By Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public AffairsFebruary 5, 2018
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Feb. 5, 2018) -- As hard as they tried, the announcement that John Kadaraitis was named Fort Drum Civilian of the Year for 2017 did not entirely come as a surprise to him.
The installation's Directorate of Human Resources is responsible for organizing the quarterly civilian award ceremony, and Kadaraitis, the Civilian Workforce Development program manager, is usually in the know when the list of recipients is confirmed. Last May, he was named a Civilian of the Quarter in the supervisory category, which put him in contention for the top award that was presented Jan. 25 in the banquet room at The Commons.
"Well, I won't say I had no idea because when they're overly secretive, then it just makes you wonder," he said. "I didn't know for sure by any stretch of imagination. It was funny because when they gave me the script to review, all the meat was gone. It had the introduction, the benediction and closing remarks in it, but all the rest was stripped out."
During the ceremony, Col. Dean Harrison, Fort Drum Garrison commander, said that it was fitting that the winner for the highest award for the civilian workforce went to someone so integral to workforce development.
"I think that this is especially fitting because what he dedicates his efforts to, his work to, his passion to, is making sure all of us develop together as a workforce and, as an installation, that we all continue to get better," Harrison said.
Kadaraitis said that receiving the award was a great honor, and it was a feeling that hit home during the standing ovation.
"I say that this was an honor because I know a lot of people on the installation, and I have the opportunity to work with a lot of them occasionally and some on a daily basis," he said. "To get that award, I think for me, it's more of a group award. I don't look at it as an award for John Kadaraitis but as an award for workforce development."
Kadaraitis said it was also a compliment to their division that Brian O'Connor, a former Civilian of the Year recipient, was presented with a Civilian of the Quarter award and overall category winner at the same time. Kadaraitis and O'Connor comprise the civilian workforce development staff, and are responsible for the training of garrison civilians.
"What makes us unique from any other organization within Installation Management Command is that our primary customers are the employees themselves, not the Soldiers," Kadaraitis said. "I mean, what we do has an impact on Soldiers because we provide training to those employees who provide the first-line services to Soldiers, but rarely do we interact with Soldiers here."
In describing his job, Kadaraitis said that the focus is primarily on distributing information and development to the workforce, as well as serving as the approval authority for all civilian training for Fort Drum garrison employees.
"My job is to inform and develop our garrison workforce, but it's not exclusive to our garrison workforce," he said. "Whether that's me or Brian teaching our workforce, or bringing in subject matter experts externally to teach the classes, or it could be just informing people about a new course here or that a career program is funding some training."
Many people at Fort Drum are familiar with Kadaraitis in the classroom setting as an instructor or from the civilian workforce briefs when he provides a rundown of upcoming training opportunities. He said that making connections with the workforce is the most rewarding part of his job.
"It's the camaraderie, and getting to work with everyone and that interaction I have with the workforce," Kadaraitis said. "I was just doing one of those 'death by Powerpoint' projects today which is one of my least favorite things to do. But when I can go teach a class, talk to people at a garrison workforce brief or see people at a Civilian of the Quarter luncheon who I don't often see, those are the best perks I can have."
Kadaraitis first arrived at Fort Drum as an artilleryman in 1997. He was assigned to 2nd Field Artillery Regional Training Battalion and later reported across post to the 2nd Battalion, 15th Field Artillery Regiment. Following back-to-back deployments, he accepted a position at the University of Maine in Orono, instructing Reserve Officers' Training Corps students in 2005.
"I learned quite a bit about gathering all the curriculum and making the syllabus I was to teach," he said. "That was a rewarding experience, getting to not only teach in the classroom but then also going into the field to teach labs."
He retired as a first sergeant in 2007 and returned to the Fort Drum area.
"I'm originally from New York, and our Family is about two and a half hours away from here," Kadaraitis said. "Having been a Soldier here I was very familiar with the area and I love the outdoors, so this was right up my alley."
His first job here as a civilian employee was handing out equipment at the Central Issue Facility. Admittedly, Kadaraitis said that only a few hours after the orientation had passed before he knew it wasn't the job for him. A short stint followed in the radio room for the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security. In a matter of weeks, he was offered a government contractor position as the first Warrior Transition Unit ombudsman at Fort Drum where he helped Soldiers as a patient advocate.
After a year in that position, the WTU battalion commander offered Kadaraitis a position on his team as an operations specialist. When the workforce development division was re-established on post, Kadaraitis transferred as the training resource specialist in 2009. Five years later, he was promoted to his current position as branch chief.
Kadaraitis said that the challenge he faced at first was managing a budget so that he could maximize the amount of training offered even as the workforce itself was reducing in size.
"I had to come up with some innovative ideas to provide different training, reaching out to different subject matter experts on the installations to see if they could teach a class," he said. "That's when I started to give some classes as well, in Excel and other things, when there was nothing in the budget. When there were reductions in manpower, we saw that employees' availability to even attend training was dipping, so we had to come up with a strategic plan to go after that."
With the implantation of DPMAPS and the OPEX training, Kadaraitis and O'Connor has seen a dramatic increase in classroom training this past year. An influx of new employees from Public Works added more team member orientation classes to their schedule.
Kadaraitis said that it was also important that the civilian workforce training division embraced a "Team Drum" vision to expand its client base beyond the garrison.
"Our whole position description talks about us supporting the garrison workforce, but we have a great rapport with all our other partners on the installation and I think we've done a great job at bringing them together," he said. "So when you go to one of the classes this summer and it's full, it's just not IMCOM folks but probably half from MEDDAC. I really enjoy working with the other organizations as well."
An annual training needs assessment is distributed to the workforce via email and Kadaraitis said that the feedback generated helps them determine what classes the majority of the employees need. Recently, he sent out an additional assessment for supervisors to weigh in on training needs they have identified for their own staff.
"Surprisingly, those two assessments were nearly identical in what they felt they needed, and so that was some good input," he said. "Based on those assessments and our budget, that's where we're drawing our classes."
Sometimes a class thought to have a wide appeal turns out to be ill-attended, and vice-versa.
"What was surprising the last couple of years, is that this emotional intelligence class has been really popular," he said. "At first, no one was attending but then we got remarks about how great the class was, and then everyone was saying, 'hey, I didn't get a chance to attend this, can we bring this back?' From there, it really grew and we weren't expecting that based on the initial attendance."
Kadaraitis understands that some of the mandatory training material can be dry and not everyone in attendance is especially thrilled to be pulled away from their normal day-to-day operations.
"The best thing I can do is to be honest and personable with an audience. Don't lecture, but get them involved," he said. "I'll try to make connections on a personal level rather than just be an instructor in the front of the classroom teaching."
Sometimes a simple incentive works well to engage a class. Kadaraitis will sometimes reach into a bowl of candy to reward people for class participation.
"Anything we can do to make things interesting is worth trying," he said. "You can ask a question and then hear nothing but crickets. Then you give somebody a piece of candy, even if they respond with nothing remotely connected to the question, but it sparks the next person to open up and then another person."
Some of the civilian employees Kadaraitis tosses candy at today, he knew in uniform with the 2-15th, at the WTU or from other assignments. He had served as a platoon leader under John Simard, the installation antiterrorism officer, and worked with Dave Campbell, DPTMS chief of operations, while assigned to 2nd Field Artillery Regional Training Battalion.
"Our kids had birthday parties together when they were small," he said. "There are probably dozens of people at Fort Drum who I used to know as a Soldier. It's just that kind of community that we live in that when people retire they choose to live and work here."