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For this Marine, the transition to civilian life was easier thanks to Kroger

Former Marine Justin Keely was able to resume his civilian life thanks in part to Kroger, where his job was waiting for him following his discharge. / Image courtesy of Kroger

Coming home from Afghanistan’s dangerous Helmand Province and transitioning to civilian life was a little tough, says Justin Keely, a former Marine. “It obviously takes some time to reintegrate and recode your thinking to get back to being a normal person. But after time and good friends, it passed.”

Talk about compartmentalization. But that’s what Justin Keely does. Born in Cincinnati in 1988, he exhibits nothing whatsoever of that trademark Millennial desultoriness. He’s smart, he’s direct, he’s resilient, and he’s a planner. His words — “it passed” — no doubt sum up a parade of horrors the likes of which few of us will ever know, but it’s Keely’s way of saying Helmand Province is over, and he’s ready for what’s next.

Following his discharge from active service in 2012, next meant school. Keely enrolled at UC Clermont, where he earned an associates degree in Criminal Justice. He subsequently earned a bachelors degree in Applied Administration from UC East.

Speaking of compartmentalization, all the while Keely was in the reserves and going to school, he was also working for Kroger. He began as a clerk bagger in 2003 at the age of 15. The work was a steadying influence through his service and his education.

He was good at it too. By the time he took his military leave to go to Afghanistan, Keely had been promoted to a DSD receiver. When he returned, his job at Kroger was waiting for him, and another promotion—this time to assistant store manager—was forthcoming. That’s quite a precipitous rise, but not a surprising one considering the lessons Keely learned abroad.

“I learned to always have a plan for whatever it is in life you are trying to do,” he says. “I also learned never to give up. Depending on your job and where you might deploy to, giving up could mean death for you or your teammates fighting beside you. Your main focus is to bring your brothers home, so because of that you never give up fighting.”

Imagine that young man as your employee, and you can understand why Kroger thinks so favorably of him.

He thinks favorably of Kroger as well. Indeed, his respect for the company is tangible, so much that he thanks the lessons he learned abroad for making him a great employee.

“Without any of those traits, I would not be a productive employee that would be ideal for Kroger to keep around,” he says. “They have helped mold me into the leader needed to excel in this company.”

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The Honoring Our Heroes campaign demonstrates Kroger’s commitment to veterans, service members, and their families. Honoring Our Heroes is Kroger’s way of saying thank you to our active duty service members and our nation's 23 million veterans. Kroger has hired more than 35,000 veterans since 2009. Kroger and their customers have also raised approximately $18.2M in support of the USO. This year the company is donating $1 million of corporate funds to the USO as part of its annual celebration of our country’s service men and women.

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