The mechanical skills that Mark DeGraw learned in the Marines have served him well. He served from 2000 – 2008 working in motor transportation and rising to the rank of sergeant. He learned to repair and maintain motors, engines, and machinery, and deployed three times to Iraq, including the initial invasion in 2003. Later, DeGraw worked for several defense contractors, training soldiers in Africa and repairing Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (MRAPs) used by special forces serving in Iraq. He decided to explore opportunities closer to home by attending the RecruitMilitary Opportunity Expo in Kansas City.
BNSF Railway was at the top of his list of companies to speak with at the event, but a long line of candidates waited in front of him. DeGraw simply handed over his resume and asked one of the recruiters to review it. He had the experience they wanted and got a call a few days later, where he was asked to apply for a specific position online. He began working at BNSF in December 2013 as a machinist apprentice at the Topeka, Kansas location.
What drew him to BNSF? Benefits. “I knew they had one of the best blue collar retirement plans in the country,” he relates, “and the pay scale is phenomenal, especially for the Midwest. You can make a good living for your family.”
DeGraw works with a lot of veterans who have been “extremely helpful” in making his transition seamless. He believes veterans make logical hires for the railroad industry. “It’s an easy transition. The military is a lot like the railroad industry – there is an emphasis on safety, teamwork, and consistency. It’s important to do things meticulously and in the right order. And the military personnel I work with are very thankful for the jobs they have.”
His advice? Never burn any bridge, and stay in touch. “I was always a hard worker in the Marines. There was a staff sergeant who mentored me and I stayed in touch with him after he retired. He helped me land my first job out of the service working for a defense contractor overseas.” He encourages veterans to build and use a network of military contacts through various social networks, including LinkedIn.
DeGraw plans to put his GI Bill benefits to use in an apprenticeship with BNSF. “You can’t beat it. The benefits allow me to learn a job that I’m also getting paid to do.”