Some Lessons From Combat Have Helped Make a Better World
It has been said that no one goes to war and returns unchanged. That’s true for men and women who are active on the front lines and for those serving in the myriad support roles that make the military function correctly.
For Jerry Rathburn, founder of Rathburn Tool & Manufacturing, his time as a soldier in the Vietnam War changed him as a person and brought out the leader in him. As Jerry told the story, “We were just a bunch of kids. Sure, we had guns and knew there were people trying to kill us. But we were kids. Some people made choices to drink or turn to drugs to escape what was happening around them, but others stepped up and became leaders. Because that’s how we were going to complete our mission and come back home.”
Jerry said it became clear very early that leadership was not about an appointment or a title. “Leaders were defined by whether people were willing to follow you. There’s a big difference between having a title and being a leader,” Jerry added. “It’s how you carry yourself, how you treat others, and whether you are willing to do the things you’re asking of others.”
In founding Rathburn Tool, Jerry applied the leadership lessons learned in Vietnam. He said, “I’ve never asked somebody else to do something I wouldn’t do. That includes picking up the trash, picking up parts, sweeping, mopping, even cleaning the toilets.” For Jerry, it’s about leading by example and creating teams of people who support each other, look out for each other, and grow together.
Leadership has made a difference in the quality of the products produced by Rathburn Tool for more than 40 years. Because, in Jerry’s way of thinking, people who care about others around them and the company they work for channel that energy into their work each day.
Helping our veterans
“I took some of the experiences I had in Vietnam and tried to turn them around and make them into good things,” Jerry continued. He said he recognized very early that military and combat experience affected people differently. And while he doesn’t like the fact that so many former soldiers turned to drugs and alcohol to escape, he understands the challenges and understands what their families go through.
them into good things.”
Jerry said, “Even though I don’t agree with some of the things they do I think we owe them some compassion and need to try to help them out.” This has led Rathburn to support veterans and military families in various ways for nearly 40 years. He continued, “People will say they aren’t giving to vets for some reason or another as they judge them for the situation they’re in. We don’t do that. Because you have to support the people, the families, the kids without judgment.”
After years of supporting veterans and their families at an individual and company level, Rathburn took his commitment to a different level in 2021 when he established the Veteran Endowment Fund at the Community Foundation DeKalb County to support the basic needs of veterans and their families in Northeastern Indiana. Jerry contributed $20,000 to start the fund and then challenged area companies to join in.
Jerry said his goal for the Veteran Endowment Fund is to help local families have a better future. “Anybody who has been in any kind of a combat situation has scars,” he said. “It’s just how you hide them. That’s all it is. Some people are unable to put the memories behind them and we need to help them and their families. To do whatever we can do. Kids don’t have a choice. They feel the impact of everything that’s happening to their parents, and we need to help them have a great future, too.”
The English writer G.K. Chesterton once said, “The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.” For Jerry Rathburn, that means fighting for those in his family, his company, and his community. He’s built a successful career and company by focusing on people and producing the highest quality parts possible. In many ways, the two concepts are integrally linked and will help Rathburn Tool & Manufacturing continue to positively impact the lives of people and companies in DeKalb County and across the country well into the future.
Follow this series to learn more about Rathburn’s origin story, lessons in leadership, evolutions in equipment, and the importance of treating people well.