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Dispatches from the Heart: From Shattered Dreams to a Restored Future

By TJ Gutierrez

Some heroes wear capes; mine wore Blues.

Antonio Gutierrez Sr. wasn’t just my father, he was a United States Marine. I remember going to the Marine Corps Ball when I was 10 years old and seeing the room filled with hundreds of men wearing those beautiful Marine Blues, but my eyes kept going back to one Marine in particular: my father.

I wasn’t sure if it was the way he carried himself or the way he looked in that uniform, but after that night, I knew all I wanted to do was follow in my father’s footsteps and become a United States Marine.

But they don’t let you enlist in the Marines when you’re 10.

That time finally came in 2004 when I enlisted after graduating early from high school in 2003. I would have enlisted that same year, but what I hadn’t realized, though, was that because 9/11 had happened so recently, more people were signing up than ever so the recruiters told me I had to wait two years to serve as a result.

Two years felt like an eternity, but I remember the day I left for basic training like it was yesterday. I arrived at Camp Pendleton on February 22, 2005 and, when I got off the bus, I saw those legendary yellow footprints and immediately thought, “What did I just sign up for?”

In that moment, I recalled something my father always told me – “You’ll never be ready for the Marines, no matter what you do.” Man, was he right about that.

During boot camp, I was hurt a lot and, at one point, my ankles had swollen to twice their size. My drill instructors called me into their office to ask if I could continue my training, but, despite the size of my ankles, I couldn’t let my father or my family down.

After weeks of pushing myself through the pain, I graduated boot camp early and finally became a Marine on May 20, 2005.

A few months later I married my first wife and the following February she was pregnant with our first child. Only one month later, my hand was crushed between two Humvees while doing some mechanical work. At that point my superiors were concerned for my health. They told me to take it easy until I was eligible for medical benefits in 2008.

My time with the Marines was effectively over.

Going home was very hard, but several months without gainful employment proved to be far more difficult. Finally, I landed a job that gave me the chance to continue some of what I did with the Marines as a mechanic at Freightliner, a truck manufacturing company.

Shortly after starting, though, the VA contacted me to tell me I needed to see a naval officer in Dallas. He told me I had to quit my job with Freightliner or lose my medical benefits.

I was ready to just quit everything at that point, but, luckily, I was being pushed to pursue another passion of mine: computers. It was the greatest decision I could’ve ever made.

Over the course of the next seven years, while simultaneously working to earn my computer certifications, I took on many different jobs just to pay the bills and keep the lights on. Finally, in 2012, I found a career I loved as a computer programmer. This first job at Experian opened the door for everything else that followed.

In my next job at Samsung, I had a boss that came from a military background too. He understood me better than others as a result. As I really started gaining my stride there, I was passed over for a promotion. My boss suggested I look for a new job because this one couldn’t take me to another level. 

As fate would have it, two days later, that next level came. I got a call from a technology solutions firm based in New York City called Sharp Decisions. They asked me how I felt about joining their V.E.T.S. Program, switching from physical engineering to quality software.

This one switch would change my life forever.

I accepted the offer and started their program’s quality assurance boot camp. After my training was complete, I was deployed to DTCC (Depository Trust and Clearing Corporation), an American post-trade financial services company.

Through this program, I met Jimmie Parson – a man I am proud to have known with values you can’t find in a lot of people today. Jimmie was a veteran himself and, as such, always made sure every member of our team was adjusting well.

He and the rest of the Sharp Decisions team ensured I was put in a position to thrive. They truly care about veterans and are the reason my life has been completely transformed since leaving the Marines.

Thanks to Sharp Decisions CEO Karen Ross and the rest of her staff, I can provide the life that I’ve always wanted for my wife and my son. I owe it all to them. The world could use more people like them.