For E-4 SRA (Senior Airman) Raymond F. Szwak Jr., the Air Force provided guidance in his twenties and early thirties; now Sharp Decisions’ V.E.T.S.™ Program is providing him with a future.
In 1992, the 20 year-old Szwak was in need of direction.
“I needed guidance,” Szwak said. “I had no idea what I wanted to do.”
He joined the Air Force and was deployed to Germany and Belgium, where he spent approximately 10 years guarding nuclear weapons. Soon after joining, he met his wife, got married and returned home to Pittman, N.J. in June of 2001. But after just three months home, the September 11 attacks motivated him to re-enlist.
“When 9/11 hit I booked for the nearest recruiter and tried to get back in,” he said. “I just wanted to do my part; it didn’t feel right that someone did that to us.”
Szwak’s path back was through the Army Guard. He was deployed to Iraq and remained an E-4, working on line of sight radio communications.
“Our base was only two square miles big and you would see bombs go off all the time. The first time the town hall shook everyone was running outside,” he said. “After that, the mindset was, you could get blown up outside, or you could get blown up inside, what can you do? So we just kept eating.”
After six years, the Army Guard disbanded Szwak’s unit. He tried becoming a vehicle mechanic, but found he loved working with computers more. He returned home in search of a career in his field of choice, while continuing to do Air Force drilling on the weekends.
“I don’t know if it’s coming from the military, or in general, but it’s hard to find a job anywhere,” he said.
Since returning home, he and his wife had two children, now two and five years-old. He was in constant search for a sustainable job to support his family.
When Sharp Decisions reached out to Szwak this past winter with an opportunity to be a part of the first class of the V.E.T.S.™ Program, he couldn’t pass it up and loves the idea of paving the way for future classes in the program.
“It’s a step forward to get in the IT world,” Szwak said. “I get my foot in the door and learn something in the process, and I can become a better asset to [Sharp Decisions]. It’s great because we’re pioneers, we help set the standard for everything.”
Working in New York City has also helped his family.
“It is easier for my wife and family knowing that I go to a job like this, rather than going back to Iraq,” he said. “She doesn’t want me going back but she supported me when I re-enlisted.”
Szwak was deployed with a team of veterans to a client site to perform live application testing last week.