Christine Perkins, a former Army Reservist, calls the time she spent deployed in Iraq in 2003 one of her most “formative” experiences. It gave her a new lease on life — in part because of the moments that made her unsure her life would continue.
“I drove a fuel truck through the streets of Iraq in a place referred to as the ‘triangle of death,’” Perkins said. “I probably shouldn’t be here as many times as I’ve experienced IEDs (bombs) or being shot at, but I am and I consider this life a gift.”
This perspective, she added, has led her to feel she’s “here for a purpose,” saying she believes in “adding value to whatever I do” because of that. But when transitioning from the military to a civilian career path, she wasn’t entirely sure where that sense of purpose would ultimately take her. Enter Kohler Co.
Today serving as an HR Project Leader at the company — based, where else, but in Kohler, Wisconsin — Perkins is also a founding member of the Kohler Alliance of Veterans and Supporters. It’s one of the many ways her work allows her to “pursue her purpose,” adding that “if you can’t feel it in your heart, your hands aren’t going to work to their fullest potential.”
Recently, she shared with Fairygodboss what about her military background primed her for life at Kohler, as well as her No. 1 piece of advice to female job seekers.
How long have you been in your current role, and what were you doing previously?
I’ve been in my current role as an HR Project Leader for about two years. When I first joined Kohler, I worked on establishing and enhancing programs within our Talent Acquisition team. Prior to Kohler, I was with another large global manufacturing organization working in HR communications and change management.
What factors were most important to you in transitioning from a military to civilian job? Are there any challenges associated with that transition that people may not be aware of?
I was an Army Reservist for eight years (with a deployment to Iraq in 2003 which lasted closer to 18 months with training), so I must admit that my transition wasn’t nearly as difficult as what a 20-year service member might experience. I still experienced challenges, however, as I transitioned to the civilian workforce during a period when we were all learning about the serious effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). There was this stigma out there that there was something “wrong” with me because I served in a combat zone. I was about to remove all of my military experience from my resume so I could avoid the topic all together. It took me several months to find the right fit and an employer who valued my service and saw my potential.
Beyond getting in the door, transitioning service members have a major adjustment moving into the corporate culture. In the military, it is highly structured and we know the time in grade, rank and required experiences needed to get to the next level (or promotion). But in the corporate world, advancement isn’t always a linear path and it’s often not very clear.
What did your company do to help ease the transition, and how have you felt supported working here?
I was fortunate to work for an amazing woman early in my career who really cared about me as an individual and believed in the value I could bring to the organization. Under her mentorship and over a nine-year period, I advanced in my scope and responsibility, taking on projects that challenged me and helped me grow both personally and professionally. I credit the good Lord, my husband and family, and this wonderful woman for what I have been able to accomplish in my career. And now, with Kohler, I’ve been equally as blessed to work with the best of the best, and I continue to learn and grow each day.
How and why did you first get involved in Kohler Alliance of Veterans and Supporters?
In 2017, a group of associates here at Kohler organized a Veterans Gala for all Kohler Company Veterans. It was an amazing event (fully funded by donations made by our fellow associates, mind you) and keynoted by Laura Kohler who spoke of her support for veterans and Kohler’s long-time support of military operations. This event was the spark that got many of us talking: “Hey, we should start our own Kohler Veterans group!”
At the time, I had just had my third child and didn’t feel like I had the extra capacity to take it on (and I was secretly hopeful someone else would do it). But another year passed and still no group was formed. So when this idea of a veterans group came up again in the fall of 2018, I felt called to the challenge. The time was right. Thankfully, several passionate team members joined me and together, KAVS was launched! I really credit the team for rallying around this idea and finding a way to get it done, and Kohler Co. for supporting us! It’s been so exciting to see this take off.
What’s the No. 1 thing you think you colleagues should know — but probably don’t know — about KAVS?
We are 100 percent inclusive. You don’t need to be a veteran to join and we welcome all with open arms. We see a supporter or ally as an integral part of how we build a more inclusive culture. In fact, one of our founding members of the leadership group calls herself “just a supporter” because she didn’t serve. We scold her every time she says that because each of us veterans hold a special place in our hearts for those that have supported us during the most challenging times in our lives. Supporters are integral to our military service member’s success. Supporters and veterans alike are welcome allies of KAVS!
What are KAVS’ top three priorities right now?
Our group is not a social club (although there are some social aspects). We are here to deliver value back to the Kohler business in the following ways:
Recruitment. The national unemployment rate is at ~3.8% and we have so many open roles that military are a perfect fit for (front line leaders, skilled trades, supply chain, etc).
Engage/inspire our veterans and supporters. From our mentorship program to regular events (like our upcoming Memorial Day ceremony), we strive to build a sense of belonging among our group. We’re building a sense of community!
Giving back. We just sent Girl Scout cookies to six fellow Kohler associates who are deployed overseas!
And a bonus fourth goal. Our CEO asked us to build our own Kohler veterans memorial on our campus in Kohler, Wisconsin. We are thrilled to take on this bold and exciting challenge.
Do you believe your military background has provided you with any unique perspectives or talents that aid your career today?
Serving in the military, especially for those who were deployed, is an incredibly formative experience. I drove a fuel truck through the streets of Iraq in a place referred to as the “triangle of death.” (My poor parents must have been so worried!) I probably shouldn’t be here as many times as I’ve experienced IEDs or being shot at, but I am and I consider this life a gift. With this perspective, I can take any challenge, stress or setback with unique perspective. I believe I’m here for a purpose and am focused on adding value to whatever I do.
What’s your #1 piece of advice for women, and especially other women veterans, who are looking for jobs right now?
Find an organization that allows you to pursue your purpose. If you can’t feel it in your heart, your hands aren’t going to work to their fullest potential.
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