U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Michael Marotta was just three weeks into his new job as a Long Island Rail Road locomotive engineer when he got word that he was being deployed to the Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing in Westhampton Beach.
In the year and a half he was gone, Marotta wondered what would await him when he returned to work. Luckily, by his side as part of the base’s security force was Senior Master Sgt. James D’Agostino, a longtime LIRR conductor.
“We had good times. It was just long hours. We worked a lot of shifts with no days off for a while, because it was high alert at the time,” said the 42-year-old Marotta, of Farmingville, who recalled D’Agostino spending many a night explaining the logistics of holding down a career with the LIRR and the U.S. military at the same time. “He kind of mentored me in a way. He steered me in the right direction.”
Marotta and D’Agostino are among more than 500 military veterans employed by the LIRR. That includes 169 veterans hired over the last five years as part of a Metropolitan Transportation Authority initiative to recruit service members, including at military job fairs, installations and training events.
LIRR president Phillip Eng said knowing he has veterans among his ranks gives him, and the entire railroad, “a lot of pride.” Veterans Day is being celebrated Monday.
“The railroad employees are all very proud of their backgrounds. And I think we all want to say thank you to our veterans, whether they are Long Island Rail Road employees or others,” Eng said. “It’s just that pride that everyone carries with them in terms of doing what’s right, serving their country, and in our case, serving the public.”
Marotta, who enlisted in the Air Force in 1995, said gratitude was on display when he was sent to combat in Kurdistan in 2008. Union representatives posted photos and contact information for him, and during his time away he regularly received phone calls, text messages and care packages from his fellow railroaders.
Years later, their appreciation is still evident, Marotta said, especially on Veterans Day.
“They don’t forget you,” he said. “You’re kind of put on a pedestal in a way — not that you want to be. But it’s kind of cool.”
D’Agostino, 55, of Westhampton, who has been enlisted since 1982 and joined the LIRR in 1985, said customers, too, regularly take the time to thank him for his service — a reward he said is “better than cash.”
Though they both since have retired from the Air National Guard, Marotta and D’Agostino said the skills they — and other veterans working at the LIRR — developed in the military help them to continue to serve the public in their railroad careers.
“They’re always on time,” Marotta said. “You can definitely tell a military employee that works for the railroad. You can tell in their stature, their character, their discipline, the way they walk, the way they dress, their attitude. It’s just totally different.”
D’Agostino said his training in the security forces has been invaluable during some onboard disputes with passengers.
“It can go from zero to 10, and you can bring that 10 right back to a zero,” said D’Agostino, who views his LIRR career as a continuation of his life in public service. “It’s structured. It’s paramilitary, as far as I’m concerned, especially conductors and engineers. You’re in the public, and you’re either always helping or trying to help.”