JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. –
Do you work at your dream job? Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan L. Sims does in not one, but two sectors.
As a civilian, he’s a locomotive engineer for Amtrak. As a Soldier, he’s a senior rail advisor for the U.S. Army Reserve. Sims has capitalized personally and professionally on his childhood love for trains, as he is happy to lead other Soldiers at his unit and keep this Army profession on track.
A 14-year veteran with the 757th Expeditionary Railway Center (ERC) at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Sims was so determined to work on a military rail that he was willing to enlighten his recruiter about the railway job’s existence.
“When I met my recruiter, he had no idea that the Army had trains, so I had to show and tell him that’s what I wanted as my job,” Sims said.
Sims dedicates his weekends and free time between battle assemblies to the Army rail and his subordinates and peers in the unit, including U.S. Army Reserve Sgt. 1st Class Charles Priest, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the ERC, who has worked with Sims since he joined the military.
“We’ve been together at this Reserve unit for 14 years,” Priest said. “Sims is exceptional at mentoring and preparing junior Soldiers for our railway missions. He’s a good example of a leader.”
Standing 6 feet and 4 inches, Sims towers over all the members of his unit, but still manages to be approachable, personable, and caring of his Soldiers, including his new team member, U.S. Army Reserve Sgt. John M. Tierney, a railway operations crewmember of the ERC.
“I used to be a tanker in active duty, and ever since I switched to the Reserve a few months ago, it’s been sort of daunting because the work is a little different in each component,” Tierney said. “Sims has been my point man since I got here and it’s been helpful to me that he’s responsive and approachable.”
Tierney said the help Sims offers is not limited to Army Reserve duty hours.
“I’m hoping to be a locomotive engineer in my civilian job because I just got employed with the railroad. Sims is helping me get on track with that as well,” Tierney said.
One of the ERC’s most critical missions at weekend battle assemblies is railway inspections. The railway crewmembers walk the length of the railway and search for damaged ties, defective bolts, and anything that could compromise railway operations or the railroad infrastructure.
“The rail inspections are just a small piece of what we do,” Priest explained. “It fits into the larger picture of rail assessments, which we provide to our international partners.”
Not only has the ERC afforded international travel to the members of the unit, Sims explained that the military has provided education and certification opportunities, which he used to advance in his civilian career.
“I wouldn’t have been able to become a locomotive engineer as a civilian without the training opportunities of the ERC,” Sims said.
What makes the ERC unique is that it’s the Department of Defense’s only rail unit, so there aren’t many Soldiers who specialize in railway operations.
“My job isn’t just about moving trains from one side of the country to the other,” Sims said. “I’m keeping the railway legacy going through training and mentoring Soldiers so they’ll keep that excellence going.”