When Alston Cleary enlisted in the Army as a maintenance technician in 1988, it was a four-year commitment to help pay for college. Thirty years later, he retired as a chief warrant officer 5, the highest warrant officer rank in the Army.
“I kept seeing opportunities and things kept working out,” he said. “So I kept staying.”
Cleary retired in 2018, but he wasn’t ready to stop working. He just wanted a different opportunity.
“I feel like I have a lot to give,” said the life member of DAV Chapter 2 in Davenport, Iowa. “So I wanted to keep doing something.”
With the help of a DAV job fair, Cleary found a way.
Soon after retiring, he got a call from a former superior who offered him military contract work traveling to different installations and performing maintenance inspections, which he did for over three years.
But Cleary kept his eyes peeled for jobs in the civilian workforce. While he enjoyed contract work, he wanted something more stable.
In late 2021, Cleary attended a virtual DAV job fair where he was introduced to Home Base Iowa, an organization that helps connect businesses with qualified veterans. Cleary submitted his résumé to Home Base and soon received an email from someone at John Deere, the American manufacturer known for its deer-stamped tractors and other agricultural machinery.
Cleary hesitated for about a week but ultimately decided it was worth a conversation and reached back out.
“The person I spoke to was someone who also served in the military, who could relate to a lot of stuff I told him about my goals and what I really wanted to do and where I was in life,” Cleary said. “I really felt like there was a connection made, so I felt like I belonged already.”
Cleary is now a Total Productive Maintenance coordinator for the John Deere plant in East Moline, Illinois, near company headquarters. He ensures factory equipment is operational, plans for preventive maintenance and helps solve equipment issues when they arise.
“The position really worked out to be exactly where I needed to be,” Cleary said. “It almost reminds me of the military, because it’s another great team.”
Finding that fit for both veteran and employer is what DAV’s National Employment Program is all about.
“DAV knows how crucial meaningful employment is to a veteran’s successful transition from the military and into civilian life. We also know the incredible skills and experience veterans like Alston Cleary bring to the table,” said acting DAV National Employment Director Rob Lougee. “Through our partnership with RecruitMilitary, DAV connects veterans with employers who understand their value and offer them fulfilling opportunities.”
Cleary said learning how to translate his military experience for the civilian workforce was key to landing the job and continues to be a part of his workday. He encourages veterans and transitioning service members to research the skills required for the field they’re interested in and think about how those skills connect to their military experience.
“A lot of things that I do in the military are the same things that I’m doing at John Deere,” he said. “They just have different acronyms or call them different things.”
His problem-solving nature has allowed him to adapt and thrive. It’s a quality so often cultivated in the military, but Cleary also attributes his work ethic to his upbringing in Jamaica.
“I think that’s where it all started,” he said. “I’ve always seen myself as a better performer in stressful environments, because I like to be the voice of calm that comes in and says, ‘OK, here’s what we’re going to do.’”
For more information and additional resources for job seekers, visit dav.org/veterans/employment-resources.