BizBeat Interview: Veteran Day’s Special

Because we were celebrating Veteran’s Day in the month of November, the BizBeat team thought about getting to know one of our Major General James Wright fellows up-close and personal. So ladies and gentleman, presenting to you Denny Bernacki (US Army Logistics Officer), our in-house Jason Statham (Trust us on that, you just need to imagine him without the beard.)

Q: Where did you grow up?
DB: That’s a tough question. I come from a military family. My father was in the Navy, so I’ve spent my childhood at a lot of places. I’ve lived in Hawaii, in Portsmouth, Woodbridge, and Bluefield in Virginia. I did my undergrad at Virginia Tech so Blacksburg as well.

Q: Who is in your family?
DB:There is my wife Becca and my three daughters – Melanie, who is 12 years old; Ashley, who is 6 and Nadia, who is 3. And I have a dog whose name is Gunner.

Q: Did you choose the military life or did it choose you?
DB:I would definitely say that I chose the military. My father pushed me away from joining the navy, and I guess he succeeded in doing that.

Q: If you were to go to a deserted island what 3 items would you take with you apart from food and water?
DB:Ok. First, I would take the Gerber multitool. Second, would be Tobacco (otherwise I would go crazy), and I’m a sports fanatic so something to keep track of the sports scores.

Q: You said you are a sports fanatic. What kind of sports do you like?
DB:I like playing soccer. As a fan, I like watching soccer, college football, NFL, and baseball. I am from Virginia Tech so I like watching them play. I am a huge fan of the St. Louis Cardinals and the Washington Redskins.

Q: When not working/studying, what do you like to do?
DB:I have a motorcycle — a 2007 Yamaha Star Stratoliner. It’s a 1900cc “Big Bike”. I don’t get to ride it as much now but that is what I would like to do when I get time.

Q: If not in the military where would you have been?
DB:To be honest with you, I don’t know. I don’t even know where I would be 8 years from now. I could tell you where I was. I was working as a used-car salesman in Southwest Virginia. I didn’t respect the job much and that’s what perhaps drove me to the military.

Q: What do you like the most about the Mason MBA program?
DB: The fact that I get to not shave my beard here because I couldn’t do that on the job. (Reads the “Are you serious?” look in my eyes and laughs). No I’m kidding. The ‘diversity’. It’s enjoyable to learn about other cultures and see things from a different perspective. And I’m being tongue-in-cheek here because in my job we deal with other cultures only if we are at war with them. Here, I get to meet people on friendly terms and interact with them.

Q: What is your favorite dish? Do you cook? If yes, what’s considered your specialty?
DB:(Chuckles) I could barbecue. My favorite meal would be pulled pork BBQ. The main meal I am in charge of cooking, however, is anything on the grill. I usually grill on the weekends during the summer.

Q: What do you like to watch on Television?
DB:I like to watch anything that’s sports. So 95% of my television viewing time is spent on ESPN, Fox, and others. The only non-sport show I would watch, and that is a guilty pleasure, is ‘Big Brother’. I don’t like most reality shows because I think sports are the biggest reality shows with drama and twist and turns. But for some weird reason I watch Big Brother every summer.

Q: Who is one person who inspires you?
DB:My wife. I’m gone a majority of the time with deployments, training,
and long workdays. That coupled with the fact that she is a defacto single mom for our 3 kids, and the stress, makes it a difficult life style. We have been married for 14 years now and our marriage is rock steady. She just does all this with such ease and grace, it inspires me to not to get worked up by the stuff I am dealing with because her job is harder than mine.

Q: What’s your favorite war movie?
DB:There are two – ‘Gettysburg’ and ‘Gods and Generals’. What I like about these movies is that they show American civil war from two different perspectives. Fighting is the minor piece of it. What they spend a lot of time showing is how deeply and passionately they care about the soldiers. There is a lot of focus on why each side believes so strongly in their cause. The viewpoint of the various generals also highlights how each individual wrestles with the burden of command, knowing that their decisions will impact the lives of so many people.

Q: If you were a character in some movie, who would you be?
DB:I would be ‘Keyser Söze’ in ‘the Usual Suspects’. I mean who wouldn’t like to be him.

Q: Tell us about an assignment abroad that you enjoyed the most?
DB: One of the most interesting experiences I had on an assignment was in 2007. It was my first deployment in Baghdad, Iraq, and a part of my job was to work on the Military Training Team, MTT in the military lingo. Working side by side with my counterparts in the 9th Iraqi army, traveling in the same vehicles with them, and coaching them, interacting with them was a unique experience.

Q: Any message for your classmates?
DB: My guiding principle, as clichéd it might sound, is “Accepting the fact the you will accomplish any goal is the hard part; once you get that mindset right then figuring out how to accomplish it is the easy part.” It does make common sense the other way but I have found that the mindset is sometimes harder to change.

We would like to thank Denny for his service and sharing his experiences and thoughts with us. We wish you all the best in your future endeavors!

Ed. Note: This was originally published in the Dec. 9, 2012 issue of BizBeat.

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Divya Singla

Divya Singla is a first-year MBA student with the Mason School of Business at the College of William and Mary.

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