As an officer in the U.S. Army Medical Service Corps, Ben Christensen set up and ran a medical clinic for 4,000 troops at Shindand Air Base in Afghanistan’s western desert. Just 75 miles from the Iran border, the airfield regularly came under fire from rocket attacks. Getting used to the sight and sounds of rocket fire became as routine for Christensen as putting in an order for new medical supplies.
“The enemy never showed their faces, but right around dinner time, you’d hear a big boom and everyone was supposed to go to the bunkers and hide,” Christensen said. “You get used to it, and soon you don’t hear it as much anymore.”
Operating in tight spots was also an everyday challenge for Michael Ritchart, who flew UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters during two combat tours in Iraq. Carrying out missions over more than two decades in the U.S. Air Force and Army, Ritchart learned that few things were more important than duty, loyalty and service to the team.
“When you go overseas, your family is left behind,” he said. “The only family you have is the family right next to you in that combat zone. We rely on each other.”
He no longer flies, but Ritchart still sees things from the same perspective. These days, far removed from Afghanistan and Iraq, he and Christensen are putting their mission-driven focus and team-building experience to work as operations leaders for Lowe’s. They are tasked with leading the teams that will open Lowe’s new direct fulfillment center (DFC) later this year in Coopertown, Tennessee. Including Christensen and Ritchart, the facility has hired eleven veterans. Those eleven currently make up 27 percent of the DFC’s leadership team of coaches and managers.
Renee Heltsley, the fulfillment center’s human resources manager, is bringing in coaches with the leadership skills to motivate and develop a team of hourly employees. But she said what’s just as important, especially at a new facility, is the ability to ignore whatever is swirling around them and keep driving forward – skills she’s seen in the seven veterans who represent the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Army Reserve.
“They are very adept at working with a variety of personalities, and they don’t let things bother them,” Heltsley said. “In leaders, we look for the ability to work in ambiguity. As we stand up the building, we are not operational. We don’t have a traditional work environment just yet. We need someone who can handle gray areas.”
Heltsley and her team don’t have to look too far to find qualified candidates. Just up Interstate 24 from the new facility is Fort Campbell. The base supports one of the largest military populations in the Army and is known for developing soldiers with leadership skills, strong character and a commitment to team – all qualities Lowe’s values in employees.
“The veterans have perspective and an ability to keep people’s minds on what’s important,” she added.
And what’s important for this team is getting the new center up and running, with a strong, reliable workforce to support it. The 1.1. million-square-foot facility will ship parcel packages directly to Lowe’s customers and stores and will be one of the most technologically sophisticated operations the company has built. Lowe’s expects the direct fulfillment center will employ approximately 600 people by 2023. All available positions are posted on Jobs.lowes.com, and hiring for hourly roles will continue throughout the year.
Lowe’s was founded by World War II veteran Carl Buchan, and today more than 14,000 service members, veterans and military spouses work throughout the company. The company continues to honor those who have served through its military discount program.
Words of Advice
The veterans in leadership roles at Lowe’s new direct fulfillment center have a variety of military experience. They shared some advice for those transitioning from the armed forces to civilian jobs, or looking at opportunities at Lowe’s: