John Skopick is a Midwesterner. Although he spent several years as a Marine at Camp Pendleton, California, and overseas during the first Gulf War as well as having lived down south for a few years, he’s now back in Illinois, where he was raised. He now has his own business as a State Farm independent contractor agent.
John is a busy man. Even amid the coronavirus pandemic, he’s been trying to keep up with the needs of State Farm customers in Lemont, IL, a suburb just southwest of Chicago. “Sorry, I had a few fires to put out this morning,” he said as he was delayed a few minutes for our meeting.
After graduating from high school in the Chicago area, Skopick enlisted in the Marine Corps and was, as he puts it, a “Hollywood Marine,” going to boot camp in San Diego and then getting stationed at Camp Pendleton. Life was good, but then Sadam Hussein invaded Kuwait and the United States was quickly embroiled in the fighting.
As he was finishing up his initial training as a heavy machine gunner (M2 .50 caliber) and as a Mark 19, 40mm Grenade Launcher gunner, he was assigned to a unit that was still in Panama after Operation Just Cause. “It was kind of a ghost unit at first,” he said.
But he soon joined the Fleet and caught up with his unit. He was then on his way to the Middle East, of which he has a couple of interesting remembrances.
“The Mark 19,” he said, “that thing always jammed, and we had this LSA (Lubricant, Small Arms), it seemed like the thing never worked… and yet during the Gulf War the thing never jammed once… my buddies and I would sit around talking about how it must be a miracle…”
“We laughed and thought ‘this thing doesn’t work in perfect conditions but when we get downrange and into desert combat, these things work like a dream.'”
“When the ground war was dying down, we began escorting large convoys of troops, headquarters elements into the area. We were on a patrol one night and we came across this Marine water filtration unit in the middle of nowhere in the desert.”
One of the young Marines had gotten his night camouflage jacket, which was made for the desert, caught in a giant turbine that the unit used. The turbine pulled him into the machine and was whipping the Marine all around inside it.
“Luckily enough we were just going by in the desert at about 0200, they had no coms and we were able to save this kid’s life by pulling him out of there. We were able to get him medevaced out of there.” He chuckled, “as great as the tech ended up in the war (with all of the aircraft video on the news), it didn’t really work too well then.”
After a six-year hitch — four on active duty and two on the reserves — he decided to move on as the reserves weren’t the same Marine Corps he had experienced on active duty. He was a squad leader when he got out of the Marine Corps.
After getting out and bouncing around with a couple of jobs, Skopick got into the mortgage business for about 15 years and owned his own company for 12 of those. He sold his company in 2008 by, as he puts it, “dumb luck.”
After moving to Florida for a couple of years, he got into some independent insurance work. That’s when he and State Farm found each other. Skopick and his wife were moving back to Chicago and a good childhood friend of his recruited him into the State Farm independent contractor agent opportunity.
He has now been with the company for eight years — seven of these running his own business. He sees it as a great avenue for transitioning veterans. “We work in small teams, and for those guys who didn’t go the college route… you don’t have to have a degree.”
“Most of the guys who work for me did college for a while, but for one reason or another decided it wasn’t for them. I’d love to build a team of veterans.”
He said that the junior NCOs (the CPLs and SGTs), have the self-discipline and leadership experience that the kids straight out of college don’t have and he compared running a business is similar to running a squad.
“State Farm is such a great gig,” he said. “You’re an independent owner but you remain part of a great company, it is working together solving problems and this is a great place for people with a military background.”
He ended with this: “I believe the State Farm [agent] opportunity is one of the best-kept secrets out there. You get to be a business owner but you rep a Fortune 50 brand.”
“It is such a huge advantage to be able to build your team and your business the way you want to while you have a multi-billion dollar company behind you. It is an unbelievable opportunity and I believe veterans fit what State Farm looks for and they can be very successful here.”