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Michigan veteran applies military training to the milking parlor

Bev Berens for Progressive Dairyman Published on 02 November 2017
Josh Caostes (right) in Iraq

Quiet and reserved. Observing more than interacting.

That’s how Josh Coates, long-time employee for Bosscher Dairy in McBain, Michigan, and U.S. Army 72nd Mobility Augmentation Company veteran, rolls.

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These traits are coveted both as part of a military team and in the milking parlor.

Coates, 27, lives a quiet life with his lab-mix canine companion, Lacey, who he adopted from his squad leader post-deployment from Afghanistan. Dog and man are never far apart on the farm where he lives and cares for a small herd of Belted Galloway cattle for his landlord.

Josh and his dog Lacey

He attended Pine River High School, graduating in 2008. He worked on farms and grew up riding horses, fishing and hunting near his hometown of Cadillac. After high school, he took full-time employment on a dairy farm and later worked at a local vehicle dealership before transitioning to Bosscher Dairy, returning to work there after serving his country.

Coates joined the Army in 2011 in what he described as a spur-of-the-moment decision. While the decision may have been made quickly, it wasn’t made lightly. “It was something I always kind of wanted to do growing up,” Coates says.

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October that year found Josh in basic training at Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri. Basic was followed by route clearance training at Ft. Riley, Kansas, his home station. More training at Ft. Leonard Wood, final training in California, and Coates was conditioned for the next eight months – a stint in Afghanistan where he serviced routes traveled by American and partnering forces, clearing bombs and booby traps from roads.

Josh Coates (left) carries his M14“Afghanistan is dirty, dusty and sandy. It was a culture shock. That was the first big experience,” Coates says. “It was like they hadn’t evolved. They were still living in mud houses with mud walls 4 feet thick from being thousands of years old. You eventually kind of got used to it.”

Military life, especially his time in active combat, is not something he readily shares. Adrenaline rushes brought on by being shot at or defusing bombs can become addicting, something most people just can’t relate to. “Unless people ask, I don’t really tell them much about it,” he says. “They can’t really understand unless they’ve been through it. They are not in my position; I’m not in theirs.”

Back at Ft. Riley and working in the arms room after deployment, Coates found himself caught in the middle of military down-sizing after three service years. He had to decide: re-enlist or leave. “I never planned to re-enlist, but I never planned to leave early either.” Exiting military life was the final decision.

In ways, life as a civilian is much more complicated, according to Josh. “You either lived or you died each day while in the Army; it was just that simple,” he says. “There was more stability.”

Today, he works part-time at Bosscher Dairy as a leader in the milking parlor, cares for his landlord’s cattle and attends Northern Michigan Community College in Traverse City in their fresh-water program, hoping to land a future career with the U.S. Fish and Game or Forestry Service.

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Coates’ observation skills and quiet demeanor come in handy all over the farm.

Dairy owner Mike Bosscher says, “Josh is very regimented. He is never late for work.”

Herd manager and employee supervisor Joe Kulhawick agreed. “Not a lot of people can say they are never late when they have to be at work at 4 a.m., but Josh can. When we’re moving cattle, he keeps his eyes open and his mouth shut. He’s very good at that.”

In comparing the pre- and post-military Josh as part of a valued employee team, not much has changed, according to Kulhawick. He did note Coates has become an excellent leader since his return to the dairy farm.

“He takes on the responsibility of training the high school and college students who are part of the work pool here. He is not afraid to pass on what I expect of them in the milking parlor and other areas. Josh is just really good at instructing and training, and also leads by example in always being to work on time and doing a job completely.”

“I don’t know if searching for bombs helped make me a better milker; we were getting shot at, so it doesn’t really help you with dairy cows a whole lot,” Coates says. But he agrees the military has taught him to pay more attention to detail.

“I find myself over-planning, or what we would call war-gaming, sometimes thinking two or three steps ahead. If the situation shifts, then I have to go this way, and if it shifts again, we have to go another way. A lot of people don’t like that habit – don’t want to hear how things are going to roll out if they do something or make a decision. But employers love it and the fact you actually can and do think ahead.”

Not regretting joining the military right out of high school, he says, “It’s hard at 17 to know where you want to be. You have to be all in or all out, and when you’re a little older, you’re more mature and able to handle some stuff like the discipline part of the military better. I think for some younger people the military would be a good track to follow right out of high school for the discipline and the culture aspect.”

Coates personally maintains military discipline by making his bed every morning and wearing his hair short.

He loves to spend time on the water in his fishing boat, Lacey at his side. Occasionally, he customizes guns for people. While enjoying the farm, dairy farming is not part of his long-term plans. “I’d like to travel, and that doesn’t go hand in hand with dairy farm employment,” he jokes. He would like to visit Montana and Alaska and spend time in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Coates was an integral part of the employee team that pushed Bosscher Dairy to the top of the Northstar Performance Summary List for 2016. The farm’s story was featured in Progressive Dairyman Issue 11, July 1, 2017.  end mark

PHOTO 1: Josh Coates of Cadillac, Michigan, (right) searched for and cleared roadways of bombs during his service time in Iraq. 

PHOTO 2: Army veteran Josh Coates with his dog, Lacey. Coates served in Afghanistan as part of a clearance crew defusing bombs.

PHOTO 3: Josh Coates (left) carries his M14 enhanced battle rifle he used while serving in Iraq. Photos provided by Josh Coates.

Bev Berens is a freelance writer based in Michigan.

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