After The Air Force: An Interview with Efrain Rodriguez

After committing his life to the Air Force for 9 years, Rodriguez opened up about his service and transition out of the private sector. 9 years later, Rodriguez is now a dedicated employee to a veteran-owned brand which shares and breathes his values at the forefront.

DTS: Tell me about your military journey. What led you to enlist?

Rodriguez: My military started with my older brother, who joined the Air Force, and I’ve always wanted to follow in his footsteps, and I don’t regret it one bit. I got more into the Signals Intelligence and Cryptology field. I had a great journey with them, and obviously it led me to make lifetime friends, a sense of duty of the privilege of serving our country—and still, even today, being able to relate with veterans, it feels great. You know, when I segue out of that, I became a contractor up in the DC area. I just turned my uniform, my BDUs into a suit and a tie, and my client became the government. I had a great time.

Tell me about your DTS journey. How did you hear about DTS, and what attracted you to join?

Well, believe it or not, TJ sent me a message, but it somehow fell through the weeds. You know, I have almost six thousand contacts on my LinkedIn, so I don’t remember replying to TJ. But one day, as I was surfing through some work, I got an instant message from Rob Meehan. And so, I looked at Rob, I clicked on his profile, and I saw that he was an Air Force veteran. So, there was already some camaraderie there. And so, I said, “Hey, how you doing’ Rob? Good stuff that you’re doing. It’s great that you’re Veteran-owned and a Veteran-friendly company. You know, perhaps in the future we can collaborate.” And so that conversation led me to start talking to TJ, who’s a retired chief in the Navy who’s now in recruiting. I started realizing that, hey, Rob has a lot of veterans in his company. I started talking to him about that, and hey, I already had some freight brokerage background. So, we ended up relating at so many points. We took the gamble; invited me to come onboard DTS, and I haven’t regretted it. I’m having a good time working with the DTS folks, and I know that we’re going to continue to grow.

Was the private sector transition a smooth or bumpy journey? How? Why?

Well, you see, the thing is, when I got out, I had the privilege of going into Defense Contracting. I mean, it didn’t happen right away because when I originally got back to my home of records, which is in California, it was a navy-friendly town, and I’m more Air Force, so it was difficult for me to get into this contracting job. I started getting a lot of Defense contracting job offers on the east coast, whether it be in Maryland, Virginia, or DC. So eventually, I had old contacts that were coming out of the east coast telling me, “Oh, you’re just wasting your time in the West. Come out to the east; there’s plenty of work for us out here.” So, I ended up migrating, leaving from one coast to the other, and I ended up going to the northeast Maryland area. I had a good time there because I had the right folks, and it was friendlier to the Air Force and, overall, friendlier to the Military. I can’t say I struggled because I had the right people on the other side helping me out, which got me into the right jobs.

It’s been said, “Friends come and go all the time, but military friends are forever. Your friends for life.” Has that been your experience?

Oh absolutely. I still stay in contact with some of my friends that are active duty, retired, those that are stationed, whether that be continental or overseas—we still stay in touch. And the camaraderie there. When I retook all my VA benefits and met all the folks here at the VA clinic, just to be around other veterans—it’s just easy. It’s easy to pick up a conversation because you have so much in common. So, yeah, I kept in touch with all my past military colleagues, and I also made new friends with other folks that served at different times in their life because we have that common ground. I stay in contact, and I make new friends! A lot of them are obviously veteran-affiliated

What is your favorite Military quote and describe how it pertains to your life?

Let’s see. Favorite military quote…You know, I don’t know if this would be considered a quote, but I think it’s more about the core values because they drill it in your head, you know? I’m going to give you the core values of the Air Force: Integrity, first, service before self, and excellence in what we do. That’s something that drilled into our head, and obviously, if we get a little bit vulgar—And I’m going to apologize upfront…The Drill sergeant said, “Pull your head out!” He basically meant pull your head out of your butt, get it right, and get it done. [laughs] So, I think those are the overall straight, moral, or straight ethos that has carried me. So that’s pretty much it. The core values of the Air Force and the common-sense advice that our Drill sergeants would give us when we were training. Don’t be a fool; get your head out, and get the job done.

What’s your biggest takeaway from military service, and how have you applied it to your advantage at DTS?

You know, I think, teamwork. I understand why when you get there—I have no more hair, but when you get there, they shave your head and they put the uniform on you. They got to break down your individualism and make you understand that you must work as a team. And when you work as a team, you get a lot more done. Because at the end of the day, it’s going to be your life in that guy’s hands or vice versa. I think a lot of that stuff that we learned, those things we’re going to take them to the grave, and you’re going to apply that to all your other jobs. So just the overall of being able to relate to some of my colleagues at DTS. You know that once you get to a certain point, you need that help or guidance or advice. I have no problem reaching out. Even at times when I’m remotely working, I’ll be talking to guys up in New Jersey, and I’ll be talking to guys up in Tennessee, talking to guys in Boca, and I don’t feel I’m alone. I think that overall team effort is something I learned in the military. I’m seeing that a lot of that stuff is being applied at DTS, and that’s a good thing.

If you were to encourage other veterans to consider a career in transportation, a field we think naturally overlays with the training they learned in the military, how would you persuade them?

Well, that’s the thing: it all depends on their MOS’, what they were doing prior. So, some of the military folks that wanna get behind the steering wheel, we wouldn’t be the right fit for them because we have no assets. But, you know, if you have those that have a strong logistics background or those that have a strong communication or even technology background, that might be something that you can segue them over to what we’re doing. And I think based on what we’ve done, especially in my career, I have to reach out. I must see if some of my friends that are getting out now or have already gotten out, where they’re at, where they are at in their career, geographically, and where they’re at as well. And I know that the beauty in what we do is that—everything is cloud-based. So even if we have people sitting in different offices, it doesn’t really matter. Technology eliminates the whole—distance-wise—we’re providing for clients all around the country. I must ask. Personally, if you ask me, yeah! I’d recommend DTS because I’m already experiencing it myself, and I’d recommend other folks to join the organization without a problem.

Of all the DTS values, what’s the one that resonates with you most and why.

You know, I think one of the things I know that I like about DTS is that I know that they’re always concerned about putting the client and carriers first and they’re always concerned about, you know, mitigating risks. So, our whole concept of customer satisfaction—we’re in the middle as, yes, we resolve problems between a carrier and a shipper—but it’s that concept of treating both of those parties as our clients. Now that I really think about, yeah, they’re both our clients. So, I think that overall, that detailed customer satisfaction, that overall philosophy of DTS, I really like that. And I think that’s what’s going to keep DTS continuing to grow and continue to have success in its trajectory.

What can our non-veteran colleagues learn from Veterans?

Camaraderie. I think that personal accountability for what you’re doing. When I talked about integrity first as one of the core values in the Air Force, you know, they put in a nutshell to me it’s basically doing the job whether your boss is looking at you or not. That’s because at times, we were geographically isolated to get the missions done. We weren’t always going to have a supervisor or a sergeant or an officer looking over your shoulder, but you know what you have do. So, I think if there’s anything we could teach our non-veteran colleagues is that. Personal accountability. Teamwork. Open communication. Not being afraid to ask for help. Because I know at times, we say, “everybody has to pull their own weight,” and yeah, that’s true, but you know, if you can help your colleague with something that they’re struggling with, do it. Because eventually, that could switch around, and it could be you asking for help. That’s what I’d share with those who didn’t have the privilege to serve.

In dealing with carriers or shippers, has knowing they are dealing with a veteran enhanced your relationship?

Absolutely. And I know sometimes it may seem unfair, but when I shoot out a cold or follow-up email, I’ve had clients are thanking you for your service. It gives them a sense of confidence that, okay, we’re talking to somebody that if at one point had the trust of the federal government and the branches of the military,” then there is a factor that they can trust you on the other end. It is an advantage to us that even in our signature block, we put “Veteran owned and operated” after my name—I personally believe it does help in creating an immediate trust factor when dealing with a shipper and a carrier.

What do you think the average Joe misunderstands about veterans?

I think that the misunderstanding is that they probably feel that we’re a fraternity. Perhaps they believe that because we served, we feel superior—and we don’t. Because the idea of serving is—the word in itself—we’re serving. If you’re in the military, if you have problems with authority, you’re going to have a horrible time as a solider, marine, sailor, or airman. That misinterpretation of “Holier and thou.” It’s just that the service is something that we’re going to take with us forever. Obviously, we love our country, and we took an oath. We’re always taught to stand up to the bully who’s pushing the weaker party. Sometimes that’s misunderstood. Folks that have never served can get to that erroneous conclusion. Usually, when they get to know us, it’s like, “Oh, these guys are not that bad,” “They really don’t think that they’re all that.” That we’re really a camaraderie.

The military is skilled in managing a variety of crises—from fighting wars to organizing emergency responses during natural disasters. How can we leverage this at DTS?

The one thing that comes to mind, sometimes, when we were geographically isolated, at some points, you would have your supply chains providing you all your equipment in order to get the mission done. But when you didn’t, you must improvise, right? You had to improvise and utilize what you had or even negotiate with other units or even negotiate with other branches of the military to exchange things to get the mission done. That adaptation of going more with less is something that DTS can leverage with military veterans. Another thing that they can leverage is when managing conflict internally is something that we were taught as well, especially as you progressed in your military career. You understood the importance of inspiring others, you understood the importance of motivating others, and you understood the importance of managing conflict within your own unit. These types of leadership skills and additional training that we received in the military, I have no doubt that DTS can fully take advantage of that because it’s already coded in our DNA to be that way.

Military culture is unique, characterized by a shared sense of mission, values, and standards, by unquestioning adherence to authority when required, and by extensive training and procedural practice. Does DTS culture mirror that of the military?

You know, I think it’s a lot of taught-down stuff. We’ve got Rob Meehan, who was in the Air Force. TJ was Chief in the Navy. I talked to Kevin West—the first time when I met him face to face, I had to ask him: Kevin, did you serve? And he goes, “No, I didn’t. Why do you ask?” I responded, “The way you act, the way you lead, the way you communicate, you project leadership. I just erroneously thought that you served.” So that made me think, “Hey, I think I’m in the right place.” Because even some of the civilians who never served are acting like they served so that just means that the culture that Rob and the higher ups bring that down to the rest of us. So, there is some military flavor in there. That’s good because the future if more veterans join, then they won’t see this to be too much of a culture shock. They’ll see that there’s structure, open communication, clear objectives, and supportive resources to get the mission done. So yeah, DTS’ has got some military flavor in there. Personally, I like it.