This Memorial Day—and, really, every day—know that your local O&G industry includes those who have served their time in foreign fields, paying that price of freedom. Because freedom isn’t free.
By Sherry Thomas
According to Department of Defense numbers, there were 1,410,224 active U.S. military personnel as of December 31, 2013. Over half a million of these individuals served in the Army, with more than 320,000 serving in both the Navy and Air Force branches. Just under 200,000 called themselves Marines and the remaining 40,000+ patrolled our domestic waters as Coast Guard. These numbers are only slightly below the average force strength for any given year over the past decade. However, only about 17 percent of those who enter the military will make a career of it and achieve the 20-year retirement mark, according to a 2011 article by William Hamilton on skyhidailynews.com. This means that each year many of our young men and women are leaving their positions with a branch of the armed forces and are looking to transition back into a civilian job. Many of those individuals are finding a prominently displayed WELCOME sign hanging out at area oil and gas companies. This is the story of three of those individuals. Their paths to employment in the industry are as varied as the jobs they now hold. But they all have one thing in common: they are U.S. military veterans currently working in the Permian Basin.
Now a surface landman at Parsley Energy in Midland, Perry Meares was hired straight out of a five-year stint as a U.S. Army Ranger with Alpha Company, 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, serving as an Infantry Non-Commissioned Officer, assaulter, and company armorer.
A graduate of Texas Tech, Perry has always had a deep love for his country and considered joining the military at a young age. His parents, Neal and Cheryl Meares, had different ideas, though. With encouragement from them he found himself seeking a graphic design degree in Lubbock, Texas, a path he was pursuing when the first plane hit the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11, 2001. That’s the day, Perry says, that “flipped the switch” for him. Upon graduation from Tech and following a short stay at Florida’s Full Sail University to pursue further education in design and animation, Meares ended up in Austin in 2007. It was there during a fateful drive to a job interview that a U.S. Army commercial came on the radio and Perry found himself driving to a recruiter’s office instead, never making it to that scheduled interview. He was 32 years old and knew it was “now or never.”
During his time served, Perry found himself in various parts of Afghanistan over the course of four separate deployments. Because of the covert nature of activity by military Special Operations teams like the Army Rangers, his platoon always operated under cover of night. It was not unusual for operational tempo to run in excess of 80 or 90 missions within a four-month period. He remembers distinctly the challenges of navigating the unforgiving terrain high in the mountain passes of Afghanistan as they walked along with the aid of NODS (night vision goggles). While most of the missions are ones he would just as soon forget, there is one that he promises to always remember. As a matter of fact, Perry wears a bracelet to ensure that the memory of April 9, 2010, remains with him. It was the second mission of his second deployment. Three men and one woman died in an Osprey crash while headed to their target, including his good friend, Corporal Michael D. Jankiewicz. “Jank” for short. The bracelet, engraved with his friend’s name and the date he was killed in action, serves to keep Perry focused on what matters—namely, God, country, family, and his brothers-in-arms.
Upon separation from the service in May of 2012, Meares found himself searching for a new purpose in life and found a community that embraces veterans in the heart of the Permian Basin. Still, there were challenges to transitioning back into civilian life. Speaking of such challenges, Perry says, “If there is one thing that I have struggled with this first year out of the military… it’s [that] it’s okay to make a mistake.” While mistakes as a landman can be costly, and often are, they are seldom deadly. Perry still struggles to find the balance between these two extremes most days. However, there are many aspects of the military that he believes prepared him well for a career in the oil and gas industry including mental preparedness, a team mentality, and great leadership skills. Says Meares, “There are many ways to lead individuals. You can beat [them] down constantly…or you can lead by example. I’m thankful that I endured…being beaten down [during my time of service] but more importantly [I’m thankful for] the leaders that showed me how to lead by example.”
Parsley Energy is not the only Permian Basin company to actively seek out veterans. Clayton W. Williams, President and CEO of Clayton Williams Energy, Inc., has this to say about hiring our country’s returning military forces. “It is a privilege to honor the men and women who have served our country. [CWEI] is very proud to hire veterans who have volunteered their time and service. Having served in the Army myself, I feel very strongly about the dedication and discipline that these [individuals] have and their contributions to their employers or prospective employers.”
One benefactor of Mr. Williams’ hiring mindset is Aaron Estrella, a former United States Marine, who is now employed in the tax department at Clayton Williams Energy in Midland. Born in Ojinaga, Chihuahua, Mexico, Aaron moved to the United States at the age of 15 and enlisted with the U.S. military straight out of high school in 1998 at the age of 18. While serving was something of a childhood dream, he admits that the educational benefits promised to veterans following their service was very attractive to him as well.
Aaron was stationed stateside for most of his four-year career with the Marines at Camp Pendleton in San Diego, California. He did, however, have a six-month deployment that took him to Japan, Korea, and The Philippines. He served his time as part of the support personnel with HMLA-267, a helicopter squadron, his duties including many of the administrative details of his squadron. He separated from military service as a Corporal in 2002.
Pursuant to his goal to obtain an education for himself, Aaron then enrolled at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin, where he earned both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Accounting. While attending school, he worked at United Rentals for the first four years, at which time he accepted an intern position with Johnson, Miller & Co., a local public accounting firm. Aaron soon followed that up by obtaining his CPA from the Texas State Board of Public Accountancy, a step which, in turn, led to other positions in the public accounting arena before he accepted his current position with CWEI in 2011. He believes that his military service taught him to “multitask and stay focused under pressure,” which has served him well in his civilian life since. “My four years served in the United States Marine Corp. were honestly the absolute best years of my life. I am so proud to be a Marine. In regards to the company I am employed by now, I am grateful to be a part. They have all been… generous and kind, and know how to be true leaders that support their employees.”
SM Energy is another company that fully supports the hiring of U.S. military veterans. Headquartered in Denver, Colorado, SM Energy also has a presence in the Permian Basin with a satellite office in Midland and is currently building a new office building in the northwest part of town. Jason Lara has been employed by the company for the past seven years. A “field tech” by title, Jason says that many of his duties are most often performed by a construction and maintenance foreman in the field. To handle such a diverse workload, Jason is a firm believer that his service in the military prepared him well by requiring him to master multitasking as well as to pay attention to detail.
If you ask Jason what it was that attracted him to the military, his answer might be considered a typical one for a 17-year-old enlistee. “[I was going to be] able to shoot big guns and, as an Engineer, use explosives.” A four-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, he, like Aaron Estrella, was stationed at Camp Pendleton in San Diego. A Combat Engineer, Jason soon found himself deployed to Afghanistan, involved there in the task of clearing roadways of explosive devices in an effort to safeguard our troop movements. However, Jason says, he also had the opportunity to participate in several humanitarian efforts within the war-torn country. One such opportunity involved rebuilding a playground in a tiny village. He recalls that their efforts were met with enthusiasm and appreciation from the locals and says that the friendships he formed while serving are ones that will last for a lifetime. Jason had attained the rank of sergeant by the time he separated from service in 2004.
If you’ve been around this part of Texas for very long, it’s easy to see why the Permian Basin has earned a reputation for being a welcoming place. Perhaps it was Aaron Estrella who summed it up best: “After having lived in several different areas, I have come to the conclusion that the community of West Texas is incredibly friendly.” If hiring practices are an indication, the area’s oil and gas companies seem to provide significant evidence of that fact as well. Especially when it comes to our country’s veterans.
Sherry Thomas is a writer who also has work experience in the oil and gas industry in the Midland area. This is her first contribution to Permian Basin Oil and Gas Magazine.