Military Transition: Workin' on the Railroad

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Kelly King is a former Adjutant General Captain who is now Director of International Rail Operations Support for the Kansas City Southern Railway Company. interviewed Kelly to get some insights on her industry and her transition experiences.

Tell us about your military background.

I graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 2005, and my first duty station was Ft. Drumm in New York with the AG corps. I deployed with Ft. Drumm for 15 months to Iraq and then finished up my five-year career in Korea at Camp Red Cloud, and that’s where I was when I transitioned out.

Were there a lot of trials and tribulations during your transition?

There definitely were. Being located outside the U.S.,  making the transition and finding work outside of the military, trying to get noticed and find job applications in the States -- it was more difficult. I initially went through a few headhunters, and I won’t name names, but they weren’t very accommodating so I didn’t have a good experience right off the bat. I ended up dropping it altogether and trying to find work on my own once I got back to the U.S., just posting applications everywhere and putting my resume on That’s how Orion discovered me, based on my resume, and within a month after they contacted me I had my first interview, so it worked out great and I was very fortunate.

Did you go to a hiring conference?

My circumstance is a little different, my husband is still in the military, in the Wounded Warrior program at Ft. Riley, Kansas, so for me location was very important. I didn’t have the option of saying, “I’ll go anywhere,” but they were very accommodating and only looked for jobs in Kansas City, so they didn’t require me to go to a hiring conference. That was one of the major pluses for Orion -- they were very willing to work with you and your individual situation, where some other hiring firms would require you to go hiring conferences and be there even if you had a particular idea of where you wanted to go.

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What adjustments did you have to make compared to work environment and lifestyle in the military?

For me personally, not that it’s a bad habit, but I had to get out of the habit of calling everyone “Sir.” When people in the civilian world say, “Please just call me Dave,” they really mean it. [laughs] That was one minor adjustment. In terms of the industry I’m in, there’s some very strong parallels to the military because it’s a 24/7 operation, with a lot of coordination, and night and day shifts, so that sort of environment was easy for me to understand. The lifestyle is very similar. There are certain guidelines to follow, I have regular office hours, I’m not required to be available all the time, but in terms of daily operations, I have a specific area I’m in charge of, but my tasks vary on any given day, depending on customers, and working with service that we provide, which I enjoy. I’m not just sitting in front of a desk or computer all day. Sometimes I attend meetings internally, sometimes I attend customer meetings, I travel a bit here and there.

What's a typical work day like working for the railway company?

I come in around 7 in the morning and we have a daily conference call at 7:30 that lasts an hour, on every day except Sunday. Then I usually have a meeting at 8:30 with Mexico, where we do some of our business, and talk about service issues. We handle customer issues related to billing, and anything that requires approval. I facilitate connecting my managers with customers, and oversee the relationship. There's also a lot of data management. Because it’s a railroad I deal with individual cars, so you work a lot in Excel and our own database system. In the afternoon, depending on what’s going on, I’m involved with special projects for the company outside my specific duties, such as acquiring computer systems and devices from vendors, or dealing with customer issues and handling business with customers. On the side, I travel a bit because I manage some personnel in Mexico who deal with the same subject matter I handle in the U.S.

Are there particular skills you learned in the military that have helped you at this job?

Definitely being able to prioritize what needs to get done -- it was a very important skill that I was taught in the military, and it was very helpful in transition. Being able to identify what needs to be done right away has proven to be very beneficial here.

Every day it’s never the same thing, and I enjoy that. I know some people would be uneasy with that, but it’s refreshing and not so monotonous. I enjoy it.

The railroad industry in general is a great avenue for people looking for work right out of the military. They are definitely a military-friendly industry, and I’d encourage people to look into it.

Any new skills you had to pick up along the way?

Since I was in college there's been changes with software and data programs -- we use FAP, and business-related data systems and databases we don’t use in the military. I had to familiarize myself with all of that. They all have the same function but they operate differently. Just like anything else, if you use it, you can get used to it.

Do you have any advice for transitioning service members?

Be confident. Don’t sell yourself short. Just because you don’t have 10 years of experience doesn’t mean you can’t handle the same job that somebody has 10 years of experience doing. There’s a lot of skills in the military that people don’t realize are critical, but apply to every job no matter what field it is.

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