Connecting Veterans: From Uniform to Business Suit

U.S. Army Reserve soldiers attending attend a job fair at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in July 2014. (C. Terrell Turner/U.S. Army)
U.S. Army Reserve soldiers attending attend a job fair at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in July 2014. (C. Terrell Turner/U.S. Army)

I first heard about American Corporate Partners as I was being medically retired for injuries and complications I had received in both combat and training.  The Fox News team highlighted what ACP brought to the table: experience matching business leaders with our recently transitioning warriors to assist with the transition from the military to a successful civilian career.

I got right on the computer to complete an application and low and behold, within a week, my ACP coordinator Chelsea was on the phone interviewing me.  What I remember most about the process was that I was honestly nervous; this was my first of many interviews I would face within the year.  Chelsea asked a series of questions that narrowed down my interests and experience.  Armed with this information, Chelsea developed a profile of me in order to identify who would be my mentor.

My personal experience with the joint military force has meant I have had a very unique career, and most of my time in the military was spent deployed. I had only one regret -- that I had not completed my degree. By the time I found ACP, I was already enrolled in college and was focused on achieving my lifetime goal of a degree. I had also begun volunteering with a veteran service organization which takes warriors (both active and retired) kayak fishing. Chelsea looked for someone who had taken a similar path and had similar hobbies. It wasn’t easy, but she found him.

I first met Rick over a two-hour phone conversation.  As I said before, Chelsea had her hands full. Where do you find a joint force operator who had experiences and hobbies similar to my own? She found Rick Cochran, a former Navy First Class Petty Officer who earned his degree after retiring. He had a unique hobby, and a successful career with a major corporation.  I remember having to ask Rick a second time about his hobby. He trapped and relocated alligators and saltwater crocodiles!  That is right - electrical engineer by day, gator wrestler by night.  We immediately hit it off and agreed to keep in touch.  Having Rick as a mentor was great. He encouraged me to think outside the box and look for a job that made a difference and made me happy. 

I volunteered with two of my favorite charities: the Air Commando Association (ACA), helping preserve the history and legacy of leadership within the special operations community, and Heroes on the Water, a national organization dedicated to providing outings with wounded, injured and recent returning warriors to help them reduce their stress and better transition home.  Both of these organizations had a significant part in my year’s journey. 

As soon as my retirement ceremony was over, I spent time working on a major fundraiser for the ACA.  I went from doing heavy lifting with the military to continuing at the same operations tempo with the charity.  I networked with several different leaders in industry while giving back to the community.  Rick and I kept in touch and he encouraged me to always have a copy of my resume and ensure I was ready when the opportunity presented itself.  In the midst of a meeting, a CEO was sitting with me in a meeting and asked me where I worked.  My answer was, "I work for the ACA as a volunteer and am going to school.  I am always looking for a job."

Within a week I was hired. My job was to assist the company with writing contracts using the unique skills I had gained as a military member.  I assisted the company with several contracts and closed out another.  Rich helped me understand the contracting world and lessened the blow of my contract not being renewed by being there when I was laid off.  Rick was my sounding board, especially when I had reached my last straw.

Again, Rick encouraged me to put my efforts towards taking care of myself and focusing on school and volunteering.  Within a month of being laid off, the Heroes on the Water program asked me if I would consider working for the charity.  I was not sure exactly what a charity would or could pay for my services. I knew what my family's needs were.  In November, I was hired as the Director of Therapeutic Programs for Heroes on the Water.  In that position I was charged with developing a new strategy for the charity to increase the number of warriors served.  I also helped develop a new form of support for the warriors partnering with an in-patient treatment facility, helping those with more severe forms of PTS and Traumatic Brain Injuries as they regain their strength and composure.  The job with Heroes on the Water was a labor of love because earlier in my life I had difficulty with Combat-Related Stress and had friends intervene to help me learn to listen to my body and find ways to improve its ability to deal with stress.  Each step of the way, Rick was there, checking in on me.

In January 2014, I finally got to meet Rick face-to-face, almost a year after our first call.  I was in Fort Lauderdale for the Miami to Key West Soldier Ride and had breakfast with him.  We caught up and shared stories and compared notes on where I needed to be in the next year to maintain my marketability with the military and industry. We also reveled and shared some of the stories of the gators that didn’t get away.  Rick brought a couple of his gator hides of the ones who were too aggressive or had threatened the community. Before we headed out, Rick was showing off his "hobby" to my team on the ride. It was so awesome to finally meet the gentleman who had made a huge difference in my transition and helped me gain strength to carry on. 

American Corporate Partners has helped me grow and develop the networking skills and abilities to find a new career, and complete my education. Today I am less than a year from my degree with a 3.89 GPA, I have a job with an amazing charity and I am well on my way to developing a new career! I would like to thank Chelsea, Rick and the leadership at American Corporate Partners for their patience working with me. They truly made a difference in my life and first year of my new career!

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