Veterans Bring Shared Values, Skills to Gray
Career changes of any kind can be marked by uncertainty, but for members of the U.S. military completing their service, a look toward the horizon hardly resembles a typical job change. For the roughly 19 million veterans of the armed forces in America, transitioning from a military role to a civilian career is a major shift.
New veterans face decisions such as selecting an occupation, finding a compatible employer, and choosing whether to adapt existing skills or develop new ones. Veterans who have already established a civilian career path but are seeking to make a change may base their decision on factors such a company’s organizational structure, opportunities for advancement, and a can-do culture. These decisions aren’t made in a vacuum—they require direction and opportunity. For all veterans of the U.S. military, Gray is extremely proud to provide both.
Since the company’s inception, the Gray legacy has been inextricably linked to a strong communion with our nation’s veterans. Our founder, James Norris Gray, started the company after completing his service as a naval petty officer in World War II. His wife, Lois Gray—a leading figure in the business who shepherded Gray through times of lean and plenty—also served in the U.S. Navy as a WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) officer. Through the years, Gray has supported our veterans through contributions to organizations such as Save A Warrior and Children of Fallen Patriots. But, the most prevalent aspect of Gray’s relationship with the veteran community is the company’s employment of more than 110 former service members.
Gray was honored to sit down with several of the veterans who have found a career home with us. We listened as they told the stories of their military background and shared perspectives on how their service prepared them for a career with Gray, which practices and skills they’ve transferred into their current roles, and ultimately, why so many veterans choose to work at Gray.
What was your role in the military?
David Crickard, Project Manager: Section Leader & Platoon Guide. My job was to maintain discipline, training, welfare, and the administrative priorities of the platoon, as well as the condition, accountability, and effective use of its weapons and equipment.
Jonny Herrera, Graphics Designer: I served as a squad leader in a special weapons and tactics team called TRF (Tactical Response Force) where I was heavily involved in nuclear recapture & recovery operations for the United States Air Force. I often tell people that TRF is one of the Air Force’s best kept secrets!
Shawna Palmer, Coordinator, Subcontractor Payment Compliance: I was a PFC in the Army National Guard enrolled in officer training to be a Second Lieutenant.
Alicia Pemble, Procurement & Logistics Specialist, Spec Engineering, A Gray Company: I was an Automated Logistical Specialist (92A). At my first duty station, I worked in the motorpool with the mechanics, ordering and maintaining parts inventory for all company vehicles and equipment. Later, I worked in the warehouse managing the order fulfillment and distribution of parts for all the companies in the brigade.
Jeremy Short, Director, Food & Beverage Market: I joined the USMC reserves when I was 17 years old, the summer before September 11th. My plan was to be enlisted reserve, go to college, then go to Officer Candidate School (OCS) with aspirations to be a pilot. Immediately following my training, I was activated to go to Iraq. I went twice before coming back to Kentucky to finish college.
What attracted you to Gray?
Herrera: I gravitated toward Gray because of its passion for design and attention to detail on projects. With that, I knew I wanted to offer my skillset and accelerate Gray’s brand and visual identity.
Pemble: When I saw the job posting, I looked into Spec’s culture through their social media. I really liked that they seemed to have a family atmosphere and a supportive team culture, and I wanted to be a part of a company like that.
Short: Gray has a great reputation at Eastern Kentucky University. Back then, I was most excited to be in a company that was growing and would afford me opportunities to grow as an individual. Now I can see the full picture and more fully appreciate Gray’s consistent values, focus on culture, and appreciation for its people.
In what ways do you think Gray’s values are like the military’s values?
Crickard: Gray fosters the idea of a cohesive team. All the Gray projects I have worked on have had a good sense of teamwork and selflessness.
Palmer: Gray’s values align perfectly with the Army creed: we were trained to do our best and stay focused on ensuring the safety and quality of life of our team and those we were protecting (Gray’s No. 1 core value); we were driven by the mission and the “customer,” the people of the United States (core value No. 2); we were regarded as trained professionals who always put physical and mental discipline in the forefront and who treated others with the same respect we would expect from them (core value No. 3).
Pemble: The Army values include loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. I think Gray encompasses all those same values. In addition, Gray’s commitment to safety is much like the military’s. Both always have the safety and well-being of their personnel in mind, and both do what it takes to send everyone home safely to their families at the end of the day.
Veterans in the #GrayFamily
How did your time in the military prepare you for your role at Gray?
Herrera: I learned the importance of adaptability, communication, and taking ownership. The crazy thing? I’m still incorporating concepts and values into my work that the military instilled in me when I enlisted.
Pemble: The job I did helped me gain industry knowledge and experience (though it was very different from what I do now). What helped prepare me for my current role were the teamwork that the military required, the opportunity to work with a variety of people and personalities, and the chance to work under pressure on multiple tasks.
Short: The military background is no different than someone’s experience on a sports team or working with family; the things we do together to overcome adversity bring us closer. We work in a tough business and depend on strong values and exceptional people to be successful.
Do you feel like Gray is a good fit for veterans? If so, why?
Herrera: Easy answer; yes. Veterans mirror the same workmanship, dedication, and commitment that Gray values and strives toward. Gray cares about its team members, and this is reflected in each of their core values! I believe that mental health and work-life balance are impactful factors, especially with younger veterans separating and going into the workforce.
Palmer: At Gray, the mentality is that you are family the moment you step through the door. They want you to connect to your group (unit) as coworkers and friends. Leadership encourages social activities outside of work as well as team lunches at work. They see your potential and push you to succeed. In the military, you have to trust the people in your unit with your life; they are the one thing that could keep you alive. In the civilian world, it’s hard to find jobs where you have the same support and “battle buddy” mentality. I would compare working with Gray to training in the military—you all work together toward a goal that you all can achieve. You’re a link in a chain, and if the link starts to have too much tension or strain, the team adjusts to help relieve the pressure.
If you were advising a fellow veteran to choose to work at Gray, what would you say?
Crickard: They don’t promise you a rose garden. It will be tough but rewarding. I want to thank Gray Construction for supporting me and my family while I was deployed to Afghanistan in 2010 during Operation Enduring Freedom. I rested better knowing that if my wife needed something, my Gray family would be there to help.
Herrera: Gray prides itself on teaching how to become an effective leader, whether it be reading publications, attending seminars and events, or learning from each other. No matter what level you are on the totem pole, there will always be professional and personal growth opportunities. Go for it!
Palmer: If you want more than just a great job, choose Gray.
If you could describe Gray in one word or phrase, what would it be?
Crickard: We create new opportunities to succeed.
Herrera: Family! #GrayFamily
Palmer: Gray Strong—this company understands that it takes a family (team members, leaders, customers) to be successful. Together, we can achieve anything.
The Next Chapter
Many of the concepts that our veterans hold most dear—family, camaraderie, dedication, service, and honor—are reflected in Gray’s three core values and the company’s more than 60-year endeavor to be the best possible employer and partner for our customers. Such a commitment has attracted military men and women to the company since our founding, and we consider it a great privilege to welcome so many of the nation’s former service members through our doors each day.
Our veterans bring unique skills to their respective roles, and while these skills all translate differently to civilian life, the rigor, discipline, and structure that underpin them are essential to the fabric of Gray’s business. As the newest generation of veterans begins the next chapter of their story, Gray will continue to welcome them with open arms and new opportunities to serve.