Spotlight: Veterans Find Purpose in Agriculture
For U.S. military members, finding an enjoyable career after service is often a tall task. But for veterans Bill Steele and Erin Martin, a career in the crop insurance industry did the trick. ProAg is committed to honoring veterans and recognizing them for their service, and CEO Kendall Jones shares why this culture of appreciation holds strong value to the company.
“We deeply value our team members and pay special thanks to those that served our country,” says Jones. “We believe honoring our veterans contributes to our integrity – and believe a commitment to integrity is an important part of what makes us unique in the industry.”
Every veteran has a unique story, and for Bill Steele and Erin Martin, both ProAg team members, their stories are no different.
From submarines to sunshine
Bill Steele, an E-9 rank Navy veteran, served from 1984 to 2012 in seven different states. Most of his long tenure was spent underwater in submarines, which helped influence his career path after serving.
“I didn’t get to see the sun a whole lot, so one of my priorities was finding a job that allowed me to see the sky and sunshine,” says Bill. “Agriculture was that perfect fit.”
Thinking ahead, he purchased a 42-acre retired apple orchard in 2007, which he then transitioned to farmable row-crop acres after he retired from the Navy. He moved to crop adjusting in 2014.
“My wife, who moved with me throughout my military career, comes from an agriculture family,” says Bill. “So, after 28 years of her sticking with me and being away from family, we moved to Washington where her family still farms silage corn and asparagus.”
Bill, who serves as an area claims supervisor for the Pacific Northwest, found ProAg after working at three different AIPs (Approved Insurance Providers). He reports being drawn to a company culture of high integrity and work ethic – two key aspects that strongly resonated with him from his days in the Navy.
“I’ve been in the crop insurance industry since 2014 and although I’ve only been at ProAg a short time, it’s clear to me the professionalism, integrity and ethics at ProAg closely resemble what I learned and experienced in the military and it could be a place I’d be proud to work for.”
Bill says he feels proud to help farmers who’ve lost everything and be a part of the backbone that growers must rely upon.
“Looking those growers in the eye and giving them peace of mind that we’re doing everything we can to support them is valuable to me,” reports Bill. “It’s not just words, it’s not just slogans, it’s evidenced throughout our company culture and makes me proud to go to work.”
For Erin Martin, an E-3 Army Reserve veteran who served in 1993, both the army and agriculture hold strong family ties. After service in Missouri and Texas, Erin was stationed at Fort Des Moines. She now serves as a business implementation lead at ProAg. Based in our West Des Moines, Iowa office, she helps write system requirements for Multi-Peril Crop Insurance (MPCI) policy features and coverages.
“My dad was a farmer, and both of my grandparents were farmers,” says Erin. “He was drafted for the Vietnam War where he served in the Air Force, stationed in Italy as a Morse code operator.”
Erin worked in a few different areas following her service, before moving to crop insurance. She reports her experiences in the Army Reserve prepared her nicely for a career in crop insurance.
“During my service, I worked in patient administration, so typing, accuracy and office classes translated well to my current role,” says Erin. “In my role, I get to help design how new crop insurance regulations from the government integrate within the ProAg systems in a way others can understand.”
Having been at ProAg for eight years, Erin says the people have made all the difference in her experience. She values a work culture that is open to new ideas and a willingness to try new things.
Advice for other veterans
When it comes to honoring veterans, ProAg values these often hidden and humble heroes, but knows that, much like farmers, the ability to share their stories is one of the best ways to recognize and celebrate those who have sacrificed. For Erin, who prefers to be modest about her service, a subtle nod is more than enough. Bill adds that a “thank you” and a handshake go a long way.
For other veterans transitioning to careers outside of the military, both Bill and Erin offer advice they would have benefited from at their retirement.
“My advice is to know that you’re provided the foundation and have all the tools necessary to succeed in anything you want to do,” says Bill. “Those same tools are extremely useful when applied in the crop insurance industry.”
Erin concurs and says that the spirit of bravery can go a long way. “The agriculture industry offers a lot of opportunities,” shares Erin. “My advice is to go for it whether you think you qualify or not.””\n\r”
Resources for veterans
Those who wish to support veterans through charitable opportunities are encouraged to review a list of organizations devoted to supporting U.S. veterans. A list and ways to donate can be found here.
For veterans interested in the crop insurance industry or a career at ProAg view our list of open positions.