In honor of Veterans Day, this special column is dedicated to the men and women who served our country and now serve the Auburn community.
It’s 5 am, and Erin Wakefield is surrounded by 45 people – all talking at the same time. It’s Waste Management’s (WM) Central Dispatch. It’s loud and fast-paced, a high pressure, critical nerve center – and Wakefield feels right at home. Central Dispatch is where she manages WM’s highly skilled technology systems, customer service, communications, scheduling, and routing team. She credits her comfort level in this intense environment to her four years of active duty in the U.S. Air Force.
“I was a combat arms instructor. Every year Air Force personnel have to come in for weapons training on safety, cleaning, and shooting,” Wakefield said. “It was my job to teach and certify them.”
Wakefield was the lone female in a 12-person unit responsible for the weapon proficiency of airmen in combat. When a weapon malfunctioned on the battlefield, Wakefield and her team had to identify the problem, fix it and get it back in action as quickly as possible. Lives depended on it.
These experiences prepared her for a career at Waste Management, where safety training, teamwork and sophisticated systems are key to providing reliable and professional service to residential customers and businesses. Similar to a military operation, Wakefield’s dispatch team trains on safety protocol, huddles daily to problem solve and share best practices, and uses information from cameras and computers mounted on collection trucks to help drivers steer clear of unexpected roadblocks and detours.
The dispatch manager position is a natural fit for Wakefield. She said her training helps her understand her team members’ personalities and characteristics so she can tailor their training for the most successful outcome. Through her military service, she developed a firm understanding of the need for clear communications, accountability, and chain of command. That translates well to her daily duties at WM.
“The Air Force taught me integrity, a strong work ethic, and a can-do attitude,” Wakefield said. “As soon as I hear someone say, ‘We can’t do it,’ I start looking for ways we can.”
Those are qualities Waste Management looks for and why one of every 14 WM employees is a veteran, spouse of a vet, or reservist. It’s also why Waste Management is one of the top employers of veterans in the nation and is a champion for veterans.
Why does WM recruit vets? Because WM managers understand the value veterans bring to the workforce and our community. Veterans arrive with a safety mindset along with the teamwork and leadership skills that WM needs to serve communities. Veterans have extensive training, are prepared to adapt, and excel in a team setting. They can easily assimilate into WM’s proudly diverse workforce as we strive for inclusiveness and equity.
Wakefield embodies these qualities. She calmly, confidently supports the WM drivers and teams who serve the Auburn community – just as she did in the Air Force. Whether she is teaching a superior officer the correct way to break down, clean, and fire a weapon, or helping WM drivers navigate the unexpected on their routes, Wakefield feels right at home.
Hannah Scholes is Waste Management’s education and outreach manager. Learn more about local job opportunities for military veterans at careers.wm.com.