Lisa Peake believes that whether you are sent to Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, or anywhere else, attitude makes the difference between drudgery and doable.
“If you say ‘this deployment is going to be horrible,’ it will,” said Peake, who retired from the California National Guard as a “full-bird colonel” in May, ending a 30-year career in the military. She prides herself on embodying the opposite approach. “If you can do one thing that affects someone positively, there’s nothing better than that.”
She brings that attitude to her new job as the deputy administrator of CalVet’s Veterans Home of California-Yountville. Governor Gavin Newsom appointed Peake to the position earlier this month and then quickly named her Acting Administrator. She began immediately engaging with some of the 800 residents – who include veterans and their spouses – and also getting to know some of the 900 employees at California’s largest and oldest veterans home.
“This is the perfect transition for what I like to do,” Peake said. “Just being able to walk around and hear from people. Talk to staff and help them. Sometimes, you don’t try to fix their problems. You help them fix their problems. I have a rule: Don’t complain about something if you’re not willing to do something about it. I’ve always wanted to be one who did something.”
It’s a philosophy borne of her own experiences, and those of others. Peake was born in Michigan, and lived throughout the Midwest growing up. She earned her undergraduate degree from the Indiana University Indianapolis campus, joining the military along the way. “I was trying to put myself through college,” she said. “My second summer of college, I was looking for a summer job.” She saw an ad for one that promised a great job opportunity that included travel. “I called the number, went down, took the test, and scored well.” The great job opportunity turned out to be as an MP (military police) in the National Guard. She later went to Officer Candidate School, and her military career took off.
Peake honed her beliefs over time and deployments, and found they align with the “FISH Philosophy” derived by the folks at Seattle’s Pike Fish Market. The philosophy has been adopted by businesses and organizations nationwide. The market is an otherwise stinky, smelly business made successful and enjoyable by the demeanor of its employees. Peake embraces its four basic tenets: 1) Choose your attitude; 2) Be present by engaging in conversations with the customers; 3) Make their day simply by smiling at someone; and 4) Play. “Serious business doesn’t mean we can’t have fun,” Peake said. “I have video evidence of a Nerf war in Kosovo.”
That is where she ran the Army’s Joint Visitation Bureau, handling the itineraries of dignitaries. “We escorted them whenever they were in the theater. We took care of their flights, rooms, briefings. It was serious business, but fun.”
Peake deployed twice to Kosovo – first for 16 months (2004-2006) and then for 14 months (2008-2010). She was then deployed to Kuwait for 13 months (2015-2016). In Kuwait, she was appointed chief of staff for the U.S. Central Command’s Deployment and Distribution Operations Center, serving as the liaison throughout that theater.
She spent the final three years of her military career in Sacramento as deputy U.S. property and fiscal officer for the California Army National Guard and held various commands within the California Military Department, the last being the Soldier Incentives Assistance Center.
Now she’s at Yountville, where she believes her world of experience will benefit the Veterans Home. She’ll work to shore up the aging facility while presiding over the building of the planned 240-bed, $300 million skilled nursing facility at the south end of the campus.
She’s already building relationships.
“I’ve been eating in the main lunch hall, walking the halls of the domiciliary buildings, and playing pool with vets in the rec center,” she said. “I’m talking to residents. They want to know that I’m out there. I want to be able to answer their questions in an honest, open way.”
And if she can do things that affects folks positively as a result? There’s nothing better than that.