A legacy of service

Roger Woodworth.

Woodworth at the Veterans One-Stop Center of WNY. Photo: Tom Wolf

For Capt. Roger Woodworth, BS ’99, EMBA ’09, service is in his blood.

As a child, he looked up to his grandfather, father and uncle, who all served in the military. “There really wasn’t much of a question: I always knew, at some point, I would seek the honor to serve my country,” he says.

Woodworth enlisted in the U.S. Army National Guard in 1996, beginning a decorated military career that would span nearly 20 years. After completing basic and advanced individual training, he returned to Buffalo as a reserve component soldier and finished his bachelor’s degree at the UB School of Management.

Afterward, Woodworth joined M&T Bank and, over the next several years, progressed through leadership roles in its finance division while simultaneously earning his commission as a U.S. Army officer.

“Leadership is not about being in charge—it’s about setting direction, motivating and building credibility,” he says. “Whether that lesson came out of my military experience or business school, it’s hard to tell, but they certainly reinforced each other.”

In June 2004, Woodworth deployed to Iraq as a commander in 42nd Infantry Division, leading his fellow service members in ground combat and stability operations. His unit was awarded the Meritorious Unit Citation for its role in Operation Iraqi Freedom III. In addition, Woodworth received numerous personal recognitions, including the Bronze Star Medal and Army Commendation Medal (with “V” device for valor).

“The accomplishment I’m most proud of from my military career—and the thing that most profoundly changed me—is leading American soldiers in combat,” Woodworth says. “It was a time when I did something bigger than myself. It wasn’t about any individual—it was about the team and the uniform. I’m extremely proud to have been part of that and to learn from it.”

Stateside, Woodworth remained on active duty, serving in various leadership positions as a combat engineer officer at progressive levels from company and detachment commander, as well as other staff and command positions at the battalion and brigade levels.

Concurrently, Woodworth sought to further his education and earned his Executive MBA from the UB School of Management in 2009.

“Of all the things I’ve done for myself, getting my Executive MBA at UB was one of the best,” Woodworth says. “It changed my life. Every day, from the time I started the program through today, I use something I learned in the EMBA program.”

One of the most valuable things he gained, Woodworth says, is a strong network of classmates and alumni.

“I learned the most from those professional relationships, and some have turned into friendships,” he says. “Don’t underestimate the importance of building a network—it laid the groundwork for success for everybody involved.”

In 2013, Woodworth was instrumental in founding the Veterans One-Stop Center of WNY, a nonprofit that empowers veterans to achieve economic success, housing stability and emotional health and well-being. He was the organization’s inaugural chairman, and served as its president and CEO for four years.

“The last thing I ever thought I would do was to be entrepreneurial,” Woodworth admits. “But I had the opportunity to work with other dedicated individuals and organizations to launch the One-Stop Center and tie a lot of disparate systems together to impact the community.”

Finally, in January 2016—after 19 years, six months and 22 days of service, including more than nine years of active service—Woodworth medically retired from the military.

Woodworth left the One-Stop Center in November 2017 after purchasing GEM Manufacturing and, today, serves as its president and CEO. The veteran-owned and -operated manufacturer supplies metal screw and other customized machined parts to customers in the machine tooling, injection molding, electronics, light manufacturing and plasma cutting machine industries.

Meanwhile, Woodworth says: “I realized service doesn’t end when I stop serving my country. That’s why I’ve been involved in many nonprofit causes.”

Locally and nationally, Woodworth is a staunch advocate for the veterans’ community, having served on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Federal Advisory Committee on Homeless Veterans, and working on local efforts in the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. Among other roles, he was co-chair of the Veterans Working Group of the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council and treasurer of the WNY Veterans Housing Coalition.

Today, Woodworth serves on the Mental Health Advocates of Erie County board and the VA WNY Healthcare System advisory committee, and as chair of HigherGround New York and a committee member for the local chapter of ESGR (Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve). He also shares his expertise on the advisory council for Joining Forces–UB, which trains nursing and social work students in working with veterans and military families.

For all of his efforts, Woodworth has been inducted into the New York State Senate’s Veterans Hall of Fame.

“There are always opportunities to serve,” says Woodworth, who lives in Orchard Park with his wife, their four children and golden retriever. “If you want to better our community, then get involved in it.”

Written by Matthew Biddle