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John Reitman

By John Reitman

Deere helps veterans transition out of the military, into the workplace

As a captain in the U.S. Army, Matt Pope knows all too well the importance of motivating a team. Success depends on everyone working toward a common goal. That experience inspiring and leading others in difficult situations is what makes building a post-military career in a John Deere production facility, with hundreds of other people, such a good match.

As he transitions out of the Army, Pope is interning at John Deere's Turf Care manufacturing facility in Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina as part of the U.S. Department of Defense Skills Bridge program through John Deere's Career Skills Program.

030421deere4.jpg"In the Army, you're leading teams and creating buy-in, values and protecting lives," said Pope (at right). "Hard work and dedication drive our soldiers. At Deere, it's the same thing: We're dedicated to hard work and values and delivering products to our customers."

A native of Rocky Mount, North Carolina, Pope, 26, is a graduate of the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York. He is transitioning out of the Army after five years to achieve a little more work-life balance with his wife of two years, Katherine. Deere's CDP allows him to do just that.

Deere's Career Skills Program, which was started 11 months ago, partners with the DoD SkillBridge program to allow transitioning service members the opportunity to match their leadership and technical skills with Deere's needs. The SkillBridge program thus allows servicemen and women to begin their transition by working with  during the last five months of their military commitment by interning at one of Deere's many production facilities or dealerships.

Since April, Deere has placed 74 interns transitioning out of the service, including 59 at dealerships and 15 in the company's production facilities.

"We, at John Deere, are passionate about finding a way to give back to those who have served our nation," said David Ottavianelli, labor relations director at John Deere and himself a USMA graduate. "We understand that the transition for many service members can be difficult, and we can play a key role and make an impact through programs like this."

Capt. Pope was stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, and in 2019-20 was deployed to Afghanistan as part of Operation Freedom Sentinel. His experience as an officer in an overseas theater of operations left him imminently qualified to lead a production floor in a Deere manufacturing facility.

"My desire is to work with teams," Pope said. "When I found John Deere, that is what attracted me to them.

"How to lead a team in a manufacturing facility, that's what I wanted to learn, take my skills from the Army and bridge that gap."

Although the program helps Deere fill a need, the program goes much deeper than that. Transitioning out of the service can be a challenge for many, "and we feel this program helps make that transition easier for the service members," according to Ottavianelli. "Our internal skills program is designed to match veteran's technical and leadership skills to open positions."

030421deere2.jpgWilliam Duquette (at right) retired a year ago after 23 years in the Army. As a first sergeant working as a Brigade Maintenance Supervisor, also at Fort Bragg, Duquette, 41, was in charge of as many as 200 technicians who serviced more than 2,000 wheeled vehicles operating in at least 10 countries.

Last April, he began a SkillBridge internship at Deere's Quality Equipment facility in Dunn, North Carolina. By July, Deere hired him full time as a service technician for the company's large agricultural equipment. 

A chance like the one provided by Deere was the right opportunity at the right time for Duquette and his wife Leah.

"When I retired, she told me she didn't want to move," Duquette said. "We had moved enough. This was perfect."

There are a lot of differences in vehicle repair work for the Army and at Deere. In the Army, vehicle repair for Duquette and his team consisted mostly of parts replacement. Full scale repairs were sent off to what Duquette called an "upper echelon" unit. 

"Here, we do it all ourselves," Duquette said. 

Although there is a learning curve moving from wheeled military vehicles to combines, tractors and bailers, there are soft skills that the military teaches that any industry would welcome.

"The discipline," Duquette said. "You have to be at work on time, and you need self-motivation for that. If you don't have that skill, you're not going to make it."

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