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.
Dwight Anderson, assistant trainmaster, is one of NS’ valued veterans.
Army ‘Blackhorse’ veteran still in the saddle at the Thoroughbred of Transportation
During a 24-year career in the U.S. Army, Dwight Anderson patrolled the border of a divided Germany, trained deploying troops in armored warfare tactics at a California base, and survived bullets and improvised explosive devices in Iraq.
Dwight Anderson sees many similarities between the military and railroad operations. At NS, he works to ensure that train crews safely and efficiently meet the service needs of customers.
These days, combat is not on Anderson’s agenda: He oversees trains instead of tanks. After retiring as a first sergeant from the Army’s 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, Anderson in 2006 joined Norfolk Southern’s Operations Supervisor Trainee program in transportation.
In the decade since, he has found a rewarding second career at NS.
“Norfolk Southern is very welcoming to veterans,” Anderson said. “One thing I like is that we’re a big company, but we have a small company way of doing things. If you do good things and you’re dependable and competent, your name will go far and people will know who you are and how you operate.”
Now an assistant trainmaster based at Pomona Yard in Greensboro, N.C., Anderson helps NS serve customers and keep the freight moving on his Piedmont Division territory. He is responsible for and communicates daily with a group of local engineers and conductors, but he interacts with more than 200 train and engine employees on the territory. That includes making safety contacts and handling issues for road crews that move freight in and out of nearby Spencer Yard in Linwood, N.C.
Applying lessons learned in the military
From his first day as a trainmaster, Anderson has relied on skills honed leading a tank platoon and later serving as top noncommissioned officer responsible for administrative, logistical, and training duties of an entire company. A cardinal rule for an Army NCO, he said, is to know your people. At NS, he joined train crews on freight runs to learn how they throw switches, tie and release hand brakes, and make car couplings. It helped earn the respect of craft employees, he said.
“You don’t command your troops from the office – you go out there and spend time with them,” Anderson said. “I wasn’t sitting in the locomotive while they were doing the work. When it was raining, when it was cold, I was right alongside the conductor doing what he was doing to learn what he does.
“When you have responsibility for soldiers,” he added, “you need to not only know their names and how well trained they are, but what their spouse’s name is, how many children they have, and address any family issues that come up. That’s the way I treat my folks out here. If they aren’t successful, then there’s no way that I can be successful.”
A Bronze Star for service
A self-described rail fan, Anderson discovered NS while leafing through a military jobs magazine several months before retiring from the service. It included a list of companies interested in hiring veterans, and he applied to the three railroads on it – initially for a conductor’s job.
“Norfolk Southern was the first to respond, and that’s who I went with,” he said, explaining he later learned about the OST program and qualified for it. The 11thArmored Cavalry is nicknamed the “Blackhorse” regiment, which he took as a good omen for choosing the Thoroughbred of Transportation. “Being with NS,” he said, “I’ve still got a black horse.”
During his military career, Anderson earned a Bronze Star for serving 15 months in Iraq with the 1st Armored Division during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 and 2004. He was assigned to the Army inspector general’s office in Baghdad, a role that involved traveling to U.S. command outposts to monitor operations. He survived several encounters with enemy insurgents, including an IED ambush while riding in a convoy through Baghdad that critically injured several U.S. troops, and a nighttime rocket attack on an outpost he was visiting.
From 1982 to 1986, Anderson was part of a Cold War squadron that patrolled a 200-mile section of fence separating East and West Germany, serving as a “first line of defense” against the former Soviet Union. He was stationed in Bad Hersfeld in West Germany, across from a large Soviet base in Eisenach in East Germany, along a border rife with enemy anti-personnel mines.
Taking care of business
Anderson sees many similarities between the military and railroading, the most important being an emphasis on safely completing your daily missions. In his case, that means working to ensure that train crews safely and efficiently meet the service needs of NS customers.
“In the military, you give somebody their orders and the goals to be met, you provide guidance throughout the day as you monitor their progress, and if they have issues that arise, it’s your responsibility to deal with those issues,” Anderson said. “That’s pretty much the same mentality I use at Norfolk Southern. I treat everybody like I’d like to be treated.”
The Greensboro yard where he has an office serves as a small hub for premium intermodal freight, handling five intermodal trains daily. Anderson also has helped NS strengthen service and expand business opportunities for general merchandise customers on the company’s 30-mile line segment between High Point and Asheboro, N.C. The line now serves more than a dozen customers, including plastic manufacturers, a box plant, and a company that converts coiled steel into retail construction products.
“That’s kind of been my baby,” Anderson said. “It was this sleepy little line when I got here, and now it’s one of the bigger revenue producers on the Piedmont. We’ve got train crews out here that are all over customer service, and they’ve done a great job keeping our customers happy.”
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