Finding Purpose: Commitment, Compassion & a Canine Companion
by Derek Montgomery, Compensation Analyst, Human Resources at Bayer U.S. LLC
When you’re in the military, finding your purpose is clear. You work together with your platoon-mates toward the common good of your country, and against a defined enemy. You belong. You know the people around you have your back. There’s a comfort level and a feeling of fitting in.
Then comes the day when you transition out of the military into “regular” life, no longer surrounded by buddies who get you and share common, often life-or-death, experiences. If you’re lucky like I am, family and friends welcome you back and you start the process of fitting in all over again. But it’s not easy — in fact, it’s probably the hardest thing I had to do since I left the U.S. Marine Corps in 2015. Finding your purpose in a world where little is black-and-white is a struggle many Veterans face.
My journey to where I am now took many twists and turns, but ultimately drew me to a job I love with a companion I couldn’t do without. It taught me a lot and I’m still learning every day.
But let me rewind a bit. In the Marines, I worked in what’s called village stability operations in Afghanistan. Our mission was to work with village elders to develop trust, with families to create connection and with local men to teach them defense tactics so they could protect their villages. Sounds sort of like a diplomatic mission, but we were in a war zone and it was dangerous.
Fast forward to leaving the Marines. I’m faced with the “what do I do now?” question and trying to find where I belong. While finishing college at night, I worked in several government jobs such as the Army Corp of Engineers and in Veteran outreach in the St. Louis area, where I’m from. Feeling like the government sector had run its course, I tried the finance industry where many family members have made their careers, and found it wasn’t for me.
Around that time, I began to experience combat-related issues and knew I needed to seek help. A buddy recommended Paws of War, a non-profit that rescues and trains shelter dogs to be service dogs to Veterans and first responders. That’s where I found Pixel, my 24/7 companion. I picked her out at a shelter, Paws assessed her aptitude for training, and we jumped right into the program. We’ve been together for five years. I know for sure that she makes it easier for me to navigate through life.
In 2019, Pixel and I went for an interview at Bayer in St. Louis and I started working there in December. Right from the start, I knew my purpose — both in what I want to do, and what the company stands for. Part of my job includes working on the company’s recognition program, Better Because of You. From recognition of employees’ good work to our LIFE values of leadership, integrity, flexibility, and efficiency — everything Bayer says they will do, they do. My experience from Day 1 has been positive. I feel like I belong, I’m accepted and supported by my team, my leaders and the company. Being part of the team brings in those aspects from the Marines that make you feel connected, but without the dangerous parts!
When we used to go into the office before the pandemic, people were curious about the new guy with the dog. It’s provided many opportunities to advocate for people with disabilities. Everyone loves Pixel. Once we discussed what her purpose was, my co-workers knew not to engage with her when she’s “on duty” and wearing her service vest. But once I take off her vest, she becomes a typical dog and people love playing with her. Her purpose seems to be two-fold: assisting me as a service dog, and relieving stress for others when she is in “play” mode. When an office visitor asked me why I had a service dog, I could politely inform him what questions are OK and what ones are not allowed under the Americans with Disabilities Act. I’m not particularly reticent about talking about my disability, but when I can help educate others, I feel an obligation to do it.
I’m also an advocate for Veterans. I work with a lot of organizations such as 22KILL, a group that works to raise awareness of and combat suicide in veterans and others. Knowing how difficult the transition out of the military and into a career can be, I help Veterans write resumes that show how their military experience can translate into business acumen. And now at Bayer, I’m a proud member of the BRAVE business resource group that serves Bayer’s military talent and works with Bayer to be a military-friendly employer of choice. It certainly is for me. I can’t say enough about how great it’s been.
I am proud to be an advocate as someone who’s lived through combat and military service and who lives with a disability. But anyone can be an advocate, so I encourage everyone to do what they can to help others.
With Pixel at my side and my job at Bayer, I’m happy to say I’ve found my purpose.