How Military Leadership Shapes Success

This Veteran’s Day, El Vaquero seeks to honor veterans who are current and former GCC students. We caught up with Jesse Petrilla, who attended Glendale College from 2005 to 2006. He has since gone on to impact conservative politics in Orange County and the nation, was commissioned as an Army officer, and, most recently, launched a business.

Petrilla credits his military service with teaching him discipline and helping him along to professional and personal success. In an interview, he talked about his experiences and shared advice with GCC students.


When and why did you join, and what did you do during your time in the military?

I commissioned as an Army officer in 2010 from the ROTC program at Cal State Fullerton. The Army paid for my schooling, and, upon graduation, I was guaranteed a job in the military. I started out as a tank platoon leader, and after several years switched to Signal Corps, which gave me technical expertise in communications.

What memories stick out as particularly significant or life changing?

Seeing the change in soldiers you help mentor is what it’s all about. The military gives you tremendous leadership training, and being able to share some of those skills and develop young men and women, and knowing you helped set them up for success for the rest of their lives, is truly rewarding.

Do you have any fond memories you’d like to share?

The food in Afghanistan was quite good. I will also always remember the excitement of getting on the plane heading there, and the relief stepping off the plane coming back home.

What was your transition from military to civilian life like? Any particular hurdles that you faced, and how did you overcome them?

Other than deployment and training, I have always served part time in the National Guard, so I’ve always had one foot in both military and civilian life. I’d say the biggest issue I’ve had since returning from Afghanistan is having to bite my tongue when I hear people who don’t appreciate just how good they have it.

How do you feel your military experiences have shaped who you are?

The military definitely gave me the foundation to build a successful life on. It gave me the discipline I needed, leadership skills, and focus. By not serving, lots of young people are missing out on the many tremendous opportunities.

Is there anything you miss about your time serving vs. time as a civilian?

While on active duty, you don’t have to worry about what you are going to wear for the day.

Looking back would you change anything about your life or decision to serve?

The only things I regret in life are opportunities missed, things I didn’t do. Deciding to take the opportunity to serve was a no-brainer.

What did you learn in your military role?

If anyone reading this does choose to serve, or even if they don’t but find themselves in management positions (which hopefully most will at some point), all I can say is listen to your subordinates, especially your subordinate leaders. Just because you are put in a position of power doesn’t mean that title comes with knowledge. Don’t confuse power with knowledge.

What would you want to tell a Glendale College student that you would have liked to have been told when you were at GCC?

Take advantage of that Board of Governors (BOG) fee waiver. Most students will qualify, but so many don’t know about it or the other many financial aid programs out there. Same goes for when you transfer to a university, there is a lot of money out there to pursue your higher education.

What would you like to tell GCC students who are veterans?

There are many programs, including some that I was previously unaware of, that provide financial support for veteran students as well as their children. The National Guard has financial aid available for those currently serving while attending school, and those who have completed time on active duty are eligible for the GI Bill as well as other benefits.

What about students who are considering joining the military before finishing college, or after college?

Not everyone is ready to just jump into college life. I took four years off after high school before starting at Glendale Community College. While I didn’t spend that time in the military, I recognize it is a good time to develop discipline and save up some money all while figuring out what you want to study. GI Bill benefits would then be available to pay for college.

For those who are thinking about serving after college, there are programs such as ROTC which will pay for advanced degrees if you want to go after your Masters and then serve after that. Also there are options to directly commission as an officer if you already have a degree.

Tell us about your time at GCC. What do you remember from it? What sticks out?

GCC has some phenomenal teachers. I still keep in touch with some of them. I also remember a small handful of very bad teachers who felt the need to inject their political views into most lessons. Don’t be a bobblehead, challenge their views if you disagree with them, respectfully of course.

Where are you at today, career-wise, and personally?

I own a company that manufactures telecommunication equipment. I started it in my garage four years ago, and now we are in our second office after outgrowing the first one. My greatest accomplishment though is my wife and two boys.

What about being active in the GOP – what do you do as someone who helps affect change in Orange County?

Far too many people believe they can’t affect change, in fact, I would say this belief is held by the majority of people, and so the minority rule. After graduating, I decided to run for city council of a small city in Orange County, I won and served a four year term. I also have volunteered with a number of political campaigns and projects. While it may be easy to complain about things, it’s actually pretty easy to get involved too. I believe it’s our duty as citizens.

What does being a veteran mean to you? What do you wish people knew about veterans?

I’m just thankful for the opportunity to serve. I’ve had it pretty darn good. The previous generations of veterans really made tremendous and courageous sacrifices to give us what we have. I always take the time to stop them and thank them every time I see one.