Lt. Col. Ronald J. Peterson, seen here working as assistant chief of staff for advertising at the Marine Corps Recruiting Command, now owns and operates a Chick-fil-A. Peterson is just one of the thousands of servicemen returning to the civilian workforce. (Marine Corps via the Montgomery Advertiser)
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Montgomery native Ronald J. Peterson said he has trained for 20 years for his new job as the owner and operator of a Portsmouth, Va., Chick-fil-A — in the Marines.
Until a few months ago, Peterson, who was born in Montgomery and graduated from Sidney Lanier in 1987, was Lt. Col. Ronald J. Peterson. Then he became one of the thousands leaving the military.
But he said many leaving the military are finding they already are prepared for a business career outside the military.
The mission of the Marines may be far different from the mission of a restaurateur, but Peterson said what he learned in the Marine Corps has prepared him to manage his own Chick-fil-A.
“The core values that we have about honor, courage and commitment — those things are very important in trying to start and maintain a business,” the 43-year-old said. “That value set corresponds well with the Chick-fil-A mission of serving others and being a good steward of those things that are entrusted to you.
“It teaches you how to work well with people from diverse backgrounds and teaches you how to take individuals and build them into a team in a dynamic environment.”
He believes that was what the Marines did for him, giving him ever more important jobs, teaching him first how to act as part of a team and then how to help organize others to do the same.
One of the areas he learned about training and organizational skills was while serving during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003-2004, where he participated in the First Battle of Fallujah.
“My job was to support the American forces in our efforts to bring stability to Iraq and to help train the new Iraqi Army. It was very demanding, very tough. There was a lot of chaos initially, but once we got things going we were able to get things settled down pretty much,” he said.
The Marines also taught him marketing skills, after he was selected to promote the Marine Corps brand.
After completing a tour as battalion commander, he was requested by name for the job at the Marine Corps Recruiting Command because of his successful recruiting tours, including a recruiting assignment that brought him back to Montgomery from 1999 until 2002.
“The job was a lot of fun in that I had the responsibility of promoting the Marine Corps brand worldwide to tell people what the Marine Corps does and to attract them to a career in the Marine Corps,” he said.
“It was very exciting to be able to say this is who the Marines are, and this is what the people are like who are part of the Marine Corps; here is what the Marine Corps stands for as its core mission.”
He was involved in everything from marketing to key audiences, expanding Internet presence and even helping to set up a huge event as a marketing tool.
“I had the tremendous opportunity to help create the new Sounds of Chaos global campaign plan to attract our core demographic to consider the Marine Corps for future service and at the same time to highlight the capabilities of the Marine Corps to the world,” he said. “I was also involved with expanding our presence on the World Wide Web to attract young people to serve.
“I was also fortunate enough to be able to work on the inaugural Semper Fidelis All-American high-school football bowl game. That was fantastic. I am a huge football fan, and having the opportunity to put together the first high school football all-star bowl game for the Marine Corps was something that was definitely a passion for me and that allowed me the opportunity to see how all those things come together to make it happen.”
Now, Peterson, who has been married to his wife Roxanne for more than 20 years and has two daughters, Ashley, 18, and Caitlin, 17, said he is making things come together in Portsmouth.
His goal is not just to use what he has learned in the Marines but to transfer the same sort of energy he put into that organization into his restaurant.
“My goal is to grow with Chick-fil-A,” he said. “Portsmouth is where they have given me the opportunity, and I’ll stay there and work in Portsmouth, but if there is an opportunity somewhere else, and they deem me worthy of it, I will go there.”
Still, it’s not just the Marines that Peterson credits for his business career.
“I think the foundation I got in Montgomery definitely set me up for success in the Marine Corps and in life,” he said. “If I could tell the people in Montgomery anything, it would be that I wanted to thank them for setting me up for success.”