‘Best of us all’: John Deere Dubuque Works honors military veteran employees

It has been nearly 10 years since Danielle Krueger left the U.S. Army Reserve, but the skills she learned there regularly serve her well in her current role as a material replenishment specialist at John Deere Dubuque Works.

The communication and leadership skills she honed in the military have been invaluable, she said, as well as the ability to work with others to efficiently achieve a goal. The same is true for all her veteran co-workers, she said, each of whom were taught to focus on hard, honest work.

“(Veterans) are able to execute tasks very efficiently. We look at the big picture, solve the problem and move on,” she said. “And then there’s the teamwork skills. In the military, not having that just isn’t an option. You have to function as a unit.”

Krueger was one of over 100 John Deere Dubuque Works employees recognized Thursday at an early Veterans Day celebration at the Dubuque factory. In honor of the holiday, employees will take today off.

The celebration has been held yearly since 2015 to recognize employees who previously served, said Dan Kerkhoff, chair of John Deere Dubuque Works’ Military Employee Resource Group (MERG) and former member of the Wisconsin National Guard.

In addition to a free meal, the event also included several speeches from company leaders and area veterans groups.

“A lot of these guys aren’t going to go out of their way to brag or pat themselves on the back for being a veteran,” Kerkhoff said. “They didn’t do it for recognition, but this is a way to recognize them anyway.”

Appearing over video chat, John Deere Dubuque Works General Manager Mark Dickson used the Thursday event as an opportunity to personally congratulate and recognize the factory’s veteran workers.

The Dubuque factory is one of many John Deere operations nationwide to participate in the company’s military hiring program aimed at providing career support for transitioning service members, veterans and eligible military dependents.

“Your … service and sacrifice represents the best of all of us and the best of the United States of America,” Dickson told employees. “And we’re very honored to have that as part of our John Deere team.”

For John Deere quality manager Gene Robertson, the event offered an opportunity to take a midday break ahead of the weekend and recollect on his time in the service with other veterans and co-workers.

Robertson joined John Deere in 1998, roughly one month after completing a seven-year stint in the U.S. Navy. A slew of veterans had joined the team around the same time, he said, which allowed him to make a comfortable transition to post-service life.

“It just provided that first connection,” he said. “A lot of folks in the production environment shared their military experiences with me, so it was pretty neat. … It makes me proud to see that John Deere recognizes its veterans like this.”

Held ahead of Veterans Day, the event also served to recognize the yearlong efforts of the Military Employee Resource Group.

Among other initiatives, the group recently started a podcast series featuring military veteran employees and how their service experience has intersected with their work at John Deere. They also have done several service events and fundraising efforts.

The group this year collected over 100,000 cans from John Deere employees to turn into can and bottle redemption centers. At 5 cents per can, the effort raised over $5,000 that was presented Thursday to Dubuque’s Veterans Freedom Center, a local veterans support organization.

“We want to make a difference in Dubuque and in the local community at large, as well as for veterans here at John Deere,” said MERG co-chair and Army veteran Alec Zwanziger. “And we’re ready to put in the talent and the action to make it happen.”

John Deere on Thursday also donated $5,000 to Retrieving Freedom Inc., a Waverly, Iowa-based company that trains service dogs for veterans and children with autism spectrum disorder, to be used to train a service dog for an area resident.

Representatives from both Retrieving Freedom and Veterans Freedom Center were in attendance at the luncheon, and each expressed gratitude for the donation as well as employees’ service.

“It’s always great to come out here,” said Jim Wagner, co-founder of Veterans Freedom Center. “And it’s great to be with other veterans. I think it’s a little easier to connect with folks you share that with, than it can be with other people.”