Blog_Military Appreciation Month
People First

Southland Stories: Spotlighting Our Veterans

Kathryn Foxby Kathryn FoxMay 1, 2024

This article is part of our Southland Stories series, which highlights our employees and their diverse experiences and backgrounds. By recognizing and supporting our employees in connection to different awareness months and initiatives, we put our people first, directly sharing employee experiences, raising awareness, and fostering connection and inclusion across our company.  

Military Appreciation Month honors current and former members of the U.S. Armed Forces, including those who have died in the pursuit of freedom. In recognition of Southland's people who have served, we are sharing their insights about their experiences, how they leverage their military background in their careers, and the importance of supporting the mental health of active military and Veterans.  

Military Appreciation Month can mean many things to different people with diverse experiences contributing to their sentiments.  

Eric Waters, Senior Project Manager, provided his outlook, saying, "It has a special meaning to me as a 10th generation service member in the United States Military. With the overall sacrifices made, I feel a great sense of duty and pride knowing that the sacrifices my family has played a part in that."  

Jorge Vargas, Safety Coordinator, also offered his perspective, "Military Appreciation Month represents a time to honor and recognize the sacrifices, dedication, and resilience of all those who have served our country or are currently serving in the military. This month provides an opportunity to come together in showing gratitude and respect for the men and women who have selflessly defended our country." 

Michelle Carter also highlighted what Military Appreciation Month means to her, "To me, Military Appreciation Month means to honor and observe service members and their families for the unique sacrifices they make for this great country!" 

Military Appreciation Month and Mental Health Awareness Month are both observed in May. Although the importance of military appreciation and mental health awareness extends throughout the year, May offers a specific timeframe to provide a platform for education and dialogue. 

Don Fulton, Facility Security Officer, shared, "It is extremely rare to find a Veteran without some sort of emotional trauma. Historically, Veterans have had few healthy ways, but many dysfunctional ways of coping with that trauma.  Employers who recognize the importance of mental health and who make getting help easier are important for everyone.  Additionally, employers who work to remove the stigma of having mental health issues and seeking help will encourage more people to get the help they need.  

Michael Willis, Senior Purchasing Agent, added, "A lot of people don't realize it, but we lose 22 Veterans to suicide per day on average. This doesn't include the roughly 35,500 homeless Veterans in the U.S. alone. Everyone, including Veterans, needs to make an effort throughout the year to ensure the mental health of those suffering, whether the affected are Veterans or not. Let people know that you are there for them. I make a point every time I see a Veteran of thanking them for their service and sacrifice. Be a shoulder to cry on if needed, an open ear to listen to the internal battles some are facing, or just be there to just vent. Communication is critical and, in most cases, is missing in today's world." 

During this month, there's a focus on understanding the challenges faced by the military community and raising awareness about mental health, while also emphasizing the connection between military appreciation and mental health.  

Addressing the military's challenges related to mental health, Michelle Carter, Project Coordinator, shared, "The military has unique struggles and it's important to provide mental health awareness during Military Appreciation Month because some service members really struggle to find their purpose in life outside of the military."  

Nello Tortora, Business Development Manager, also highlighted the importance of mental health as part of supporting and appreciating the military, offering, "There are many worthy organizations to contribute to. The mental health issues among veterans and service members have reached crisis levels. Too many veterans are not getting the help they need. If you know a veteran who needs help, be there for them. Talk to them, encourage them, and ask them to seek help from a mental health professional. Supervisors and managers should have a basic understanding of the warning signs in Veteran employees who may be contemplating suicide, suffering from PTSD, or recovering from a traumatic brain injury and how to assist in getting help. 

In addition to promoting diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, there are many benefits to hiring Veterans.  

Eric highlighted the importance of hiring Veterans, sharing, "The military is our largest and most diverse "company" in the United States. Not without some issues, but it is a great reflection of the melting pot our founders intended us to be. Different cultures meld together as one to create a great team."  

Jorge also shared, "Hiring veterans can bring numerous benefits. The teamwork and leadership skills that Veterans often possess are developed during the military and are trained to work effectively in diverse teams, follow orders, and lead others in challenging situations. Military Veterans are also known for adaptability and resilience in the face of adversity. 

The military helps build leadership skills that can help support success in the AEC industry.  

Michelle shared, "The military taught me leadership skills — how to work with a diverse team and their different and unique personalities. The military has also provided me with the gift of education, which has helped progress my career and my love of learning." 

Nello provided insight to how he leverages his military experience in his current position, "In the military, one of the first things I learned was discipline. At its most basic level, every organization, whether military or civilian, must take a disciplined approach to accomplishing their mission. This means employees are trained and accountable for their part of the mission. I learned a great deal about leadership and attention to detail, which is also important in every organization." 

To support our Veterans amongst our ranks, we must understand the complexities of their experiences and the ties with mental health, taking the time to listen and recognize their stories.  

As part of this Southland Stories series, some of the respondents shared their military rank as part of their story: 

  • Michael Willis, SPEC-4 

  • Jorge Vargas, Navy Rank: E7, Navy Chief Petty Officer 

  • Nello Tortora, Colonel and Commander of the U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center

  • Eric Waters, Company Senior Medic Assigned to 2nd Battalion 7th Infantry Regiment 

Jorge Vargas, Southland Industries
Don Fulton, Southland Industries
Michael Willis, Southland Industries
Nello Tortora
Eric Waters

Jorge Vargas

Don Fulton

Michael Willis

Nello Tortora

Eric Waters