Best of Both Worlds: Military and Manufacturing

By Lieutenant Colonel Traci Earls, KS Army National Guard

As a little girl, I remember watching “G.I. Joe” and thinking, “That’s what I want to do when I grow up.” I would make my sisters play Army, they were the enemy, and I would lob grenades (rocks) their way. I enlisted in the Army soon after high school as a truck driver. My very first job was driving an 18-wheeler in Germany. After a few years, I decided to take advantage of the GI bill and earned an ROTC commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Ordnance (Maintenance) Corps. I have held various leadership positions as a maintenance officer that gave me transferable skills that later helped me in the civilian sector.

In 2002, I left active duty and joined the National Guard. I did not plan on a career in manufacturing, but there was a pharmaceutical company nearby hiring production supervisors, and I needed a job. I was nervous because I didn’t have any experience in manufacturing or pharmaceuticals. Later, I learned they hired me based on my leadership skills and ability to bring teams together to reach a common goal. Much to my surprise, it was a perfect fit. I was leading people who were organized in small groups, much like the structure of a platoon, which made it easy to grasp.

I thrived in the high-paced environment and had the skills to remain calm and lead through difficult situations. Being a soldier, I was very accustomed to taking lateral moves into different functions, which forced me to learn more about the business and eventually resulted in increased responsibility and promotions. In my civilian career, I have held positions in operations, maintenance and product management, which have contributed to me reaching my ultimate goal of being a general manager.

For 15 years, I have been able to balance both careers. Early on, it was easy, but as my careers were growing at the same pace and requiring more of my time, it got harder. The secret to my success is having support at home and an employer that goes above what the law requires in supporting me. The past three years have been particularly hard.

On top of having to commute to Kansas from Wisconsin for drill weekends, I was also tasked to participate in a “Warfighter Exercise” that required several weeks additional training during the same time I was being groomed to be a general manager in Milwaukee. My manager didn’t bat an eye. He used my absence as development opportunities for others to fill in and made arrangements for me to work out of our corporate office in Kansas whenever I was there any way for military training.

These are just a few examples of why I nominated Cargill for the Secretary of Defense Freedom Award, which we received in August at the Pentagon. I am very proud to be working for a company that has never made me feel like I had to choose one career over another. I am also grateful that my 25 years of military experiences paved the way for a rewarding career in manufacturing.

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