It’s a snowy, frigid morning on the job site in Toronto, a world away from the combat zones of the Middle East. But for Eric Ford, a retired Sergeant Major from the U.S. Army now employed as an Assistant Project Manager II for Haskell, the work hasn’t changed much.
“It’s all about leadership,” says the veteran with 27 years of service to his country. “I have the same leadership style here that I did when I was managing five or six hundred troops; the only difference is we don’t have bullets flying at us. Just hammers and nails.”
A native of Jacksonville, Fla., Eric enlisted in the Army right out of high school, in 1986. He initially committed to join with a buddy from ROTC, but his friend changed his mind. Eric did not. After boot camp, Eric’s first station was at Camp Castle in South Korea. His first combat tour began in 1988 in Panama.
“I was nervous,” Eric says of his first combat mission. “The first 24 hours are just nerves, then it’s 48 hours of patriotism and 72 hours of glory. After that, the rest is just honor.”
In 2003, Eric was an E8 Master Sergeant serving in Iraq when catastrophe struck. Hit by an IED, Eric’s left arm was severed along with part of his left leg. Doctors were able to do extensive repairs to his arm and supplement his losses with a partial prosthetic, but they were wary of Eric returning to service. Undeterred, Eric pushed through two years of grueling recovery, which included switching from being left-handed to right-handed.
“It was very challenging, emotionally and physically,” says Eric. “But I refused to give up my service.”
Supported by his wife, Kay, and daughters Dorothy and Sabrina, Eric completed his recovery and returned to combat. He served eight more years, retiring in 2013, with a collection of the military’s highest honors including two Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star, a Meritorious Service Medal, several Meritorious Unit Commendations and numerous other honors.
Eric connected with Haskell in 2015, through Operation New Uniform, a Jacksonville-based nonprofit that helps veterans transition their military skills into the corporate world. Through ONU, Eric earned his MBA from Keiser University and received an internship with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Volunteering with organizations like ONU and the Wounded Warrior Project remain close to Eric’s heart.
“Soldiers give so much and then they get wounded and abruptly, sometimes in less than 90 days, they are back in society, nervous and scared that there is no place for them here,” says Eric. “I mentor those veterans who are afraid to go into the community and show them that they have value.”
Since joining Haskell, Eric has embodied the company’s core values of team, excellence, service and trust in his leadership role for Haskell . He and his family relocated to Toronto for the Frito-Lay project Eric is currently managing, but will be transitioning back to Jacksonville in the next few months. He is also finishing up his master’s in project management through the University of Phoenix.
“Haskell really embodies what it means to be a military friendly company,” says Eric. “I love that Haskell has confidence in me and has given me the latitude to continue to be a leader.”
Eric is one of more than 70 veterans employed by Haskell. Each year for Veteran’s Day, the company honors those who served their country with a special gift. It’s a small token of appreciation for the enormous sacrifices our service members have made.