Paying it Forward: In Service of Service

This is a guest post by Steve Hannesson of CSX. #CSXPrideInService

In addition to being on a mission to thank each and every serviceman and woman, Operation Gratitude plays an important role in perpetuating a cycle of gratitude for those who serve, by those who serve. I’m proud to share my experience with this organization – both in receiving acts of gratitude for my very own service for our country and, more recently, in expressing my gratitude for the service of others.

Both experiences have been profoundly impactful to me at very different times in my life, and I’m grateful to be able to play a part in continuing that cycle.

My employer, CSX, is a premier transportation company that has partnered with Operation Gratitude through our companywide Pride in Service commitment to support our nation’s veterans, active military, and first responders. While most people may not realize it, there are many parallels between working as a railroader and serving in the military or as a first responder.

Each line of duty places similar value on service, promotes camaraderie, requires efficient operations, and emphasizes safety above all else. I’ve seen firsthand the teambuilding, logistical and technical skills that transfer across military service to the railroad. I’ve been lucky enough to move fluidly between various roles during my long-standing career with CSX and several positions and deployments in the Army.

While CSX’s relationship with Operation Gratitude is just over one year old, my first experience with the organization dates back many years.

Steve Hannesson returns from service in Romania in 2015.

At age 17, I joined the Army Reserves after graduating from military high school. As chance would have it, I was accepted to the Police Academy on the very same day CSX offered me my first position. While I would have been happy to join law enforcement, I grew up in a railroad family and was even more excited to take after those I looked up to.

I did elect to remain a reservist, however, and I was called to serve as a military policeman in Bosnia in 1997, before returning to CSX. Since then, I’ve been deployed to El Salvador, Afghanistan, Romania, and more – and after each deployment, I’ve returned to CSX fully supported.  No matter which “tour of duty” I was on, each role built upon the last, allowing me to expand upon my leadership and technical skills.

While deployed, I received an Operation Gratitude care package on two occasions – once in Afghanistan and once in Romania. As a younger man in Afghanistan, I’ll never forget the personal comfort that package gave me. The idea that a stranger cared about me back home enough to send me a gift was incredibly touching and really helped get me through a difficult time. In Romania, several years later, I appreciated the Operation Gratitude care packages delivered to my troops in a different way.

While I had a supportive family back home and the means to obtain the resources I needed while deployed, some of the younger men and women weren’t as fortunate. These care packages and the items inside were truly a lifeline for some of them. Both times, I realized – in different ways – how these simple acts of gratitude could go an extremely long way.

In those moments, I’m not sure I expected I’d ever be in a position to pay forward that gratitude that I was so generously shown. I certainly couldn’t have predicted that, five years later, I’d be standing side-by-side with my CSX coworkers in Baltimore assembling care packages for local city first responders. When I heard CSX was organizing this opportunity through Pride in Service, there was just no way I would not be there. 

Steve volunteers at the 2019 Baltimore Assembly Day alongside CSX colleagues.  

To bring it full circle, that Baltimore Assembly Day showed me another level of impact that Operation Gratitude could have. The volunteer event brought our CSX team together in service of others and impacted each of our employees on the assembly lines before they even transferred into the hands of police officers. It also gave me the chance to volunteer alongside my wife, an active member of the National Guard, and my two boys, passing the spirit of service down to the next generation. It was powerful for all involved.

At CSX, Pride In Service holds two meanings. Not only are we proud and supportive of those serving our country day in and day out, but we also take pride in our very own service through volunteerism. Now more than ever, we owe extra support and an unprecedented level of appreciation for those serving our country and communities – whether overseas or right here at home in the fight against COVID-19.

Together with CSX, Operation Gratitude is encouraging others to pay it forward through letter writing and #VirtualVolunteerism opportunities.

To learn more about how you can do your part from home, visit: https://operationgratitude.com/virtual-volunteerism

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