By Michael Williams
During my deployment to Iraq in 2006, my convoy was hit by an IED explosion. The PTSD I suffered as a result took an immense toll on my life. Finally, in 2010, the Army honorably discharged me from active duty – effectively an early retirement – and I rejoined my New Jersey Army National Guard unit.
Looking for work for the first time in my adult life was terrifying. I couldn’t find any work and had to live off of unemployment just to support my wife and 8-month-old daughter. Then a month later, my mom passed away. It all hit me at once and I was tail spinning into a really dark place. I began to consider the unimaginable – suicide.
But it was the thought of my daughter’s well-being that prevented me from taking my life. I sought assistance from the VA and they helped me begin my ascent out of darkness.
My rise out of the doldrums became complete when, in June 2011, I was hired as a security guard by the Borgata in Atlantic City. It wasn’t much, and the quality of life from working ten-hour overnight shifts Thursday through Sunday was poor, but it was enough to support my family.
Finally, in late 2012, I caught a break.
I received a call from a recruiter at Sharp Decisions about one of my Army buddies who listed me as a reference for their new program called V.E.T.S. (Vocation, Education and Training for Service Members). The conversation quickly turned into them asking me if I wanted to join the new program; I almost immediately accepted.
With thirteen years in the Army, I considered myself to be very computer savvy, but my first day of training in the program was like trying to drink water from a fire hose. I went home that first night, thinking: “What did I get myself into?”
I was experiencing a culture shock I hadn’t felt since first landing in Kuwait as a military police officer. But I needed to make this work because going back on unemployment was not an option. I then reviewed the materials again and realized it made a lot more sense than I had originally thought.
Once the class transitioned from lectures to the practical portion, everything clicked. Before long, I became proficient in the most up-to-date tools of the software testing trade.
Our first deployment was to EmblemHealth, a large health insurance company, to work with them on compliance and updating their systems to fit with the Affordable Care Act.
We finished our first project in just twenty minutes time, something our manager told us had saved them a week’s worth of work. It was in this moment that we proved our mettle as a squad.
But just as things started looking up, my wife and I got a divorce and, shortly thereafter, my father passed away. I could feel myself slipping back into the darkness I had experienced seven years prior.
This time, though, I got help from an unusual place.
Sharp Decisions CEO Karen Ross sat me down and gave me some advice that helped me pick myself back up. She told me to focus on my daughter, focus on what was in front of me and take it one step at a time. Thankfully, I was able to do that and continue my work.
After a little over two years working for Sharp Decisions, I wanted to be closer to my daughter in southern New Jersey.
As a result, I accepted a job at an organization in Delaware that allowed me to spend more time with her due to a significantly shorter commute. Leaving the V.E.T.S. Program was bitter sweet; I was sad to leave what had become a second family, but excited to spend more time with my daughter.
Today, I work at a company in Philadelphia where my commute is next to nothing. I get to see my daughter all the time.
One thing in all of this is certain, though. Every single good thing I have experienced over the past seven years can be directly linked back to my experience with Sharp Decisions. If it wasn’t for them, I would be lost. There is no true way to measure the quality of life the program – and Karen Ross – has brought to me, and how much I appreciate all they did for me and my family.
I want to thank Karen and Sharp Decisions, from the bottom of my heart, for what you have done for me, my daughter, and veterans everywhere.