U.S. Marine Corps, 1992-1998
Heavy Equipment Operator & Combat Engineer
I served on the West Coast, at Camp Pendleton in Bakersfield, and on the East Coast at Camp Lejuene in Jacksonville, North Carolina. I also did a brief stint in Korea, at Camp Casey, neat the DMZ. I was there for three months.
For me, the best memory from my service was the camaraderie with my fellow Marines. Growing up, I had an older brother and a little sister, but I never had anyone the same age and with the same interests. In the Marine Corps, we came from all over, but we all had the same focus.
When I transitioned from active duty back to civilian life, it was kind of a culture shock. You come from something so strict and structured and disciplined, and suddenly, you’re just on your own. You had to wake up on your own, do physical fitness on your own, it’s all on you, and that’s not at all what I was used to after six years in the Marines. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of not wanting to do anything, so it took a lot of self-discipline to maintain that active lifestyle I had in the Marines.
Finding work after the military was even more of a struggle. I was a heavy equipment operator and combat engineer in the Marines, and I tried to follow that same career path in the civilian world, but employers kept telling me that my military skills didn’t carry over into the civilian jobs I was going after. I bounced around from bad job to bad job, but I never gave up. I always did what I was supposed to do, whether I was working in a food-packing warehouse or loading trucks for a window company. And slowly but surely, that discipline I learned in the Marines helped me to stand out at work. During my eight years at the window company, I started off loading trucks but ended up as the shipping supervisor, even though I had no previous experience in managing, other than leading Marines.
The military is like a family. In everything you do, you don’t want to let the person next to you down. I did my job to the best of my ability; I didn’t let anybody down. And I still feel that way now when I’m at work, I never want to let my co-workers down.
And that’s just one of the traits that’s stuck with me in civilian life. To this day, I still get up at 5am, and I’ve been out more than 15 years. It’s kind of embedded in me. That, and being prepared. My kids make fun of me when I say this at home, but it’s something I learned in the military – “Two is one, and one is none.” I always have a backup, no matter that it is, laundry detergent or what have you, I always have an extra, so I’m never out. It’s lead to some interesting conversations with my wife, and some creative ways to store the extra stuff, but we’ve never run out of laundry detergent.
If there’s one piece of advice I could offer young vets who are just beginning their transition back to civilian life, I would tell them, “Don’t be afraid to ask for help.” I was so used to being the big tough Marine who didn’t need any help. I was used to being the person others leaned on when they needed help. And so I bounced around from job to job because I was too prideful to ask for help. If I would have learned to ask for help, maybe I could have landed in a better job a lot sooner, and at this point I could have 18 years’ experience in my line of work, instead of nine. That’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned, to be humble, and to ask for help when you need it.