Celebrating and Remembering Veterans with a Current Service Member

Sucheta Misra and Clay Hambright discuss deployment, support for our service members, and consulting.

Today and every day, North Highland honors and celebrates veterans. This year, to mark Veterans Day in the U.S. and Remembrance Day in the U.K., we wanted to highlight one of the many veterans on our team. So, I&D and Social Impact Leader Sucheta Misra met recently with Clay Hambright.

As a current service member of the National Guard and a member of our employee resource group Veterans at North Highland, Clay’s insight is invaluable. Here, he reflects on his service, discusses why veterans' rights are a crucial part of diversity efforts, and how he applies his military skills to his consulting work.

What is your current role at North Highland, and as a member of the U.S. military?

I’ve been at North Highland since September 2021, and I’m a Senior Project Manager in the Program and Project Management capability.

I became a member of Veterans at North Highland because I’m currently in the National Guard. Even though I live in Atlanta, I’m in the South Carolina National Guard because I’m originally from Rock Hill. I have 22 years of military service, and I’m working on my 23rd year right now.

Tell us how you entered the military.

It’s an interesting story for me. Right out of high school, I went into active duty in the Navy. But during my physical, I discovered I was color-blind. So, I had a choice: be a cook, or be a mechanic. And that’s how I became a mechanic in the Navy for about five and a half years.

What drew you to the Navy?

My dad. He was also in the Navy. At that time, there were three things to do after high school: get a job, join the military, or go to college. I chose the military. I started out being stationed and training initially in Waukegan, Illinois and then from there I was on a ship. I was on the USS De Wert, which is a frigate from Charleston, South Carolina.

I did deployments during the first Gulf War where we mostly did embargoes—stopping ships that are going into the UAE, making sure they aren’t transporting equipment or weapons into different countries around the Persian Gulf. I probably spent three years at sea, doing a Mediterranean tour and a Persian Gulf tour. I also spent some time down in the Caribbean.

What was your deployment experience like in both the Navy and National Guard?

I was deployed as a sailor in the Navy, but I was also deployed in Afghanistan as a soldier in the National Guard. Two totally different deployments.

I would say being deployed as a sailor, on a ship with a great camaraderie during non-war times in my 20s, was a lot of fun. You get to see a lot of different countries too. I’ve been to about 30 different countries: Pakistan, Turkey, Greece, Italy, France, the Gulf countries, etc.

But being boots on the ground as a soldier in Afghanistan? The same camaraderie is there, but there’s a heightened level of danger. It’s a different type of experience.

What kinds of physical, emotional, or psychological support structures need to exist right now for returning veterans?

I once had a chaplain tell me that the suicide rate coming back from war many decades ago was much lower compared to now in Iraq and Afghanistan. The reason is that now we put you on a plane and send you over there for a year. You come back on a plane, and then four days later you typically go back to work. Back then, we would get on ships and spend three months with other soldiers talking it out.

It used to be that you had four mental health visits at the Veterans Affairs (VA) and then they’d wish you good luck. Unless you checked yourself in afterwards, there was no day-to-day support. But I think now the VA has different programs. Having ongoing programs acknowledging that this is never going away would be key. There needs to be support that you can access later in life, and it needs to always be available.

How did you get into consulting after you returned from Afghanistan?

Before I was deployed to Afghanistan, I was in banking doing project management work. When I came back, I worked for that bank again, and then another bank for a while. We moved to Atlanta from South Carolina, and I found out about North Highland.

I still work on financial projects, which is a lot of fun. I like the double accountability of consulting—I’m accountable to my North Highland team, and I’m also accountable for delivering value to our clients. In a bigger corporation, I sometimes felt like an island just delivering the project. Here, it’s a different dynamic that I like better as a consultant.

How have your military experiences helped and strengthened you as a consultant?

I would say it is mostly around handling adversity and problems. I’m good at focusing in on challenges and remaining calm under pressure. Also, compartmentalizing what we can do right now to solve this problem instead of spending too much time on how we got here. The military teaches you to do that well.

You essentially have two jobs right now: teaching and leading at officer candidate school for the National Guard, and consulting at North Highland. Does your work ever become intertwined?

Yes, absolutely. I’m always taking learnings from one and applying them to the other. When I coach and mentor at North Highland, for example, I try to pull that structure and leadership I have from the National Guard. Then, vice versa, I’m applying the consulting mindset and team orientation to those future leaders in the army as well.

There are a lot of lines that cross there. Leading and managing can be two different things.

What does Veterans Day mean to you?

It’s about the compassion for people that need help. My job in the National Guard right now is overseeing officer candidate school for Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Puerto Rico, and Georgia. If you want to be an officer in the National Guard and you’re in one of those states, you come to my school in South Carolina. We usually have about 100 people start each year, and for me, it’s about developing that next generation of leaders that are potentially going to be leading my kids and your kids to battle one day. How do we prepare these leaders to be ready?

Finally, what does it mean to you to be a part of an employee resource group like Veterans at North Highland?

It means a lot because there are people like me who have gone through the same experience as I have. Seeing somebody that’s been through what I’ve been through makes all the difference in the world.

Discover more about Veterans at North Highland by reading our Q&A with its founder, Mark Coles. If you’d like to find out more about our initiatives or the work we do here, please get in touch with a member of our team.