Salute to Our Ground Men

By: Fara Foster, Director of Communications & Community Engagement

When Mike Smith went to work as a ground man after high school graduation, he thought it would be a summer job. At the time, he had no idea how much value that first job would bring to his entire life. Now in his current role as an asphalt plant foreman at Plant 7, he is completely aware of the importance of his ground man.

Usually the first person at the asphalt plant each morning and the last to leave, our ground men work long hours in hot, dirty environments. A simple explanation of the role is that they “work the ground” at the plants, checking equipment, loading fiber bales, looking for potential problems and keeping the plant clean. According to Mike and several of his peers, a better explanation is that they serve as the “eyes and ears of the plant.”

When asked for the characteristics of a strong ground man, Ricky Pike, Plant 10 foreman, said, “Hard-working, but even more than that, you have to be attentive.” Ricky went on to talk about the special skillset required, noting the ground man is always watching and listening for anything that sounds different. He also noted that different pieces of equipment have different greasing schedules. It’s up to the ground men to master those schedules and keep the plant running.

When Blake Kimbrough joined our companies, he did so as a plant operator. However, Blake was quick to state that it is impossible to run the plant if you don’t first learn how to work on the ground. Now the foreman at Plant 1, he said, “They are the backbone of the plant. The company couldn’t make it without them. Not only could I not do my job without them, they actually make me better at my job.”

The team who works in our southernmost plants credit Roger Brown for the success of several of their ground men. As a part of our team for more than 13 years, Roger has shared his experience and trained numerous others, including Chris Wilkes and John Murphy. Roger and Chris often work alongside each other, as does Arnold Carson. Arnold works as a ground man, operating a loader at the plant and he also operates a roller for a paving crew.

When asked who sets the bar closer to Memphis, the answer is always Rodney Gwynn. With more than 23 years of experience, Rodney knows his plant and his equipment better than anyone else at Plant 5. “There’s just no one like him,” said Howard Green. “He puts a lot of personal pride in everything he does. He’s a man of few words. He lets his work speak for him.”

Plants 7 and 10 have earned NAPA’s Diamond Achievement Award for several years running. The program was designed to help the asphalt plants of NAPA members demonstrate good corporate citizenship and neighbor-friendly operations. According to Jim Whitten, much of the credit should go to our ground men. “Diamond Achievement is won by the guys on the ground. Every day, all day long, they do what it takes to keep our drums turning and they do in a way that is respectful of our neighbors.”

We salute the ground men at all of our plants and thank them for their humble dedication to our team and the community around us.