By Kerry McGinley
Neil Colomac was a soldier. It was a life he understood, a job he knew how to do. But he was medically retired from the Army in 2008 after surviving two IED attacks in Afghanistan as part of the Stryker Brigade. His body was mostly healed, but an unpredictable, severe seizure disorder lingered. It wasn’t safe for him to handle weapons or heavy machinery in his family’s construction business. He and his wife Jennifer had a baby in their arms and a second on the way.
“Every day there was just kind of dread in the pit of my stomach,” he said. “I’m a real planner. I like to have things in order. I knew that I didn’t have what it was going to take to provide for my wife and children. Every time we had to go out and buy anything, I always had the thought of ‘Where does this come from? How are we going to be able to make that work?’”
His full-time job search was frustrating.
“I’d been sending out resume after resume after resume,” he said. “I couldn’t get any responses back. It was really disheartening. I was in a bad spot.”
Colomac said he applied for about 200 different jobs. He couldn’t even get an interview at McDonald’s for a manager’s job. He took a low-paying job selling tools at Sears near Fort Lewis, Washington, and hoped he could keep his young family fed. He knew if he could just speak to someone in a hiring position, he could convince that person to take a chance on him. He’d only had one year of college, but his Army experience, his work ethic and his willingness to learn were strong selling points.
“I worked a few months, hoping to find somewhere forward to go,” Colomac said. “That’s when Michor Gentemann came in and we actually had that conversation that I wanted to have. I finally was given the opportunity to have a one-on-one discussion with somebody that actually cared.”
Michor Gentemann was a retired Army colonel and the general manager at Skookum Contract Services in Bremerton, Washington. He’d stopped in Sears that day to pick up some tools for a weekend project. He left with a glowing first impression of a young man who would eventually prove his professional worth again and again when he joined Skookum shortly after that exchange in the store, to the point that he’d win the SourceAmerica Honor Roll for Veterans with Disabilities Award.
“I told him, ‘It was a great day for you and a great day for me the day I walked into Sears,’” Gentemann said.
Gentemann was impressed with Colomac’s kind, efficient customer service and dedication to seeing the job through.
“He was what we’re looking for in a service organization,” Gentemann said. “The military experience, which we know in almost all of those (veterans) you’re getting somebody that’s motivated, they get up in the morning and show up for work. Those people show up for Skookum. He’s the perfect example of what we’re trying to do with (employing) people with disabilities.”
After joining Skookum, Colomac was promoted repeatedly, in 2012 earning a position under Bruce Cochran. Cochran is site manager for Skookum’s operations in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, servicing more than 300 vehicles for a contract with the Department of Energy. It was Cochran who nominated Colomac for the Honor Roll for Veterans award based on Colomac’s success developing, implementing and maintaining quality systems that have brought vehicle failure rates down from 17 percent to 2 percent.
He said Colomac’s work ethic is “second to none.”
“With Neil here, this guy went above and beyond everything we asked him,” Cochran said. “He’d work 60, 70, 80 hours a week starting this contract up. I’ve never seen someone take so much responsibility and do such a great job with it. He was truly, truly outstanding.”
Colomac attributes the success of the contract to his team.
“I definitely cannot take credit for the success rate of this contract,” he said. “We have exceptional employees at every level that really put 110 percent in everything they do. They make us all look good.”
Cochran said Colomac’s respect and appreciation for his colleagues set a workplace tone that encourages everyone to thrive, which is also why he nominated Colomac for the national award.
“He has no ego,” Cochran said. “It’s all about the employees and the company and what’s best for both and making it work.”