By Nick Lopez
As far back as I can remember, I have enjoyed working with intricate technologies, taking things apart and putting them back together. Naturally, when I joined the military, I did so in a technical role. As a member of the Army Signal Corps, I set up and repaired radio arrays and networks in the field. Certainly not the most glamorous job, but it taught me a lot about how to make technical systems work in high pressure situations.
After 14 years of military service, I thought that experience would make it easy to find a job, but it was quite the opposite. I searched high and low for opportunities and could not find anyone willing to give me a chance. My tough job search not only was hard on me, but especially difficult for my wife, three kids of our own, plus three foster children that we were taking care of.
It got so bad that I ended up having to draw from my G.I. Bill stipend just to stay afloat. Then one day, I got a call from Sharp Decisions, a technology solutions firm that had recently launched a training program specifically for military veterans. They asked me to come interview for their inaugural class.
At first, I was skeptical about the V.E.T.S. (Vocation, Education, Training for Service members) Program because I knew there were “free” programs for vets out there that just took money from the G.I. Bill and didn’t deliver the job training they’d promised. This program sounded different, though, and when I interviewed there I was immediately impressed. I was accepted into the program and, within two months, I was hired by Sharp Decisions, started the training, and actually got paid while training.
This program was also different because of the personal touch from Sharp Decisions’ CEO Karen Ross. The first time we met her, she called us her “vets” and she promised us that if we committed to the program 100 percent, she would get us out there to work. I’d never been around a non-military person who was that real before. She held true to her word and, without her, I’m not sure where I’d be today.
My Signal Corps background gave me a solid grasp of the material they were teaching us and I was thrilled to be working with fellow veterans to accomplish a goal as a team. But for me, this almost never happened.
During my third tour of duty in Iraq from 2008-2009, I was assigned to haul fuel and constantly found myself in the middle of a convoy under fire with fuel tanks on my truck. One afternoon, my base camp faced a rocket attack from insurgents masquerading as farmers. The rockets hit the living quarters, with one blowing up 50 meters from me. It left me with a concussion and an ensuing mild case of PTSD.
The stability I’ve received from my career with the V.E.T.S. Program – the knowledge that I have a career, that my family is taken care of – has reduced my PTSD effects and a lot of my other cares.
V.E.T.S. didn’t provide a magic wand that gave us skills, but they gave us the opportunity and tools; we took it the rest of the way. Not everyone was successful at Sharp, but, as with any career, those that dove in to make it work for them succeeded. Within six months my salary doubled and, a year and half later, I was earning a life changing salary.
I’ve come a long way since taking part in the inaugural training class in March 2013. I’m now training new classes of veterans and showing them, as Sharp Decisions showed me, there are a lot more open doors out there than we thought.
As a military veteran, that’s important because, in the military, there is always a path. Sharp Decisions welcomed our input and helped us realize how our individual expertise translated to the IT world.
Sharp Decisions not only introduced me to an entirely new industry, but also a new path in life.
I’m at a better place today because of Karen’s and Sharp Decision’s mission. I honestly don’t think I would have been at this level of my career if it wasn’t for them. She gave me the opportunity to build a life for my family. Because of my career with the V.E.T.S. Program, I was able to buy a home and provide for my family. I’ll always be thankful to her for that.