By Juan Torres, Skanska Project Executive
Former Lieutenant in the Civil Engineering Corps and SeaBees of the US Navy
I grew up in the shadows of heroes. Puerto Rico, where I was born, has a proud tradition of military service reaching back to 1898 when Spain ceded the territory to the United States in the Treaty of Paris. Eager to serve his new country and bring honor and financial support to his family, my grandfather joined the Army to serve in World War I. He was one of 18,000 Puerto Ricans who answered the call from US military during that conflict. My father was raised with deep admiration for the competence, dignity, and altruism my grandfather modeled throughout his life and followed in his footsteps to enlist in the Army when he was old enough.
Multigenerational military families are not uncommon in Puerto Rico, and I also found myself attracted to the tradition of military service from a young age. The question for me was not if I would join, but which branch of service was the best fit for my natural aptitudes and aspirations. After careful study, I chose to join the Navy and soon found myself gravitating toward its Civil Engineering Corps (or CEC). The CEC is responsible for building and managing all of the Navy’s shore facilities—from planning, design, and acquisition to construction, operation, and maintenance. The vast scope of this mission gave me the opportunity to develop a wide range of skills while serving.
Even beyond training in specific tasks, as I worked my way up through positions of increasing authority and responsibility in the CEC and eventually in the Naval Construction Battalions (or SeaBees), I learned life skills that equipped me well for life beyond the Navy – the ability to break a project into manageable pieces, to delegate tasks, to meet challenges with ingenuity and determination, and how to be a confident and responsive leader. These “soft skills” have facilitated a smooth transition from military to civilian life and have made it possible to work in many capacities in the construction industry after leaving active duty.
Though I am no longer “in the service,” the values and traditions of service are deeply ingrained in my character and part of my everyday work at Skanska. In the military, we are committed to never leave anyone behind, to care for one another, to prioritize safety, and to build cohesive teams. I’ve found that these are also the foundation for successful construction teams. With so many shared values, it is hardly surprising that more than 15 percent of all US veterans spend part of their careers in the construction industry, that 11.4 percent of all construction companies in the US are owned by veterans and that the construction industry currently employs more than half a million veterans.
Many of them are drawn to Skanska because of the clear emphasis on core values, with a commitment that “from the projects we build and develop to the innovative, sustainable solutions we use to deliver them, Skanska builds for a better society.” Skanska has an impressive number of retired or reserve service members who enhance the organization with their practical skills and emotional intelligence. Drawing on those skills and building structures to support and enhance opportunities for our Veterans can be a tremendous strength to any industry, not just construction.
This Veteran’s Day, as we reflect on the sacrifices of those who have been willing to put their lives on the line in service to our country, I hope that we’ll remember both those who served and who continue to embody the values of their time in service—sacrificing their own priorities to support the group, unafraid to work hard and take on challenging problems, and committed to a culture of caring for life. The discipline, collaboration, and commitment of our veterans make them valued assets to any company that is lucky enough to employ them.
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