When then–Lt. Col. James Osowski, U.S. Army Reserve, was a production manager on the Long Beach, Calif., C-17 line in 2001, a colleague asked him if he found it ironic that he was building an airplane that could take him to war someday.
As he deployed to Iraq nine years later on the second of three tours with the Army, he asked the crew chief what the fuselage number was on the C-17 he was about to board. Sure enough, it was one he had helped build.
“It was pride; it was excitement—everything about it, knowing that I built it and that it was carrying these other people and me,” said Osowski, who served 12 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, 19 years in the Army and, as a program quality engineer in Huntington Beach, Calif., still serves in the Army Reserve. He said it made him realize “Everything we do affects everything we do.”
The same could be said for each of the 21,000 self-identified veterans who apply lessons they learned during military service to their current jobs at Boeing. What they’ve done while wearing a uniform influences what they do while wearing a Boeing badge.
Florent Groberg, Boeing’s director of veteran outreach, said the most important lesson he learned was to put aside rank, ego and pride and seek help from those with more experience, regardless of the chain.
“I learned this in 2010 when I got to Afghanistan as a platoon leader,” he said. “These gentlemen had been in combat for four months, and here I came, brand-new in the Army and expected to lead all 24 in combat.”
Groberg sought support from his second-in-command, who told him to learn about the team’s combat history and observe their communication methods and relationships with nearby village elders. For a week he immersed himself in learning from the team.
He used the same method after the attack that earned him the Medal of Honor, the highest commendation for valor in combat. On Aug. 8, 2012, Groberg tackled a suicide bomber about to ambush his platoon, sustaining substantial damage to his left leg. He said the injury left him feeling like he had lost his identity, so he went out and talked to other wounded soldiers, regardless of rank, about how they had overcome emotional trauma to find new passions.
“After I found an opportunity to talk to a quadruple amputee who literally changed my life in 15 minutes, I made sure I utilized all the skills and traits I had learned in the military to be successful as a civilian,” Groberg said.
After working with LinkedIn to help veterans transition to civilian jobs, he started in September at Boeing’s Government Operations site in Arlington, Va., where he is responsible for developing Boeing’s support of military veterans and their families. His first order of business: Learning from those around him.
“You learn something from someone every day,” Groberg said.
On the following pages are the stories of six other Boeing employees who share lessons from their military service to mark the U.S. Veterans Day holiday in November, known as Remembrance Day and Armistice Day in other countries. Just as they learned from their service, their fellow employees can learn from them.
Frequency Management analyst
Branch: U.S. Air Force
Location: St. Louis
Team: Shared Services Group
After an 18-hour shift, Michael Gay just wanted some shut-eye. Instead, he had his eyes opened.
The U.S. Air Force senior noncommissioned officer had finally nodded off when someone started banging at the door. There stood one of the youngest troops under his purview—sweat-soaked and carrying all of the group’s gear and sensitive paperwork.
“I don’t know why, but my first response was to laugh,” said Gay, now a Frequency Management analyst for Boeing’s Site Services Group in St. Louis. “The face he was making was priceless. I’m 6 feet 2 inches and not a small guy, but this airman was much larger and scared to death.”
Gay’s laughter was cut short by an explosion that shook his trailer. That was when he realized the airman was looking to him for help. As bunker commander, Gay took immediate action by getting his subordinates to safety and running through checklists until they received the all-clear from security forces.
In the end, the night’s emergency was false alarm—a distant munitions accident. But its effect on Gay would last beyond that night.
He learned not only that a leader’s reaction during crises has implications on everyone else’s response but also that leadership means being accountable for people’s well-being. Most important, he recognized his own strength for performing under stress, an ability he continues to draw on at Boeing when coordinating with business partners who rely on him to respond quickly and accurately to challenges.
“We all wonder how we would react in a real emergency, and now I know for myself,” Gay said. “I went straight to work as my training had taught me. I’m still trying to keep the nervous laughter to a minimum, though.”
787 industrial engineer
Branch: U.S. Navy
Location: Everett, Wash.
Team: Commercial Airplanes
Of the five options selected for Shandra Jackson through the military job placement test she took in high school, “aviation electrician” sounded the most interesting. But transitioning into the role and U.S. Navy lifestyle itself didn’t have a smooth takeoff. It would take getting used to—and good at—being flexible. She had gone from living with her family in Spokane, Wash., to attending boot camp in Great Lakes, Ill., and deployments out of ports in San Diego and Norfolk, Va., on unfamiliar ships. Every assignment varied by repair and aircraft.
“I thought if I resisted change, it wasn’t going to happen,” said Jackson, now a 787 program industrial engineer in Everett, Wash. “But there was nothing I could do about it. Trying to lead with a positive attitude when there’s nothing in your control is the one thing you can do for yourself.”
Once she became more accepting and positive toward shifting tasks and locations, Jackson said work became easier, in part because her team was more willing to work with her.
“Instead of banging your head against the job for eight hours, someone shows you how to do it in four,” she said. “Nobody wants to give you feedback or insight if you come across negative all the time.”
Jackson continues to use this insight as an industrial engineer who helps with Lean processes, scheduling jobs and assessing the way mechanics work on myriad parts of the 787. She said her experience not only helps her relate to the mechanical engineers whom she supports, but it also informs her approach to getting them what they need, as many of them have exhibited the same resistance she once had. Luckily, she knows how to approach that challenge, too.
“I let them know that I have hands-on mechanical experience, and having that bridge to relate helps build trust,” she said. “I definitely don’t say, ‘This is what you should do.’ I say, ‘Here’s an idea. What do you think of it?’ It helps us see where the other is coming from and gets us on a path to a solution together.”
Technical design engineer
Branch: U.S. Marine Corps
Team: Boeing Test & Evaluation
For U.S. Marine Corps member Felipe Colon, the dinner was in the details.
When Colon had to sign for the bulk meals provided to Marines during a monthlong exercise, he received a manifest but no food. The supplier assured him the order was on its way, but that wasn’t good enough for the then–lance corporal from the 3rd Air/Naval Gunfire Company.
A trip to the warehouse confirmed Colon’s suspicions: The meals were still undelivered, and the order didn’t match the count he had provided. Had he not checked, the Marines he supported would have left with only half the food they needed for the mission. He said that it had happened before—troops would raise money and collect food wherever they could get it to make up for the shortage—but under his watch, it wasn’t going to happen again.
“In boot camp we were taught to question and investigate anything out of the ordinary or suspicious,” he said. “Everything has to be accounted for, and then you are taught to inspect it. You carry that through life.”
And that’s just what Colon has done over his 17-year career at Boeing. His current job as a technical design engineer at Boeing’s Integrated Airplane Systems Lab in Seattle involves tracking drawings and parts, and verifying bills of materials.
“I got to really understand that what we were doing over there was a matter of life and death,” Colon said. “Almost like Boeing: If we’re missing a part or something on a plane, we’re carrying lives. If I hadn’t learned that, I wouldn’t really appreciate what I actually do here, what I build—the importance for me and for the company.”
Product data management specialist
Branch: U.S. Army
Team: Defense, Space & Security
U.S. Army ammunition specialist Alexandra Earl was finishing a 24-hour shift at a supply point in Miesau, Germany, when her noncommissioned officer in charge informed her that not only was a first lieutenant of the 172nd Airborne going to be there within the hour to do an inventory of all ammunition, but that she would be the one walking him through. Her noncommissioned officer then left to go home.
“I learned on that day that no matter how upset you may be because something was dumped on you, as long as you take a step back and know that there is a much bigger picture to what you are doing, someone will in fact notice,” said Earl, now a product data management specialist for the Chinook Release Group in Philadelphia.
She spent the next 10 hours with the lieutenant conducting inventory and talking about their families. Earl’s husband had just been deployed, and the lieutenant’s wife was about to have their first child.
A week later, the lieutenant surprised Earl during another 24-hour shift. He had brought a picture of his newborn son and something else—a General B.B. Bell 4 Star coin. The lieutenant explained that his brigade had been given five coins to pass out to the best of their soldiers. Earl was the only one outside the group receiving one for ensuring the soldiers had what they needed.
“Even if I didn’t get that thank you, I knew that because of me the soldiers going into Iraq were able to defend themselves and others,” she said. “I knew that my 24-hour-plus day of working is nothing compared to what the soldiers being shot at go through.”
Fast-forward to Earl’s first job at Boeing, where within a month of joining the Oklahoma City site’s Organizational Delegated Authority she had to prepare for an audit despite being new to the position. Her experience in Germany helped her overcome her trepidation and complete the job, a lesson she carried with her when she moved east to Pennsylvania.
“That situation played in my head every day I went to work to get that audit ready,” Earl said. “I knew that no matter how bad it might seem, the mission had to get done.”
Manager, Recovery and Modification Services
Branch: U.S. Marine Corps
Location: Huntington Beach, Calif.
Team: Defense, Space & Security
Growing up on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota, Casey Fox was raised to revere members of the military. Not only was his stepfather a former U.S. Marine and grandfather a World War II veteran, but his tribe, the Arikara, holds members of the military in high regard by awarding them the right to carry the U.S. flag and eagle staff—their tribe’s equivalent of the Stars and Stripes—during powwows.
So when it came time to decide what to do with his life, Fox chose the U.S. Marine Corps. As an F/A-18 avionics technician there, he learned the benefits of working with diversely skilled teams, a lesson that would come in handy in his current role as a C-17 Recovery and Modification Services manager in Huntington Beach, Calif.
One of Fox’s jobs in the Corps was to service departing and returning jets on an aircraft carrier at night. Working quickly in low visibility, everyone on the flight deck was responsible for performing a task distinguished only by the color of their shirt or protective headset.
“Some wore red, white, yellow, brown, green, but each one of those shirts represented a different job or skill set associated to safely ensuring the aircraft not only launched but also was recovered when it came back to the carrier,” Fox said. “It didn’t matter what upbringing, race, background, beliefs or special interests we brought to work every day. Our priority was to support the aircraft, and we took that to heart.”
That appreciation and reliance on diverse skill sets has followed Fox throughout his career, from the military through nine management positions he’s had since starting as an avionics technical writer at Boeing heritage company McDonnell Douglas. In September he returned from an extended absence to find that his team had independently solved a number of issues that arose.
“It was like they fed off each other and finished each other’s sentences as they explained the solution for the situation they avoided,” he said. “It made me smile because they didn’t need me to work the situation. I don’t take credit for that. It’s just something you would hope your team is able to do. Having said that, I’m going to take more vacation.”
By Kate Everson