Standing by Our Veterans
Featured Port Person Kyle Graham supports fellow veterans in the River Region community and beyond
Kyle Graham remembers the exact day his future was decided. He remembers the exact moment. His father, a Pennsylvania state trooper, was the first responder at the crash site of United Airlines Flight 93 on September 11, 2001, and Graham said that was when he understood what he had to do. His life, along with thousands of others, was suddenly changed.
“That’s when I decided,” Graham said. “I realized that I wanted to serve my country.”
In high school, he was a wrestler and a football captain, already showing an inclination toward leadership. He watched as his older brother attended the U. S. Air Force Academy and, seeing how formative the experience was for him, Graham was motivated to apply to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
Admission at West Point is no easy feat: candidates must receive a nomination from a member of Congress, in addition to proving their mettle in academics, extracurriculars and community service. Intimidating as the process might have been, Graham was admitted, and he said West Point taught him how to have “a foundation of trust,” a lesson he said he never stops learning.
“I earned a mechanical degree from West Point, but they also taught me leadership,” he said. “I learned how to be part of a team.”
Currently Site Logistics Leader with Dow, Graham graduated from West Point in 2006, followed by several months of additional training. But the escalation of responsibility for Graham did not stop there; in fact, it only intensified further when he was deployed to Iraq that same year. Starting out as a Tank Platoon Leader on a team that maintained M1A1 tanks, Graham moved up the ranks to become a Troop Executive Officer within two years. Within five, he was Troop Commander, responsible for guiding and supporting a team of 110.
The work was rigorous and exhausting, but Graham continued to grow; as he did, he made sure that his fellow soldiers grew with him.
“You are not successful unless your team is successful. Leadership is about clearing the obstacles for your team to achieve their goals,” he said. “My job was to inspire, support, protect, coach and develop. So I didn’t have to stand up and scream. We just understood what we had to do as a team.”
Graham said that when he looks back now on his time in Iraq, what lingers for him is the connection he made with his fellow soldiers.
“The experience was about the people,” Graham said. “That’s really what mattered the most.”
Graham even recounted a fond memory of he and several other soldiers reading the final Harry Potter book when it was released in 2007. He was in Baghdad at the time, but as a self-proclaimed lover of fantasy, Graham said he couldn’t wait to hear the end.
“It was amazing that we could all just enjoy a story out there,” he said. “It’s a way to escape.”
And so it makes sense that after his five and a half years in the Army, those relationships Graham formed with his fellow soldiers would continue to influence his future. He wanted to keep building on the same values of trust and teamwork that were so critical at West Point and in Iraq.
Graham had further solidified his admiration for his country and those dedicated to protecting it — but on the other side of his service, he came to realize that immersion into civilian life was not so simple. Though he managed to get back on track fairly quickly by taking a position as Maintenance Group Leader at Dow Chemical Company, Graham felt a sense of responsibility to the soldiers who did not have such an easy time of it.
“Just think — all the experiences you had, you really can’t talk to anyone about,” he said. “No one at home knows what you mean when you talk about operating a tank, or anything like that.”
At Dow Chemical, Graham wanted to make sure that he did his part to support his fellow vets, both inside and outside the company. Other Dow sites across the country already had existing support systems called Vet-Net, which provides members of the armed forces with employment opportunities, networking development and educational resources, in addition to community outreach for local veterans. According to the Dow website, the group aims to “preserve, promote and acknowledge the virtues of military service.”
Graham was passionate about getting involved with Louisiana’s own Vet-Net community, and fortunately for him, there was plenty of opportunities to make that happen. He was able to travel to the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Home, where Dow sponsored a Memorial Day celebration, and he has had the opportunity to connect with and inspire those who paved the way ahead of him.
“Vets have a great skill set. They’re committed, and they support their team,” he said. “They’re trained to do incredible things at a young age. They are dedicated, they are great workers, and that makes them valuable. It’s a great way for us to give back.”
The impact of Graham’s efforts have been recognized by his coworkers as well; Andrew Fry, the former facility manager at Dow, praised Kyle’s style of selfless leadership.
“Kyle is a good leader with vision,” Fry said. “He has his own viewpoints, but he is willing to listen and consider viewpoints that contradict his. He was a good friend and someone whom I enjoyed working with.”
Fry also said that Kyle’s efforts with Vet-Net were of particular importance to him. Having worked with the support group on his own, Fry said that Graham immediately became an asset when he joined the company.
“Kyle volunteered to help set up the Texas chapter [of Vet-Net],” Fry said. “He got it up and running quickly, and it quickly became one of the most active chapters. He moved to Louisiana a couple of years ago and instantly started to help that chapter. This is not Kyle’s main job but instead is a secondary, volunteer role. He hasn’t asked for recognition but works for the betterment of his fellow veterans.”
Graham said that he merely wanted to strive to inspire inclusion, and to “just say thank you.”
Graham also represented his company and Vet-Net at the 2016 Invictus Games, a competition comprised solely of wounded and ill veterans. The annual competition was founded by Prince Harry in 2013 following a trip to the Warrior Games, where he realized the true physical and psychological benefits that sporting competitions could offer.
At the Orlando Games, Graham saw over 500 veterans from more than a dozen nations demonstrate just how far they had come, an experience he said was powerful and moving.
“It really just teaches that despite whatever obstacles you’re faced with, you can overcome them,” he said. “It just shows how incredible these people are, and what they can do even after they’re faced with adversity.”
After all that he has done, Graham remains humble; his motivations are unchanged. He feels inspired to continue his efforts for personal growth, and he feels compelled to nurture those he encounters along the way.
“As I grow and mature, I feel there’s a lot of people who want to do good, and I’m in a position to help. Vets have a great opportunity to build a bridge,” he said.
Bridges, it seems, are a specialty of Graham’s. Every part of his history is colored with the relationships he formed, the lessons he learned from those relationships, and the efforts he has made to pass those lessons along.
“If you can coach and nurture people, you have a responsibility to do that — to help the next generation be successful,” he said.
Kyle Graham has come a long way from that day in 2001, and he has done precisely what he set out to do — but he isn’t finished yet.
By Topher Balfer