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After traveling the world, finding a home at NS

November 2016

Susan Decker_20161103_11017
Susan Decker is pictured inside NS’ Norfolk headquarters

Norfolk Southern is recognized nationally as a Fortune 500 leader in hiring military veterans. Currently, more than 3,800 of the company’s employees are veterans – about 14 percent of the workforce. With their technical training, leadership abilities, and experience gained through military service, veterans bring skills and work traits essential to rail operations.

Susan Decker, EEO officer, is one of NS’ valued veterans.

Railroad a good fit for retired Navy chief petty officer and military advocate

Unsure of what she wanted to do in life, Susan Decker joined the Navy when she was 17. As a seaman recruit, she observed her 18th birthday at her first command post in Naples, Italy. Over the next 24 years, Decker found her direction while literally traveling the world.

Eventually achieving the rank of chief petty officer, Decker served on warships that steamed through the Panama and Suez canals, crossed the equator, and supported two U.S. military operations – Desert Storm, the 1991 campaign to drive invading Iraqi forces from Kuwait, and Operation Enduring Freedom, launched in 2001 in Afghanistan to root out al-Qaida militants after the 9/11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

In 2007, Decker traded in her Navy blues to become a railroader at Norfolk Southern. Now, she serves NS as an equal employment opportunity officer, for the first time in her career working regular business hours in an office at the railroad’s Norfolk headquarters.

A voice for military veterans

Inside and outside NS, Decker is an advocate for military veterans.  “I wear my military close to my heart,” she said.

“It’s important for people to know that veterans can greatly benefit the company by the skills they bring, the diversity they bring, and just the heart they bring to a job.”
- Susan Decker, EEO officer

In October, she helped form a Norfolk chapter of the NS employee resource group VeteraNS. NS employees in Atlanta formed the first VeteraNS chapter in 2012. Decker said the group’s primary mission is to support veterans, reservists, and their families at the railroad and in the community. That includes educating nonveterans about issues facing current and former members of the military.

“It’s my belief that everybody at Norfolk Southern knows someone who is a veteran,” Decker said. “It’s important for people to know that veterans can greatly benefit the company by the skills they bring, the diversity they bring, and just the heart they bring to a job.”

In Norfolk, home to the world’s largest Navy base, Decker volunteers to help veterans transition from the military to civilian life. She currently mentors a transitioning veteran through a local community college program. She also has begun donating time to the Honor Foundation, a transition readiness initiative geared toward Navy Seals and U.S. special operations forces preparing to leave the military.

“It’s putting Norfolk Southern’s name out there not just to get people to come work for us, but to brand NS as a company that cares about veterans and all military and their families,” Decker said.

As a seaman recruit, Decker picked communications as her specialty, serving as a radioman. The job title later was updated to information systems technician, making the skills more marketable in the civilian world. On her last command, she served as division leading chief petty officer aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan. In railroad terms, she was the equivalent of an assistant terminal superintendent. She oversaw resources for about 40 crew members, managed the ship’s information network, including classified communications, and was in charge of the system that encrypted shipboard messages.

Finding structure at the railroad

As she prepared to retire from the Navy, she learned about the Operations Supervisor Trainee program from an NS recruiter who showed up at a Navy transition assistance program class she attended. After completing the OST program, she became a general yardmaster, a job that involved working with train crews to manage the flow of coal trains and rail cars at NS’ Lamberts Point Coal Terminal in Norfolk.

Decker said her transition from the Navy went smoothly because railroad operations are similar to her military experience: there is a clear chain of command; there are daily missions to accomplish; and safety is at the forefront.

“I like the structure, and I like the safety orientation the railroad has, so it was easy for me,” she said. “The railroad provides flexibility in your decision-making, but there is a structure and clear expectations.”

In 2010, after years of field work, she leveraged her military experience to land her current job as EEO officer. As a chief petty officer, she handled sailor welfare duties, responsibilities similar to those of civilian employees who work in human resource departments. Her current job includes tracking NS’ success in hiring veterans and recording the number of disabled veterans at NS, a requirement for companies doing business with the federal government. NS transports military vehicles and other freight for the federal government.

Decker counts herself among the disabled veterans working at NS. To help NS meet its reporting requirements, she encourages disabled vets who have not done so to update their personal information on NS’ online Employee Resource Center. Employees are not asked to specify their disability.

“Norfolk Southern supports me as a disabled veteran, and I think that’s important,” Decker said. “We’re always out there looking and trying to get veterans into the company. I think we’re on a very positive path.”

Finding structure at the railroad

As she prepared to retire from the Navy, she learned about the Operations Supervisor Trainee program from an NS recruiter who showed up at a Navy transition assistance program class she attended. After completing the OST program, she became a general yardmaster, a job that involved working with train crews to manage the flow of coal trains and rail cars at NS’ Lamberts Point Coal Terminal in Norfolk.

 

Decker said her transition from the Navy went smoothly because railroad operations are similar to her military experience: there is a clear chain of command; there are daily missions to accomplish; and safety is at the forefront.

 

“I like the structure, and I like the safety orientation the railroad has, so it was easy for me,” she said. “The railroad provides flexibility in your decision-making, but there is a structure and clear expectations.”

 

In 2010, after years of field work, she leveraged her military experience to land her current job as EEO officer. As a chief petty officer, she handled sailor welfare duties, responsibilities similar to those of civilian employees who work in human resource departments. Her current job includes tracking NS’ success in hiring veterans and recording the number of disabled veterans at NS, a requirement for companies doing business with the federal government. NS transports military vehicles and other freight for the federal government.

 

Decker counts herself among the disabled veterans working at NS. To help NS meet its reporting requirements, she encourages disabled vets who have not done so to update their personal information on NS’ online Employee Resource Center. Employees are not asked to specify their disability.

 

“Norfolk Southern supports me as a disabled veteran, and I think that’s important,” Decker said. “We’re always out there looking and trying to get veterans into the company. I think we’re on a very positive path.”

 

Finding structure at the railroad

As she prepared to retire from the Navy, she learned about the Operations Supervisor Trainee program from an NS recruiter who showed up at a Navy transition assistance program class she attended. After completing the OST program, she became a general yardmaster, a job that involved working with train crews to manage the flow of coal trains and rail cars at NS’ Lamberts Point Coal Terminal in Norfolk.

 

Decker said her transition from the Navy went smoothly because railroad operations are similar to her military experience: there is a clear chain of command; there are daily missions to accomplish; and safety is at the forefront.

 

“I like the structure, and I like the safety orientation the railroad has, so it was easy for me,” she said. “The railroad provides flexibility in your decision-making, but there is a structure and clear expectations.”

 

In 2010, after years of field work, she leveraged her military experience to land her current job as EEO officer. As a chief petty officer, she handled sailor welfare duties, responsibilities similar to those of civilian employees who work in human resource departments. Her current job includes tracking NS’ success in hiring veterans and recording the number of disabled veterans at NS, a requirement for companies doing business with the federal government. NS transports military vehicles and other freight for the federal government.

 

Decker counts herself among the disabled veterans working at NS. To help NS meet its reporting requirements, she encourages disabled vets who have not done so to update their personal information on NS’ online Employee Resource Center. Employees are not asked to specify their disability.

 

“Norfolk Southern supports me as a disabled veteran, and I think that’s important,” Decker said. “We’re always out there looking and trying to get veterans into the company. I think we’re on a very positive path.”