Each year, nearly 200,000 servicemen and women separate from active duty in the United States military. According to the Department of Defense, this results in approximately 1,300 new veterans and their families returning to civilian life every single day, numbers that are expected to increase in the coming years. While many returning troops have plans and objectives upon their return home, many others have challenges finding new jobs, identifying health care resources, or integrating their skills into new careers.
For veterans exploring the next step in their careers and lives, USDA stands ready to help. With rural Americans comprising only 16 percent of our total population, but about 40 percent of our military, USDA believes that the enormous scope of unique skills, experiences and perspectives held by those who served in the U.S. military can have enormous benefit for farming and ranching.
That’s why USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services Lanon Baccam, who also serves as the department’s Military Veterans Agricultural Liaison, recently visited Ft. Bliss in El Paso, Texas, as part of the Hiring Our Heroes Transition Summit. Hiring Our Heroes is a nationwide initiative sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation that helps veterans, transitioning service members and military spouses find meaningful employment opportunities in the civilian sector. In February 2015, USDA entered into an agreement with Hiring Our Heroes so that transitioning service members now have access to USDA programs and resources. The Ft. Bliss event marked the first of several transition summits in which USDA will participate.
Not knowing what to expect in terms of soldiers’ interest in USDA employment or farm and ranching opportunities, USDA agency representatives who accompanied Baccam said they were pleased with the turn out. More than 120 service men and women attended USDA’s session, learning how they, too, could establish a livelihood and lifestyle in rural America and in the agriculture industry.
An Army veteran, Baccam said that transitioning from the military to the agriculture industry is a natural fit for many. Hard work, loyalty, dedication, perseverance, patriotism and sense of duty are values common to both military service, farming, ranching and rural America.
Case in point: Joshua Eilers of Ranger Cattle in Austin, Texas. As a Sergeant, Eilers served as team leader in the U.S. Army’s elite First Ranger Battalion. Although raised in a rural community outside Austin, Eilers had no background in production agriculture. Fast forward post-military and you’ll now find Eilers managing his herd of full blood Wagyu beef that he markets directly to retail establishments and restaurants in Austin.
Many have questioned Eilers’ decision to enter the cattle business. Eilers' response? “Production agriculture affords me the opportunity to give back to my community in my post-military life.”
Eilers fully supports USDA’s efforts to transition veterans into careers with the department or into production agriculture enterprises.
“Veterans should take advantage of all that USDA has to offer. USDA services and programs are meant to help you; so let them help you,” said Eilers.
USDA is scheduled to participate in several more Hiring Our Heroes events at military installations throughout the U.S. For more information on USDA services and programs for veterans and military personnel, please visit www.usda.gov/veterans or contact your local USDA offices by visiting http://offices.usda.gov.