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Joe Micheletti

Joe Micheletti, the executive vice president of Westmoreland Coal Company, center, talks with U.S. Army recruiter Capt. Kevin Kumlien as they tour the mine near Hardin on Tuesday.

HARDIN — Westmoreland Coal Co. is going green — and becoming Army strong — in ways that exceed even the grandest of reclamation projects.

On Tuesday, company officials and Army representatives met at the company’s Absaloka Mine outside Hardin to sign a strategic partnership called PaYS, the Partnership for Youth Success, which seeks to place Army veterans in private sector jobs once soldiers have completed their military commitment.

“We know that people come out of the armed forces with job skills,” said Greg Hubby, the company’s senior human resources manager who

himself served in the Army. “If we have jobs for them, it will lure them in.”

About 200 people — 75 percent of them members of the Crow Tribe — work at the mine, where salaries average $75,000 per year, said Joe Micheletti, the company’s executive vice president. In addition to Hubby, several other workers are military veterans, he said.

“Our commitment is to make sure we can provide good jobs to military people when they come home,” Micheletti said. “Soldiers have the skills we need,” including electricians, mechanics and machine operators, he said, adding, “We look at their leadership, too.”

“And their work ethic,” added Jeff Ross, chief of advertising and public affairs with the Army’s recruiting battalion in Salt Lake City. “They work until the job is done.”

Lt. Col. Cort J. Hunt, commander of the Salt Lake City Recruiting Battalion, said that after their service, soldiers “bring many benefits” to their employers. In the Western states he serves, he said he’s happy that the program continues to spread, particularly into smaller communities.

“The more we can partner with communities, everyone in the community wins,” he said. “This is a national program, and so we hope to bring it to every mine Westmoreland operates.”

That’s six mines in four U.S. states — Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota and Texas — as well as six additional mines in Canada.

The company has just begun to participate in the PaYS program, which has more than 500 corporate and civic partners across the country, ranging from Fortune 500 companies to small-town police forces and fire departments, as well as public works departments.

Under the agreement, participating companies guarantee soldiers an interview and possible employment at the time of their military separation. The program has brought awareness and visibility to soldiers as they transition into civilian life, Hunt said.

“They’ve learned a lot of jobs coming out of the armed forces,” said Hubby, the HR official for Westmoreland Coal. “If we have a job for them, (the PaYS program) will be our opportunity to hire them on.”

To mark the signing ceremony, soldiers and company officials exchanged gift bags, then left the company’s Hardin administrative office in three vehicles — including a military Humvee — to tour some of the company’s 200 acres being actively mined, part of its 14,000-acre Absaloka Mine.

The group paused for a photo opportunity at the base of a dragline, a piece of machinery nearly 300 feet tall but controlled by a single operator who can, using a joystick, dig 115 cubic yards of coal or dirt with a single scoop.

The 12 million pound dragline slowly crept along a path as the operator dug, but came to a halt — as if to salute — when the visiting soldiers arrived.

Each of the bucket’s teeth weighs 500 pounds, and the Humvee — as well as a truck that ferried troops and other visitors to the active mine — could comfortably fit inside the scoop. But on this day, the soldiers themselves lined up inside the steel scoop, smiling as they posed for multiple photographs.

“This is our way,” Micheletti said, “of thanking the armed services for all that they do, and for all the freedoms we enjoy because of them. It’ll be our pleasure to provide jobs to soldiers when they come home.”

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