sort of learn to trust your instinct a little bit more," he said. "Now that I'm back, in some ways it makes making a decision here a little bit easier, because you'll never be making a decision where the stakes are higher than you did" in Iraq.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.