In Honor of All Who Served: How ASLRRA Members Support Veterans and the U.S. Military

Veterans Day is in November, which has also been designated National Veterans and Military Families Month. ASLRRA members have long worked to support U.S. service members, in part by recruiting and hiring veterans, and also through community outreach, donations and volunteer work.

To bring these stories to a wider audience, ASLRRA is profiling several of its railroad and associate business members and their work in support of veterans and active duty service members.

“Veterans have traditionally been an excellent fit for our industry. They bring significant skills, a commitment to safety and mission, and valuable experience to the railroad industry,” said ASLRRA President Chuck Baker. “Our Association’s members recognize that value, and many of our members’ efforts go far beyond recruiting.

Still, these stories describe only a fraction of the efforts of ASLRRA members to recruit, hire, retain and support those in the military. The Association is proud to highlight the work of its members, in November and beyond.

For fellow associate business member L.B. Foster, hiring and retaining veterans is also a priority. L.B. Foster actively seeks out service members, in part by working with military friendly recruiters, and focuses on the hiring of qualified veterans.

In 2019, L.B. Foster’s Field Services Director Jim Tanner received the Patriot Award from the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) program, recognizing him for his support of Coast Guard reservists on the friction management field service team. He was nominated by reservist Brian Royak.

Additionally, L.B. Foster recognizes its veteran employees on Veterans Day, sending each person an e-card and distributing a list of every veteran to the whole L.B. Foster team.

In part through New York employment contractor Workforce One, ASLRRA member New York and Atlantic Railway (NYA) is able to recruit veteran applicants, who are automatically invited to an interview.

When working with employment outlets to find potential employees, NYA insists the candidate pool comprise a significant number of veterans, and will reengage with the source if the number of veteran candidates is unsatisfactory.

Altogether, NYA’s recruitment efforts have been successful. Over 16 percent of NYA’s workforce is made up of veterans, and, in 2019, 23 percent of the railroad’s new hires were veterans.

NYA also makes community engagement a priority, and veterans’ groups are an important beneficiary. Each year NYA donates to the local VFW and sponsors its community Fisher House, a foundation that provides lodging for military and veteran families while a loved one is in the hospital. In addition, NYA partners with the Borden Avenue Veterans Residence, which provides assistance to homeless veterans in New York.

Associate business member Vancer participated in three veteran-focused hiring events in 2019, two job fairs with networking opportunities and one event solely between Vancer and the Department of Labor. The company also works to build a relationship with the maintenance division of the local National Guard, another recruiting tool.

To maximize its ability to connect with service members transitioning to and seeking employment in the civilian workforce, Vancer created a military liaison group comprising approximately two dozen employees with military experience.

These military liaisons not only help recruit service members, they assist in the transition process by helping veterans become familiar with the company, acting as advisors and mentors, and cultivating a sense of community by introducing new hires to other veterans-turned-Vancer employees.

Pacific Harbor Line Finds Success with Ambitious Goals for Recruiting and Retaining Veterans

With a president who is a U.S. Army veteran, it’s no wonder Pacific Harbor Line makes a concerted effort to reach out to potential employees from the armed forces and honor current employees who served or are serving in the military. 

Pacific Harbor Line (PHL) works hard to spread awareness of its company, meeting with various organizations and representatives from local veterans’ offices to tell them about employment opportunities with the railroad. PHL also sponsors tables at veteran-centered events, such as the Pacific Gateway Veteran Holiday Mixer, to connect with potential employees.

PHL’s recruiting goals are as ambitious as its outreach, with the railroad aiming for new hire classes to comprise 25 percent veterans. While one-in-four might sound like a high number, PHL more than doubled that in 2019, as a record 55 percent of that year’s new hires were veterans.

To recognize veterans employed with the company, PHL profiles them in its annual company newsletter and, in 2019, bestowed a Veteran of the Year award at its annual employee banquet. On a day-to-day basis, fellow employees make sure to support reservists called to active duty by checking in with them and their families and sending them care packages. 

While hiring veterans is, for PHL, its own reward, the company has been recognized for its efforts by others. For instance, in 2019 PHL Administration and Human Resources Manager Elvia Maciel received the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) Patriot Award for the support she offered Army Reserve Sgt. 1st Class Francisco Pena during his 16-month assignment supporting the Southwest Border Mission. PHL also received the ESGR Pro Patria Award for its support of National Guard and reserve employees.

With its recruitment and retention work, PHL demonstrates that, although hiring veterans and making them feel welcome calls for a company-wide boots-on-the-ground approach, the payoff – a group of dedicated, hard-working, disciplined employees – is worth it.

Genesee & Wyoming Inc. Helps Guide Veterans’ Careers, Whether They Are G&W Employees or Not

Not only does ASLRRA member Genesee & Wyoming Inc. (G&W) commit itself to recruiting and retaining veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces for its own workforce, the company is also dedicated to guiding service members transitioning to the civilian world, even if they are not destined for the rail industry.

G&W has been an official partner of American Corporate Partners (ACP) since 2018. ACP is a nonprofit organization providing mentorships to post-9/11 veterans, active-duty spouses and eligible military spouses seeking career guidance. In the past two years, over two dozen G&W management employees from a variety of backgrounds, including human resources, business development, finance and railroad operations, have served as mentors to service members. 

These mentors, which include the company CEO, were partnered with veterans for a year-long commitment, offering advice in areas such as job searching, resume writing, interviewing and finding an ideal work-life balance. 

To recruit its own employees, G&W posts all open field positions on ACP’s recruiting site. The company’s human resources team also attended a graduation ceremony for veterans completing a program with Operation New Uniform, where representatives spoke about the benefits of a railroad career. Operation New Uniform is another organization helping veterans and their families make a smooth transition from the military to civilian world.

Many of G&W’s efforts to hire veterans have been paying off. Last year, almost 18 percent of all the company’s 2019 U.S. hires were veterans. Overall, veterans comprise over 10 percent of G&W’s American workforce.

“G&W has hundreds of meaningful jobs that veterans without advanced degrees could qualify for and excel in,” said Global Human Resource Officer Mary Ellen Russell. “While the discipline and training from the military would transfer easily to our corporate support roles, they also benefit our railroad operations, which require strict adherence to rules, physical aptitude and the ability to manage sometimes chaotic situations.”

R.J. Corman Supports All Veterans, from its Own Employees to Care Center Residents

For companies that value and support their U.S. military veteran or reservist employees, offering them a job is a first, not last, step. ASLRRA member R.J. Corman Railroad Group has made numerous efforts to recognize its veteran employees, and also actively engages the military and veterans outside company walls.

In 2019, R.J. Corman held a ceremony with the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) program, signing a statement of support pledging to enforce the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA); train managers and supervisors to effectively manage employees serving in the National Guard and reserves; appreciate the values and skills service members bring to the workforce; and recognize and support U.S. service members and their families.

In addition to becoming an ESGR supporting employer, R.J. Corman is dedicated to supporting reservists who are called to active duty, working to ensure their employment status is maintained while they are away serving their country. R.J. Corman has also implemented an additional paid holiday for veterans and gives them Veterans Day off.

The company works with veteran organizations throughout the country to recruit employees, posting open positions on veteran job sites, attending job fairs and networking events at local veteran organizations, and partnering with Veterans Affairs offices to support veterans entering the civilian workforce. As a result, roughly 10 percent of the company’s employees are veterans.

Outside of employment efforts, R.J. Corman engages the community through its annual “RJC Gives” campaign. One local service site is the Thomson-Hood Veterans Center, a long-term care facility operated by the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs.

During the week-long event, R.J. Corman employees visit the center, spending time with residents and leading or participating in activities like bingo. These visits are paired with donations collected for the center.

R.J. Corman demonstrates its commitment to veterans beyond the recruiting process and company rolls, working to put words into action both through official policy and volunteer efforts.

U.S. Military Railroads Still Play an Important Role in Troop Readiness 

Thinking of America’s military transportation and fighting machines might conjure images of huge cargo planes, aircraft carriers, Humvees and high-tech jets – not railroads. But military rail operations are more common than one might expect. In this feature, Billy Grimes, rail operations manager for the Fort Eustis Military Railway at Joint Base Langley Eustis in Virginia, provides some insight into railroad operations on military bases.

Trains have been an important part of the military since the American Civil War. Even today the Department of Defense uses trains to transport cargo across the continental United States. 

Depending on the destination it can be more cost effective to move large or bulk cargo by railroad versus line haul truck. The Surface Deployment and Distribution Command owns a large fleet of railroad cars specifically for the purpose of transporting military loads by rail. 

Not all military bases have access to a railhead and some only have a short rail spur operated by the connecting commercial railroad. The busier military installations still retain their own railroad system that was constructed when the base was established. 

A utility railroad is the military’s own intra-plant switching service, complete with locomotive(s) and a train crew.  Each military base railroad operation is a little different from another, but they all share one common: training. 

All military crew members, both civilian and active duty, must attend and pass the courses by the U.S. Army Transportation School - Rail Certification at Fort Eustis, Virginia. The U.S. Army has adopted the General Code of Operating Rules (GCOR). Once certified by the school, train crews must complete familiarization with the railroad at which they work. 

Due to this standardized training, when additional train crews are needed at one location, those crews can request a temporary duty (TDY) crew from another military railroad to assist until the mission is completed.  

Each military railroad has a different mission, such as moving ammo, equipment, or fuel. Some of the railroads operate infrequently and others are busy enough to justify operating daily with multiple crews in shift work around the clock. Dating back to World War II these railroads have been operated by civilians. 

The Army once had railway operating battalions, and member soldiers learned every aspect of railroading. That military career field has been reduced over the years and now only a small group of U.S. Army Reserves continue to support the military transportation needs stateside and overseas.

Sponsor a Nuclear Submarine? That’s Just One Way Montana Rail Link Supports the Military

Painting a train? Financing fishing trips? Supporting a Navy submarine? It sounds like a disparate group of actions, but each action has ties to the U.S. military, and together demonstrate a few of the ways Montana Rail Link (MRL) shows its support for veterans and active-duty service members.

This year, MRL is making its support for veterans especially visible, unveiling a specially painted locomotive that will operate in regular freight service between Billings, Mont., and Sandpoint, Idaho.

The locomotive is painted like an American flag, and is emblazoned with “Thank You Veterans” on the side. It also features the seals of each branch of the U.S. Armed Forces.

While MRL’s locomotive offers a very noticeable homage to veterans, the railroad does more. In conjunction with the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation, MRL will make a $50,000 donation to Warriors and Quiet Waters, an organization offering a week-long fly-fishing experience to post-9/11 combat veterans and their loved ones.

MRL is also a top-level founding donor supporting the commissioning and crew of the USS Montana (SSN 794), a Virginia Class nuclear-powered fast attack submarine. It is the first time in a century a U.S. Navy vessel will be named after Montana.

Financial support for veterans does not only go to organizations outside MRL. The railroad recently implemented a Make Whole Pay clause for MRL employees who are also members of the National Guard or reserves.

The clause ensures that employees called to active duty, such as training or deployments, will not see a reduction in their wages. If there is a difference between an employee’s military pay and his or her MRL wages, MRL will pay the balance during the duration of the employee’s active service.

Charitable work is a priority for MRL, and the railroad dedicates a significant portion of its efforts toward current and former military members, whether they need direct financial assistance, an opportunity to relax and unwind, or, yes, a submarine.

Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis Engages, Helps its Military Neighbors…and Hires Them

Congratulations to Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis, the winner of the 2020 ASLRRA Veterans Engagement Award!

Eighteen percent might not sound like much, but that translates to nearly one in five. At Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis (TRRA), 18 percent – nearly one in five – of its 230 employees are U.S. military veterans. And that is only part of the company’s noteworthy record with regards to veterans in the workplace and community.

With 18 percent of its employees veterans, TRRA almost triples the percentage of Illinois and Missouri residents who are veterans, and exceeds the percentage of veterans in the transportation industry. Location aids TRRA’s recruitment efforts, as the company is headquartered near the U.S. Transportation Command (US TRANSCOM) at Scott Air Force Base. Yet while having a larger recruiting pool helps, TRRA’s commitment to supporting veterans, particularly those in the National Guard and reserves, is a significant factor in the company’s ability to hire and retain service members.

TRRA’s policies demonstrate its support for employees in the National Guard or reserves. TRRA employees called to active duty are not simply entitled to their positions after completing their service, they are entitled to differential pay, which supplements military pay with a percentage of the wages the employee would have earned if he or she remained at TRRA. The company’s program also addresses health care, railroad retirement credits and vacation time.

Having a military base as a neighbor does not only provide TRRA with high-quality employees. TRRA works closely with those at the U.S. Army 757th Expeditionary Railway Center, allowing military teams to access TRRA’s nearby rail yard for annual training, which also offers a look at the civilian rail industry and its operations.

TRRA’s veteran Maintenance of Way (MOW) employees get involved as well, helping train military railroad inspectors in Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) track safety standards compliance.

And, to further awareness of the importance of working with the military, TRRA has partnered with the St. Louis Railway Club to host former US TRANSCOM Commander General William Fraser and current Commander General Stephen Lyons for discussions of the importance of military and civilian collaboration for both peace and wartime mobilization.

TRRA’s achievements are commendable, and ASLRRA is proud of TRRA and all its railroad and supplier members striving each day to recognize and support veteran employees and veterans in surrounding communities.

Lake State Railway Company’s Community Work Demonstrates its Commitment to the Military

Most volunteers will tell you that helping others is its own reward, and that philosophy holds true for Lake State Railway Company (LSRC), which makes engaging with veterans and the military community a high-priority task.

Since 2017, LSRC has supported the Marine Toys for Tots Program in northern Michigan, with costumed employees bringing toys to children on the company’s Santa Train. In 2019, when LSRC started servicing 55 miles of track along the Great Lakes National Cemetery, the railroad joined community members honoring deceased veterans on Memorial Day by providing flagging for the crossing during the event.

LSRC also partners directly with the military as the serving rail carrier for Camp Grayling in Grayling, Mich., and has been working with the Michigan National Guard over the past few years to improve rail service. Each year LSRC assists with Operation Northern Strike, an annual training event that involves the delivery of military equipment arriving by rail. Because the timing of deliveries and staying on schedule is key, LSRC often provides on-demand switching service to facilitate unloading and reloading the unit trains.

Of course, LSRC’s focus is not only on veterans and military members outside the company. Every year, during Veterans Day celebrations, LSRC honors its veteran employees with their photos and profiles featured in the company newsletter and on the team web portal. The railroad fosters a sense of family and unity among its employees, a feeling that resonates with the veterans it employs.

While LSRC certainly does not work closely with military partners and community organizations as a recruiting tool, the railroad has found its reputation helps attract many potential employees, including those who have never served but who respect LSRC’s noteworthy support of veterans.

By the end of 2019, roughly 15 percent of LRSC’s employees were military veterans, representing every branch of the armed forces. They work in almost every company division, from track, locomotive and rail car maintenance to management, bringing with them valuable discipline and work ethic cultivated during their years of military experience. 

Louisville and Indiana Railroad Engages Veterans and the Military on Three Fronts

Louisville and Indiana Railroad (LIRC) connects with veterans and the military in many ways, through hiring, volunteer work and in business relationships.

LIRC actively recruits veterans, networking with local state employment office veteran representatives and automatically offering interviews to veteran applicants. Even though LIRC’s job openings in 2019 were limited, one of the two people hired that year was a veteran.

This year, LIRC earned a 2021 Military Friendly Employer designation from the Military Friendly Company, which evaluates organizations based on public data, proprietary surveys and personal opinions from veterans themselves to determine the extent to which the companies recruit, retain and advance veterans as employees.

LIRC also reaches out to the military community through volunteerism. In 2019 nine management and train service employees helped at the annual National Veterans Wheelchair Games, a five-day event held in Louisville, Ky. They provided a combined 130 hours of support in ways that included keeping score and managing game timing.

A continued need for the military to use rail in its operations has created business opportunities for LIRC. One example is the Louisville and Indiana Railroad’s partnership with the Indiana National Guard at Camp Atterbury in Indiana, which earned the LIRC a 2018 ASLRRA Marketing Award (now called the Business Development Awards).

The LIRC worked with the Indiana National Guard to design a new rail-loading facility and, once the facility was operational, plan and execute a brigade-scale movement of home units to Fort Polk, La. The operation meant loading three unit trains in a week, with LIRC responsible for learning about protocol for moving Army equipment and providing loading training sessions to Army personnel.

LIRC also worked with its Class I counterparts, TTX and a loading partner to ensure the movement’s success. Thanks to months of extensive planning, everything took place without incident. In all three areas, LIRC does its best to recognize, engage and support veterans and active-duty service members, not for recognition, but because of the benefits shared by everyone involved in each interaction.

OmniTRAX’s Steve Ward Served in Vietnam, Which Helps Him Be a Better Railroader Every Day

ASLRRA member OmniTRAX submitted this story to recognize Steve Ward, an Army veteran who served in the Vietnam War. In honor of Veterans Day and Military Family Month, ASLRRA salutes Ward and all those members of the U.S. Armed Forces who serve or have served both their country and the short line industry.

Steve Ward, eastern division engineer for ASLRRA member OmniTRAX, Inc., oversees track maintenance on five railroads within the company’s portfolio. His responsibilities cover 500 miles of track stretching over seven states. Ward has been in the rail business for more than 40 years, with nearly all of his time spent maintaining track and structures.

Ward was born on a farm in southern Wisconsin and joined the Army shortly after graduating high school. Following training and a deployment stateside, he was sent to Vietnam in 1968, where he was assigned temporary duty to various Marine Corps units as a landing zone crew member on helicopter support, delivering and extracting men and supplies to and from field locations.

Back in the US, Ward received an honorable discharge and went to work at various jobs: helping on the family farm, training racehorses and working on construction crews.

Ward’s introduction to the world of railroading came in 1979, when he spent two years with Herzog Railroad Services as an equipment operator. He left that for a job near home on the Chicago Madison & Northern Railroad and, through a series of mergers, consolidations and divestitures, became an OmniTRAX employee in 1986.

He has worked in all of the disciplines and leadership roles involved in the short-line railroad industry while living in Independence, Ohio for the past 26 years and traveling more than 200 days per year to OmniTRAX properties.

Ward and his wife Alice have three children: two daughters, Bobbi and Traci, and a son Jonathan, who joined the “family business” and now works for the Great Western Railway of Colorado, an OmniTRAX-managed freight line.

There are several things Ward learned in the military that help him do his railroad job better every day. Military service taught him to focus on the activity at hand, which helps him get things done efficiently and effectively. The service also helped him understand he has a job to do and that he has to address any obstacles he faces straight on to overcome them. Rail, track, bridges and other structures don’t fix themselves, so people of action like Ward are needed to make sure operations in the battlefield and on the railroad are conducted as safely as possible and with an eye to performance.