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Hiring Our Heroes: Military Vets Find Their Niche at Southeastern

“Our veterans accepted the responsibility to defend America and uphold our values when duty called.” —Bill Shuster

As most employees in the equipment industry know, there are countless ways people end up in the profession. A straight line between a degree and a job isn’t necessarily the route. For some, the technical know-how, skills, and discipline gained during their military careers helped pave the way for their success at Southeastern, and many places in between.

We are pleased to recognize and thank our veterans for their contributions to our country, and our company. Here’s a look at how some of our vets are using their talents and military training to deliver on our mission of providing groundbreaking service.


Sergeant John Merz | Marine Corps

Sales Representative, Burlington

Continuing the Legacy

Military roots run deep in John’s family. His parents and brother served in the Air Force, and his sister was a Marine. Out of a strong sense of duty to his country, John enlisted and kept the legacy going. He served in the Marine Corps from 1988-1993, first in Aviation Operations, then in Intelligence during the Gulf War and Operation Desert Storm.

After John left the service, he took a position as an estimator for an asphalt company, which sparked his interest in the equipment side of the business. In 2005, he was working for Nation’s Rent when one of his customers told him about an opening for a Sales Rep at Southeastern’s Monroe Branch. He got the position and later relocated to Burlington.

While protecting our country and way of life, John says he learned key lessons along that he still draws on today. “One of the most profound things was the sense of camaraderie I experienced with a group of fellows from different backgrounds, working together as one,” he notes. “That kind of culture is important. The reason Southeastern has been successful for so many years is that they are a family-owned business, and the management team truly cares about what’s going on. They value the importance of treating our customers with respect and honesty.”


Sergeant Will Little | Army

Parts Manager, Indianapolis

Will enlisted in the Army in 2006 as a Wheeled Vehicle Mechanic. In his role, he supervised and performed field maintenance, repair, and recovery on mission-critical vehicles such as Humvees and armored vehicles used for combat support and troop transportation.

Purple Heart Hero

Will served in Iraq (2007-2008) and Afghanistan (2010-2011). While recovering a downed piece of equipment in Afghanistan, Will’s unit took direct enemy fire.

As they scrambled to avoid the bullets and bombs, he was thrown by an explosion and the armor plate in his vest went through his back. His actions that day earned him the Purple Heart, a military honor awarded to those who have been wounded in the line of duty.

After his discharge, Will was working at a job in Fort Wayne when he heard about a Parts Assistant position at Southeastern’s Indianapolis Branch. He landed the job in 2018 and has since been promoted to Parts Manager.

Will credits his military experience with strengthening his organizational skills and personal integrity. “If you look at my desk, it’s always neat. I think anyone who’s been in the military takes those organizational habits with them. We’re kind of weirdos in that way,” he laughs.

“But the biggest thing I learned was integrity. If you make a mistake, own it. And be willing to do anything you ask of others. Parts are parts. But every day is different in terms of how you respond to challenges and work together as a team to solve them. That’s what makes Southeastern a good fit for me.”


Corporal Paul Kerber | Marine Corps

Purchasing Specialist, Dublin

Guarding the President

Paul enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1992, serving in the Infantry Regiment until he was selected for Presidential Support Duty in Washington DC and Camp David. So what’s it like to be a U.S. Marine guarding the president? According to Paul, it takes patience, poise, knowing how to use a 9mm Beretta, and a very thorough background check.

“I was at Camp David during Clinton’s first term, and he visited a lot,” recalls Paul. “It could be very demanding, but I tend to work better under stress. I enjoyed it and am very proud of my service.”

Paul left the Marines in 1996. Over the years he’s worked in a variety of industries including landscaping, welding, excavation, and purchasing. Last December he saw an opening for a Purchasing Specialist at Southeastern and decided to apply.

“My attention to detail, ability to meet deadlines, and the organizational skills I gained in the service make purchasing a great fit for me,” says Paul.

“This is probably the best job I’ve had since I left the service. Everyone is friendly and down to earth. It’s such a relief to feel comfortable.”


Seaman Apprentice David Lockhart | Navy

Sales Territory Manager, Monroe

A native of Reno, Nevada, David joined the Navy right out of high school in 1987. As an Electrician’s Mate and Navy HT (Hull Maintenance Technician), he served aboard the aircraft carriers USS Ranger and USS Kitty Hawk where he helped keep the ships in top operating condition. He also completed an intensive program that trained him to save the lives of service members on downed or endangered vessels at sea. In 1989, his military career was cut short after both of his eardrums ruptured during a rapid descent rescue simulation.

From Saddle to Sales

David returned to Reno and launched a successful career in equipment and parts sales spanning more than 20 years across several industries. Having grown up on his grandparents’ ranch, he also pursued his lifelong interest in horses as a professional trainer. So what brought him to Southeastern?

“In 2011, I moved to Ohio to be with the lovely lady who eventually became my wife,” says David. A few years later, he saw a sales position with Southeastern on Indeed and decided to go for it. “It turned out to be a great job for me. Growing up on a horse ranch and with my background in agriculture, a lot of my customers are the kinds of people I’d be friends with – farm owners and construction company folks.”

For David, the power of teamwork is a life lesson the military taught him that has stood the test of time. “Being able to rely on your team members, and they on you, is what it really boils down to,” he notes. “We have fantastic service and parts departments, a knowledgeable sales team, a great branch manager, and supportive executives. It’s good to be part of a culture where we help each other out.”


Sergeant Rob Gonzalez | Army

Regional Sales Manager, Indianapolis

Rob was motivated to join the military after 9/11. He served in the Army National Guard from 2002-2010, first as a Military Police Officer and then as a Sergeant. In 2004, he was deployed to Iraq where he led his unit in providing convoy security and force protection.

Throughout his career, Rob pursued his interests in construction, heavy equipment, and business development in positions with Summit Truck Equipment, NES Rentals, and TruGreen where he oversaw sales for 18 branches in Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. He joined Southeastern in 2019 as Regional Sales Manager for the greater Indianapolis area.

Leadership is Key

Rob says his biggest takeaway from his time in the service comes down to one word: leadership. “Eight years in the Army taught me a lot about leadership, how to build a team and gain their respect,” says Rob. “You learned a lot by observing what kind of leader you wanted to be.”

As he notes, being a good leader starts with being the ultimate team player. “In the military, it’s never about one person. We weren’t going to win the war as individuals. But if you can use your leadership to help everyone be their best, you can make a difference together.”

The drive to make a difference is still what gets Rob up in morning. “I enjoy seeing our branches develop, watching it click, and having an opportunity to coach our team,” he notes. “The senior leadership cares about the company, the people, and the things we can all improve on together. It’s an exciting group to be a part of.”


Sergeant Robert Cichon | Army

Service Technician, Dublin

A Unique Career Path

After finishing high school in 2004, Robert enlisted in the Army National Guard where he served with the 1-148th Infantry Regiment and the 211th Maintenance Company. When Hurricane Katrina made landfall in August 2005, his unit was mobilized for military response to assist with the devastation along the Louisiana Gulf Coast. As a Wheeled Vehicle Mechanic and Sergeant, Robert led a unit that kept the Humvees, Bradley fighting vehicles, and heavy equipment running to deliver food and supplies to flood-ravaged areas.

When he left the Army in 2010, Robert first worked for Med Flight’s ambulance fleet, then later for The Ohio State University Airport as a ground fleet mechanic. While at OSU, he saw an opening for a tech at Southeastern on LinkedIn. He was familiar with the name since the airport had purchased some snow removal equipment from Southeastern. He decided to apply and was selected for the job.

“Some people like me who go straight into the military after high school have a tough time transitioning,” he noted. “A lot of employers only want civilian experience. But Southeastern saw the value in my training and experience. Everyone is very friendly and supportive. I’ve never felt like I didn’t belong.”


Sergeant Austin Barber | Army

Sales Representative, Dublin

After enlisting in the Army In 2004, Austin was stationed in South Korea. He later attended Ranger School and was deployed to Iraq in 2006. “Always be prepared” is more than a cliché to Austin. It became a way of life.

Hard Situations

As a sergeant, he led soldiers on difficult missions as they patrolled cities, secured routes, and searched for explosives. His platoon lost 3 soldiers in one month, including his gunner who took shrapnel in his leg the day their truck hit a powerful IED.

“I learned a lot about myself in the army. You get tested, knocked down, and become stronger for it.”

Following his discharge in 2010, he completed his degree in business and construction management at Hocking College in Ohio. In 2012, a friend told him about a Sales opening he saw at Southeastern.

Austin had previous experience at an excavating company, and he’d completed an internship with Kokosing. He applied for the job, and the rest is history.

“The pieces all fell into place,” Austin recalls. “My military background gave me great experience for this job, especially in terms of my time management skills. I also have a lot of respect for our clients. They are trusting me and our company with their assets. So I’m very dedicated to helping them grow their business with the right equipment.”


Sergeant Jeff Schenck | Army

Service Technician, North Canton

Jeff laid the groundwork for his career journey as a Light-Wheel Vehicle Mechanic in the Army National Guard. While serving from 2007-2014, he helped ensure that anything on wheels was ready to hit the road, including Medium Tactical Vehicles (MTVs) and Humvees. During that time, he also completed his associate’s degree in automotive mechanics at Stark State Technical College in North Canton.

He was working for an automotive shop when a friend told him about a technician position at Southeastern’s North Canton Branch. Jeff jumped on the opportunity and was offered the job.

Part of the Family

“I was excited to join a great team and a great company,” Jeff said. “It’s a close-knit family at our branch. A team environment is very important to me.” He sees a lot of similarities between his military experience and his position with Southeastern.

“Our leadership at Southeastern expects a lot out of us in terms of the way we handle our customers and our jobs. They are always there to support us, but they let us work through problems to resolve them completely. They stand behind the diagnostic process.” Jeff’s favorite things about being a Southeastern tech are problem solving and making customers happy.

“The experience I gained working with and leading soldiers, and the standards of the military, correlate with our approach to customer service and our values of being loyal, capable, and helpful.”