Duty calls for BP reservists

Last edited: 11 November 2015

What’s it like to juggle a demanding day job with military service? Meet two BP staff who serve their country – and then return to work in the energy industry

The two working environments appear worlds apart: the mountains of Afghanistan and a petrochemical plant in the southeastern United States. But, for BP’s military reservists and National Guards, jobs in the military and the energy industry have more in common than many might believe.

Operator Paul Acosta joined BP in 2007, when he was already part of the Army Reserve. His military duties took him to Iraq for a year in 2008 and, again, in 2013 he spent time away from his job during a 10-month tour in Afghanistan.

These locations may be very different from the 500-acre BP facility where he works in his other job, at one of the world’s largest production sites for purified terephthalic acid, but Acosta believes many of the same skills are put to use. The principles of military service – teamwork, duty and safety – neatly converge with working for a company such as BP.

And, it’s not just a one-way street; the experience he has gained in his civilian role carries over into his Army service. “I approach issues in my military life in a very systematic way, the same way we solve problems at work,” he says. “One of the main things I get from BP that I take to my military service is the intense focus on safety in everything we do.”

“Everyone at work was incredibly supportive during my time away. They were calling me, texting me, sending packages and training materials so I could be up-to-date.”

Paul Acosta

Personal support

There’s more to any job than simply carrying out a series of tasks, though. How easy is it to spend months away from colleagues and maintain those all-important working relationships?

“Everyone at work was incredibly supportive during my time away,” he says. “They were calling me, texting me, sending packages and also sending training material so I could be up-to-date on what was going on.”

Acosta, a staff sergeant in a transportation unit, says other reservists don’t always receive that kind of support from their employers. “I was serving side by side with guys who were worried about coming home to no job at all.”

Across the country, on the west coast, when Slade Brockett began his new job at a BP refinery, he was a little apprehensive about how his US Navy Reserve status would be accepted. “You are never quite sure how people are going to take it,” he admits.

He soon learned that there was no cause to worry. “About two and half years after starting at BP, I was mobilized for a year,” he says. “To leave and have the company continue to support me, to have the refinery people stay in touch with my family and make sure they were invited to events like Christmas parties and picnics while I was gone, to get emails and notes from workers, all that meant a lot.”

Learning from submarines

Brockett’s naval career has included duty on nuclear-powered submarines. Working in that high-technology environment has served him well in his refinery role in the maintenance department, where he is the fixed equipment reliability engineer in the crude area.

“One thing I learned about the BP culture is the importance of teamwork and it’s the same on a submarine where everyone lives and works closely together.”

Every member of a submarine crew, regardless of rank, is expected to speak up if they believe there is a safety issue or a failure to follow procedure.

“That fits exactly with BP’s ‘one team’ ethos, where everybody has a responsibility to speak up and to make sure we are doing things safely.”

Until recently, Brockett’s duty station has been in Houston, Texas, meaning numerous flights to and from the Pacific Northwest, and time away from family and the refinery. “I do as much as I can ahead of time to make sure things are going to run while I am gone,” he says. “But at the end of the day, somebody is filling in for me. My co-workers have been superb about stepping up and helping.
 
“I have never heard anything negative about my absence on military service. Except, maybe a little ribbing about my frequent trips on Navy business to Hawaii.”

National recognition

Earlier this year, BP America received the Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award, the highest recognition given by the US government to employers for their support of employees serving in the Guard and Reserve. Only 15 employers received the award, out of nearly 3,000 nominated from across the country.

The award was the latest recognition BP has received for its commitment to hiring veterans and supporting reservists and guardsmen, says Teri Poulton, BP director, veteran outreach.

“The awards we receive highlight a commitment to military employees that has been in place for many years,” says Poulton, herself a US Air Force veteran. “Our policies make it much easier for military employees to make the decision to stay and continue to serve ---- their families are taken care of and their jobs are secure.”

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