By David Tejada
I am proud to say I am a fourth-generation military man. During the course of my career in the Army Reserves I served in arduous conflict zones in Afghanistan. While my experience in the military was extremely difficult, upon returning to civilian life I faced the new struggle of finding a job.
Civilian life is an independent one and making the transition can at times be brutal for soldiers who work as a unified team committed to the same goals and, thus, are unsure how their standalone skills translate into the job market. For many, this means unemployment. For others, it leads to a severe under-utilization of our skillsets. I know the struggle of both all too well.
My experience in the military has always been in a reserve component, working actively in New York City and New Jersey since I joined in 2001. As a logistical supply specialist, the only available job where my skills were considered a lateral transfer was as the logistics coordinator with the American Red Cross.
But in June 2009, as the market problems were at its peak and with a three-month old son to care for, I was let go by the Red Cross. I did whatever I had to do in order to maintain an income for my family, from a mix of odd jobs to working on an oil rig near Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.
After a few years of instability and few viable options, I volunteered for a deployment to Afghanistan in late 2011. It was difficult to leave my family, but my hope was the job market back home would improve.
When I finally returned home, I had been looking for work for several months when I came across a program called V.E.T.S. (Vocation, Education, Training for Service members) from Sharp Decisions, a technology solutions firm in New York City. They were looking for veterans to take part in their inaugural training class that promised to train us in IT in squads, deploy us to their clients in these squads, all the while not touching our G.I. Bill benefits. It was promising us a chance for a sustainable career.
Shortly after interviewing, I was accepted to the program and began my training.
While the program was intensive, it felt good to be working side by side with a squad of fellow veterans learning the details of the industries we could be working in – financial services, healthcare, manufacturing, government and media & telecommunications, among others.
Just a year and a half into my employment with Sharp Decisions, though, there was a potential hitch in what had become my dream job. As a reservist, I was still technically active and could be called for deployment at any time. That time came in September 2014 when I was deployed to Guantanamo Bay as a Military Police officer overseeing prisoners.
What came next exemplified the commitment Sharp Decisions made to us and our careers. Karen Ross took the time to ensure that, while I was deployed, I received any support I would need. Additionally, she promised that, upon my return, she would provide any retraining or guidance required, no questions asked. This commitment enabled me to familiarize and enhance my skillsets to stay competitive despite the gap of time. When I returned from deployment a year later, she made good on that promise, as I returned to work at Sharp Decisions almost immediately with better skillsets then when I left.
I’m not only grateful to Karen and Sharp Decisions for this, but also for giving me an opportunity to showcase how much of an asset I could be for any organization. During my time there I was often put in a position to learn faster and fulfill the needs of any project I was working on.
As a result, my family is cared for and I have a sustainable career that I am proud of. I went from being unemployed, to training and competing for a slot in the new Sharp Decisions program. As I gained more experience I was able to become a team lead and gain the financial stability to buy a home.
The knowledge I gained from Sharp Decisions, both professionally and personally, I’ve applied to my current work as an employee of DTCC (Depository Trust Clearing Corporation), who hired me after a yearlong deployment with them through V.E.T.S.
Hard work, commitment and an opportunity allowed me to grow within the Sharp Decisions team and a strong bond to team members, a close relationship with Karen, and a sense of family helped me stay there for nearly four years.
The V.E.T.S. Program has changed my life in more ways than I can count and I am eternally grateful for the opportunity they gave me to be a part of their very first team.