WILLIAMSVILLE, N.Y. (WIVB) — When veterans travel to the nation’s capital with Buffalo Niagara Honor Flight, they have devoted volunteers and generous sponsors who support them. One of the biggest shows of corporate generosity comes from National Fuel.
“That’s one of our core values,” said Ray Harris, Vice President of Transmission Operations at National Fuel. “To make sure we’re providing the support that folks need in our area.”
That core value extends to National Fuel’s employees — including General Manager of Operations, Jeremy Young. He’s been with the company for 22 years and throughout that time, he has served four combat tours with the U.S. Army. No matter how far Young’s service called him, National Fuel stood behind him.
“When we got into Baghdad, I remember I was with guys that were nervous to come home because they didn’t have a job to come home to. Their employer told them, ‘Hey, you know, we’re gonna have to replace you,'” Young said. “I didn’t have anything to worry about. When I left, I’d only been an employee for a year and the management at that time pulled me in and said, ‘Don’t worry about a thing.'”
1st Sgt. Young was deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia. He struggled during his combat tours because he couldn’t call home much. When he did, he was assured his family was taken care of by his employer.
“The Afghanistan tour was probably one of my more difficult tours. During that time, I had a baby and my wife was home alone,” Young said. “National Fuel — I remember I called home and my wife told me, ‘You’re not going to believe it. Somebody pulled up in the driveway and brought Christmas gifts for the whole family,’ for all three of my children. It was the nicest thing anybody’s ever done for me… I was able to go over in a leadership position, do my job fully and not have to worry about anything back home.”
Young also worked border security in Arizona and left for several humanitarian efforts, including building schools in Honduras and Thailand. When he was spending time helping at an orphanage in Somalia, National Fuel’s support was felt from 7,655 miles away.
“I sent up a flare looking for shoes [for the orphans],” Young said. “In a week, we had 400 shoes and the bill paid.”
“We’re happy and proud to support any of our employees that are deployed like this,” Harris said. “We want to have strong leaders that support our safety culture. Our entire operation and mindset is the protection of the public, our employees and the environment. Folks that are dealing with the issues that these guys deal with when they’re deployed have the skillset that we need and value in our organization… When they’re deployed, we want them to focus on the job at hand and not worry about what’s happening back here.”
When it’s time to come home, the transition is often difficult for combat veterans. National Fuel ensured Young took the time he needed.
“When you come back home, you’re just dropped back in society and expected to just function normal and just pick up right where you left off,” Young explained. “It’s a transition where you just need a minute to breathe, and every time the company has given me that to make sure I have time with my family to reconnect. It’s huge.”
“Whatever time that he needs or others will need, we will make sure that we support that in any way we can,” Harris said.
Supporting veterans isn’t new territory for National Fuel.
“Throughout the course of the year, we give out $1.2 million across New York and Pennsylvania. Veterans services and vets and their families has been one of our pillars of support for well, probably, 15 years now,” said Karen Merkel, Corporate Communications at National Fuel. “It’s really an overarching long-term commitment to our area veterans and their family members to just make sure that they have the services and the assistance that they need.”
“We have four employee resource groups that are representing underrepresented backgrounds, one of which is our veterans,” said Annika Samuels, Director of Diversity and Inclusion at National Fuel. “We call that employee resource group ‘VetFuel.'”
VetFuel consists of veterans within the company, like Young.
“Right now we have about 100 veterans as employees at National Fuel, 40 of which are part of VetFuel,” Samuels said. “They’re coming with ideas on how they can serve their own community, that’s not just coming out of nowhere. That’s where their heart is, that’s where they recognize the need. So we’re really supporting our employees as they support the community.”
From providing grants for trips to writing hundreds of letters for “mail call,” National Fuel has been sponsoring Buffalo Niagara Honor Flight for years.
“They are a full-volunteer organization,” Merkel said. “They do not have a paid staff, so for us to be able to do a small part to assist them in making it possible is such a great return for us at National Fuel.”
Young joined Honor Flight’s recent fall trip to Washington as a volunteer guardian with another representative from the gas company, Amado Sosa. Young was paired with Tom Dunfee — a U.S. Army veteran who served during the Vietnam War.
In recognition of National Fuel’s ongoing support, the Honor Flight crew presented Young and Sosa with a plaque during the one-day tour.
“If it wasn’t for the folks at National Fuel and many other companies, we wouldn’t have wheels up,” said Tom Petrie, President of Buffalo Niagara Honor Flight.
It was a recognition Young didn’t see coming. His service to the company and his country fused together in one special moment.
“To walk in and see that banner and then the plaque, and then find out the involvement that everybody has, I was shocked,” Young said. “I knew they were involved, of course, as a sponsor, but not at the level that they are… What a sense of pride because it all came full circle.”
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