Forty years after first volunteering for the Iowa National Guard, retired Brigadier General Gary Eischeid is now helping POET in the fight to reduce American dependence on foreign oil.
The first step in Gary Eischeid’s distinguished military career was a pretty ordinary one. Fresh out of high school in Des Moines, he joined the Iowa National Guard in 1971 as a private E-1. Then he spent four years as an enlisted man, working his way up to Sergeant. About that time, he discovered that he had both a desire and a knack for leading others.
“As I started getting more involved in the leadership aspect, I found I wanted to get even more involved in the decision-making,” recalls Eischeid. “So I decided to become an officer.”
After graduating from the Iowa Military Academy as a second lieutenant, Eischeid began his steady climb up the officer ranks, eventually winding up a Brigadier General. Along the way, he managed to earn both his bachelor’s and MBA degrees, and also graduated from a number of top Army schools, including the Command General Staff College, Army Training Management System, and the Logistics Multi-Functional Course.
During his 35-year military career, Eischeid earned a plethora of honors and commendations, and between 2000 and 2006 served several tours of short-term active duty in South Korea. There he was the Chief of Staff for an American force of 25,000, involved in an international peace-keeping effort on the 38th parallel’s demilitarized zone.
Eischeid feels privileged to have served his country over that time span, and says he enjoyed the people aspect most.
“I generally enjoy people, but especially in that type of atmosphere,” says Eischeid. “I really liked the teamwork, the camaraderie, relying on each other to accomplish the mission, and the trust that was among all of us.”
Following his retirement from the military, it was Eischeid’s high regard for those very same virtues that attracted him to POET.
“After hearing about POET, I was doing some research on their web site, and when I saw their values ‘We over communicate. We check our egos at the door. We’re all on the same team’ I thought, here’s a company that understands the value of people,” says Eischeid. “I decided that this was also a company I’d like to be a part of.”
Finding a New Niche in Gowrie
In September of 2010, Eischeid was hired as the Environmental, Health and Safety Specialist for POET’s Coon Rapids, Iowa biorefinery. Six weeks later, he applied for the General Manager position at Gowrie and was selected.
As he approaches the end of a very busy first year as Gowrie’s GM, Eischeid reports that he couldn’t be happier with either the workforce at the plant or the Gowrie community.
“I have nothing but praise for my teammates here,” says Eischeid. “They have a great work ethic and have been very open to new ideas. And Gowrie is a great community. They’ve just opened their arms and taken me in.”
Eischeid has been just as quick to embrace the Gowrie community, becoming a board member of the Ft. Dodge-Webster County Growth Alliance and the Gowrie Development Commission. He was also a guest speaker at Gowrie’s Memorial Day observance and was the Grand Marshal and speaker at the town’s big July 4th celebration.
Eischeid–who enjoys spending time with his wife, bow hunting with his two adult sons, and playing with his 18-month old granddaughter in his free time–says that his military skills and experience are serving him well in his new life.
“I try to lead by example, treating each teammate with respect, and encouraging that same respect toward each other as well,” says Eischeid. “I’m also honored to be producing alternative fuel for our country. I feel we must do everything we can to minimize our dependency on foreign oil. Ethanol does that while providing American jobs at the same time.”
America’s 100th Ethanol Plant
POET Biorefining – Gowrie has the distinction of being the 100th ethanol plant built in America, as well as the 23rd to be built by POET Design and Construction, and POET’s seventh in Iowa. The plant commenced operations in May of 2006 and its 46 employees annually produce 70 million gallons of ethanol and 182,000 tons of distillers dried grains, made from 24 million bushels of corn produced in corn-rich central Iowa. The plant originally included POET’s proprietary BPX® (fermentation without cooking) and Waste Heat Recovery™ systems. Since then, Total Water Recovery and three new grain bins totaling 1.95 million bushels of storage have been added. Oil separation technology will be installed this fall.
Organized as an LLC, the Gowrie plant has a significant number of local investors (primarily farmers) and has retained half of its original employees five years later. It has accumulated over 1,000 days since the last lost-time accident, and has also received awards from Union Pacific and CSX Railroads for chemical handling excellence.
Iraqi Native’s Journey Leads to Gowrie
Nabil Kasti was born and grew up in Baghdad, Iraq. While in high school, he took a government test in which he qualified to continue his education as either an electrical or chemical engineer. At that time, he received some good, almost prophetic, advice from his cousin, herself a chemical engineer.
“She told me that I’d have better opportunities as a chemical engineer, because the nature of chemical engineering combines chemical, mechanical, and electrical engineering,” says Kasti.
Kasti took her advice and earned his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Baghdad in 1987. He then went to work for the Iraqi government in a nuclear facility. Things were going OK until the Gulf War of 1991.
“After the war, I realized that there was no future anymore in Iraq,” says Kasti. “With the government being unwilling to cooperate with the United Nations or the international community, it became a very isolated country. Things were really bad, and there was a lot of pressure on the people. I looked at the big picture and saw no good outcome for me. That’s when I decided to leave.”
After leaving Iraq in late 1992, Kasti first went to Jordan, then some other countries in the Middle East and eventually Austria, as he worked on developing his transition plan for immigrating to the United States. While in Austria, he wrote to the American Embassy there, requesting the opportunity to come to the U.S. He was asked to come for an interview and was granted permission to move to America in early 1994.
His first stop in the U.S. was in Michigan. There an advisor counseled him to enhance his marketability by getting an American advanced degree. So Kasti moved to Ohio, and earned a master’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Dayton in mid-2000. He then landed a job working for Cargill in North Dakota, making malt for brewing companies. After seven years, he was transferred to Nebraska, where he eventually learned about the opening at POET Biorefining – Gowrie. In early 2009, he was hired by POET.
“It was a chance to learn refining, which was new to me, plus it was also a step up into management,” says Kasti. “I also liked the fact that it was a green business. When gas prices jumped to $4 in 2008, I began to believe that going green, through ethanol, is the way to go.”
Kasti says the move has been a good one for him. He thrives on the challenge of managing a more complex process that integrates chemistry with “nearly every type of process engineering equipment.”
Kasti, who proudly became an American citizen in 1999, reflects on his long and eventful journey.
“Iraq is a very wealthy country, but its wealth went to a few people and the military, rather than making life better for the masses,” he says. “Life is better here.”
He continues, “Oil is a limited resource, but with ethanol, we can grow our own fuel from corn all the time. If we can extend the life of the earth’s oil reserves, we can make them last for many more generations. In the meantime, I’m sure that future generations will continue to find other sources of energy, which will open up new horizons.”
Off the job, Kasti enjoys spending time with his wife and two children, as well as soccer, biking, rollerblading, and swimming, which he did a lot in Iraq because of the weather. He is grateful for his new life in America.
“How could I ask for more?” he says.
Appreciates Family Culture
POET Biorefining – Gowrie’s Administrative Assistant Rita Carlson enjoys her job. This grandmother of five, who is active in her church and community, likes the variety of working with employees, customers, and the community. She also likes POET’s emphasis on recycling and looking for every opportunity to conserve natural resources.
One of the things she especially appreciates is the plant’s “family culture.” As the second person hired at Gowrie, Carlson has literally seen it all, and one significant memory of an occasion when employees stepped up to help a fellow co-worker.
“One of the plant’s workers had a young child with a brain tumor,” says Carlson. “Among other fundraisers, we had a golf outing where participants could ‘buy Mulligans,’ which raised over $400 on Mulligans alone. It was really touching to witness the outpouring of compassion for the family. It meant a lot to them.”
Ethanol An Asset
Gowrie Mayor Dick Phillips is pretty proud of his town, population 1,030. If you don’t believe it, just ask him.
“We’ve got three parks, a doctor, a lawyer, a roller skating rink, and a band shell where we have programs – just about everything we need,” says Phillips. “And our big July 4th celebration draws 10,000 to 15,000 people from all around the area.”
Phillips adds that ethanol has been a good addition to the community.
“The plant’s been a very valuable asset to us here,” he says. “A lot of local people have been hired on. I’m very happy POET decided to set up here. Because of the plant, we now have an RV park here in town, built originally for the construction workers. I’ve been running ethanol product in my vehicle ever since they came out and have never had any problems. I’d like to see more people using it.”
A World War II veteran himself (Navy, South Pacific), Phillips was glad to welcome a kindred spirit when Gary Eischeid came to town.
“He stepped right in, and has been very willing to help however he can,” says Phillips. “He’s fit in real well.”
Opened Up Opportunities
Commodities Supervisor Ken Kopecky also helps his parents farm about 900 acres on the side, and says that has been a good combination for him.
“It’s worked out really well,” says Kopecky. “I’ve been fortunate to have understanding bosses.”
On the farm side, he says ethanol has really helped his farming operation.
“We’ve pretty much switched from a strictly 50-50 corn-soybean rotation, to mostly corn after corn,” says Kopecky. “The last three or four years, that’s been more profitable. We’ve also put up a new storage bin, to be able to capture a better price.”
At his day job, Kopecky enjoys the people contact.
“I enjoy visiting with the farmers as they come through,” he says. “I hear a lot of comments about how they can always get through so quickly at Gowrie, which they really appreciate.”
An original hire who has worked in both the supply and product sides of the plant, Kopecky is grateful for the doors ethanol has opened for himself and others.
“The ethanol industry has opened up a lot of opportunities for people in the Midwest,” he says. “When you grow, process, and use the products, the money makes a big circle here in the country. That’s a very good thing for the U.S.”