Veterans Salute – David

Soldier in the office

In search of an opportunity to make a difference, David (last name withheld) joined the U.S. Air Force fresh out of high school in 1983. “This was my first real job besides working at a local restaurant as a busboy, while growing in Temple City, CA. I saw joining the military as a chance to serve my country and to help keep people safe.”

After enlisting, David attended basic training at Lackland Airforce Base in San Antonio, TX and graduated as an Airman Basic (E-1). Then after completing 12 weeks of specialized training, he joined the 88th Strategic Air Command Missile Squadron as a Security Specialist. “It was a complete culture shock; I transitioned from a civilian with choices to a service member with a strict regimen and structure. They say you start as a rainbow, then become a green bean (once uniforms are issued) and finally get a haircut and now you are officially a canned green bean.”

David earned promotions throughout his service; from an Airman Basic (E-1), to Airman (E-2) and then Airman 1st Class (E-3). He served his remaining time at Francis E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming during the Cold War, providing security services and surveillance to Minuteman-3s nuclear warheads that were ready to launch in case of conflict.

In 1985, David was discharged honorably due to lack of war. “The transition back into civilian life was much easier than my development into an Airman. After being stationed on a remote base for so long, I enjoyed having more freedom. I also carried with me the discipline, time management and organizational skills learned from my time in the military.”

Despite his ease in transitioning to civilian life, David faced other challenges; he later received a dual diagnosis of both ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) and Anxiety Disorder from the Veterans Administration (VA) in 2003. Nearly 40 million Americans (18%) experience Anxiety Disorder; ADHD affects around 4% of American adults. Both disorders cause lack of concentration and racing thoughts, which can impair everyday life.

“Before joining the service, I had never received any treatment for these conditions. Despite having these undiagnosed disabilities, I persevered and graduated from Tech school with a score of 98% when many of the course instructors doubted my ability to graduate.”

“While looking for civilian work, I continued to struggle with my communication skills. When I could not manage my anxiety, this would lead to outbursts and growing frustration with coworkers and employers. I was eventually able to use the tools and resources acquired in the military to cover up my disabilities and find a variety of jobs, including work at a grocery chain, acting and selling real estate.”

After receiving foot surgery in 2017, David had an accident and obtained mobility-related disabilities. While looking for work that would be a good fit and that would accommodate his disabilities, David was referred by his VA Representative at the Jewish Vocational Services to PRIDE Industries in Spring 2018. After interviewing, he was hired as a Service Order Dispatcher at PRIDE’s LAAFB contract site in May 2018.

“This job is perfect for me,” said David. “I like the challenges that come with solving different work orders at the customer service desk. Working at LAAFB, I interact with a wide variety of customers – from civilians all the way up to the Secretary of the Air Force.”

“The comradery at PRIDE is strong; my team treats each other like family and are very accommodating, especially with allowing supports for my disabilities. Job Coach Brandon Whatley and Araceli Gutierrez helped me transition to my new role and taught me other skills to help me succeed at my job.”

“It’s different, but a pleasant and familiar experience being back on a military base, especially now that I am receiving treatment for my ADHD and Anxiety; I understand all the protocols and acronyms. It’s exciting to have a career with room for advancement and new possibilities where I do not need to hide my disabilities.”

“If there were one piece of advice I could give to today’s transitioning veterans, it would be to seek out help from veteran support groups and services. The benefits provided today are far better than those offered at my time of discharge; however, it saddens me to know that many veterans do not receive enough training on how to maximize their benefits; seeking adequate treatment can be life-changing.”

Abilities Not Disabilities

PRIDE Industries _ Kristopher A.02

The transition from high school to employment without an advanced degree can be daunting for any young adult, especially individuals with disabilities. Kristopher Arneson, 22, has a disability and successfully transitioned to PRIDE Industries four years ago.

Kris connected to PRIDE as a WorkAbility program participant. WorkAbility is a Department of Rehabilitation program administered through organizations like PRIDE, adult schools, and colleges. The goal is to help students develop skills that lead to gainful employment including direct work experience that ultimately leads to job placement. At the same time, the program works with employers to help them recognize the valuable contributions that individuals with disabilities can make in the workforce and their communities.

As a young child, Kris was diagnosed with attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). “When I was young, the ADHD was so severe, I was unable to speak,” says Kris. “I had speech therapy until high school.” His challenges include processing and retaining information. He refers to these as “glitches” in his processing system. “In school I could not solve problems or equations in my head because it either took too long – or the processing just erased.” His confidence suffered, and he was bullied enduring physical and verbal assaults. “All I knew was hatred towards my disability,” says Kris. “I never thought there was a place that accepted people like me.”

At 18, Kris began working in PRIDE’s manufacturing division doing packaging, assembly, and order fulfillment projects. Unfortunately, just a few months after he began work, Kris began having medical issues. He was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease – a chronic condition that affects the lining of the digestive tract. People with Crohn’s can experience incapacitating symptoms often treated with medication or surgery; there is no known cure. Kris was hospitalized for several months after surgery while proper medication and treatment options were tested.

Once his condition improved, he returned to work at PRIDE. While working on the manufacturing floor, he recalls seeing the electronics manufacturing staff in their blue smocks. “I wanted to wear a blue smock with my name on it,” says Kris. “That was my goal. I wanted to get in there to work.” With his confidence still bruised from his high school experiences and his hospital stay, he doubted his own abilities. “What I am supposed to do in my life?” he wondered. “No one was willing to give me a chance. My teacher would always put me down and made feel like I would never achieve anything, so that was my mindset.”

At PRIDE Industries, Kris was given that chance. “My first job in electronics was manipulating metal,” says Kris. “You have to shape the metal for the desired design so that it goes on the computer boards correctly.” Kris excelled at his new work. “Since I began working with Kris, he stood out as someone who wanted to work at a higher level,” says Steve Hackett, Production Manager. “Kris has surpassed my expectations and continues to look for new challenges.”

PRIDE Industries employee Kristopher Arneson at work.Recently, Steve Hackett joined with case managers and electronics supervisors to create a mentoring program for individuals with disabilities within the Electronics department. Kris was the first person to participate in the program. “I couldn’t believe it,” says Kris. “This manager has confidence in me. That is something I never felt before.” Through the program, Kris has developed technical, planning and leadership skills, and is now monitoring the work of others in his area. Kris works one-on-one with his supervisor, Sornpit Khamsa, a PRIDE manufacturing technician.”Sornpit was the very first person who gave me a chance to grow. He’s really given me hope.”

As time passed, Kris began to notice a change in himself. “I started to realize that I felt safe at PRIDE. I did not have to be cautious anymore. Wherever I was, I was accepted.”

At PRIDE, Kris was given an opportunity to grow and develop skills to help him achieve his dreams. “The people I work with are just like me; the staff – they treat me with respect. They treat me like a human being not a person with disabilities,” says Kris. “When I am here, I am safe. I feel accepted.”

Kris’ goal is to become an electronics manufacturing lead and mentor other individuals with disabilities working at PRIDE. “I was in their shoes – and look at me now. I want to help others get to where I am,” says Kris. “I want to show them that they are accepted here and that there is no reason to be afraid. You are not going to get hurt here, and you are not going to be judged. You are going to be accepted.”

For 49 years, PRIDE has been creating meaningful opportunities for individuals with obstacles to employment. The opportunity we create through employment allows people too often excluded from the workforce to accomplish their personal goals and more; it changes lives.

When asked what advice he would give his 18-year-old self, looking back in time, Kris replied; “There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and if you push yourself and surpass expectations, you can achieve anything.”