As a boy, Joshua Eilers had two dreams.
“I wanted to be a soldier,” he said. “And I wanted to be a cowboy.”
Eilers has managed to fulfill both ambitions, after successfully transitioning from the Army to become the the owner of Ranger Cattle, supplying high-end Wagyu beef to restaurants in Texas.
A former Army Ranger, Purple Heart recipient, and veteran of four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, Eilers used the GI bill to get a biology degree from the University of Texas, where he also took some classes in entrepreneurship. This gave him the skills and confidence to transition from military service to a job in the agriculture industry.
Government officials and industry leaders are now encouraging other veterans to follow a similar path.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes hosted a roundtable on August 23 to discuss how the agriculture industry could be a place of employment for thousands of transitioning service members and their spouses.
“We’re working with Hiring Our Heroes to provide veterans an easier way to understand opportunities in agriculture,” said Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture. “What we know is that veterans are problem solvers. They understand duty and responsibility. They are incredible hires.”
HOH and the USDA announced in February a partnership to increase employment opportunities in the agricultural sector for veterans and their spouses. The USDA’s Farm Service Agency also said it would expand its collaboration with the Department of Defense to find jobs for the more than 200,000 service members transitioning out of the military each year.
Fast Track to Agriculture
As part of the effort to connect veterans with agriculture jobs, HOH announced that it will expand its Fasttrackforheroes.org online portal to include a section related to agriculture. The agriculture track is being developed with the support of farm coopertive CHS. It will include detailed, searchable, job listings, complete with salary and benefit information, and other tools to help veterans find new opportunities in the agriculture industry.
FastTrackforHeroes.org already includes tracks for trucking and transportation, entertainment and media, manufacturing, insurance, oil and gas, and financial services.
Hiring Our Heroes will be working with industry leaders, including CHS, Fastport, and many other organizations in attendance at the August 23 event, to ensure the agriculture track website is robust.
Telling the Ag Story
Will veterans be drawn to jobs in agriculture? They can, industry leaders said, if they understand that there’s more to it than driving a tractor.
“It’s more than just crops and handling livestock…it’s about technology, and data,” said Lanon Baccam, the deputy under secretary for farm and agricultural services at the USDA. “Agriculture involves STEM. It’s all a part of it.”
Hiring Our Heroes President Eric Eversole noted that agriculture jobs will allow veterans to continue to serve.
“We have to be able to tell the story of agriculture being about national security, economic opportunity, and community,” he said.
That sense of service continues with Eilers as he sees his beef served at restaurants throughout Texas.
“I base my success on how many people I’m feeding,” he said. “And right now, I am feeding 250 people a night.”