Veteran’s Salute – Vernon Alcorn

While working on an Idaho ranch as a young adult, Vernon Alcorn decided he wanted a larger purpose in life. In 1994, he and a friend both decided to apply to the Idaho National Guard.

“The training was mentally challenging,” said Vernon. “However, I adjusted well and was excited to make the military my career.” After two years in the National Guard, he enlisted in the US Army as part of the 46th Engineer Battalion.

Vernon served 21 years in the Army, advancing from a Private E1 to First Sergeant E8. In 1998, he was sent to his first overseas deployment to Nicaragua for a humanitarian mission. Fast forward to 2003 – Vernon was part of the first army troops sent over for Operation Iraqi Freedom. He later went again for combat operations in 2008 – 2009, as well as to South Korea in 2013 for an operations support position and to a final deployment in Afghanistan in 2014.

Serving in the military gave Vernon an opportunity to become a leader and an effective team builder. His dedication and bravery won him many awards, including two bronze stars. “My proudest moment serving was the day I became a First Sergeant in Afghanistan,” said Vernon. “With this position came the responsibility of commanding 294 soldiers – the height of my career.”

After returning home from Afghanistan, Vernon was on track to become a Sergeant Major but decided to retire in 2015 while stationed in Fort Polk, LA. “I enjoyed my time in the Army and the camaraderie I had with fellow soldiers. However, as my kids got older, I wanted to spend more time with my family.”

Starting a new career at any time presents challenges; this is often compounded when applying military skills to civilian positions. Like many veterans, Vernon struggled with making the career transition between soldier and civilian. “I applied to several jobs with very little luck. Most interviews went downhill after I had mentioned I was in the military. I went from a management position to an entry-level job to help support my family.”

Fortunately, Vernon kept searching for better opportunities and applied for a Quality Control Assistant Manager position at PRIDE Industries’ Fort Polk contract.

“From the start of my interview, I knew that this company was different. My prior work in the military was viewed as a positive aspect rather than something that I needed to hide,” said Vernon. He was hired in 2016 and shortly afterward was promoted to the Forward Operating Base/Range Facilities Manager.

“My job at PRIDE gives me purpose as a civilian,” says Vernon. “The Army never leaves you, and I enjoy being able to support the training on Fort Polk in a civilian capacity. It makes a positive impact on my life being able to work with people with disabilities and see their accomplishments. One of my children has a disability, and I know how important it is to have opportunities to enter meaningful careers with room for advancement.”

In his tenure at PRIDE, Vernon has become a valued team member. His advice for other veterans transitioning from the military is “Be prepared for change – I worked my way to the top and had to start all over again. Understand that a lot of companies won’t know what your job role is or your skills. Go in with an open mind.”

Veteran’s Salute – Kathryn Strawder

“After graduating high school, I had little experience but lots of ambition.” Kathryn (Kathy) Strawder enlisted in the U.S. Army in June 1995 to start a meaningful career with potential. “I enrolled as a Private, the lowest rank possible. The transition was rough; I felt like I made a huge mistake. However, the rigorous training was necessary to build us up.”

After Basic and Advanced Individual Training AIT training, Kathy joined the 17th Signal Battalion in Kitzingen, Germany. Throughout her career, she was stationed in Germany, Fort Hood, Korea, and Fort Bliss, including a deployment to Bosnia for a peacekeeping mission.

“In Bosnia, we dressed in full battle rattle (combat uniform). It was tough for my team, but we were always supportive and helped each other to get through the mission. I gratefully landed back in Germany after the deployment was over.”

With determination and drive, Kathy soon rose above the challenges. “When I was a young Specialist, I attended school to become a Non-Commissioned Officer. I received three awards, including the Commandant’s List (Honors Award), Iron Soldier, and Class A. After graduation, some female officers told me how proud they were of me for representing women in the force. I then went back to my unit and won Soldier of the Month.”

Kathy was promoted to Sergeant and enrolled in the Green to Gold Educational Program to attend St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, eventually rising to the rank of Captain. “I never forget that every contribution, no matter how small, contributed to the success of our team. The Army taught me important leadership skills including mentoring, resiliency, patience, and focus.”

“To this day, I’m proud to have served for over a decade in active duty and the Army Reserves. I wouldn’t trade it for anything!”

Kathy left the Army in 2009 to concentrate on her family. “The first six months after leaving were the most challenging – I felt like I had lost my identity. There were so many new things I had to get used to, including signing up for benefits and even picking out work clothes.”

“I still miss the Army, but I love the life that I have now. My advice to other veterans adjusting to civilian life is to have a plan, be open to new ideas and experiences and most importantly don’t give up.”

Kathy worked as a civilian within the military field until she was hired in 2014 at PRIDE Industries’ Fort Bliss  contract as Human Resources Director – helping manage employee relations for a small city of facilities experts that keep the base operational.

“It’s just a great opportunity to be part of this wonderful company,” says Kathy. “I can’t say enough how much I love my job. My son has Autism, and I can only imagine what the parents who started this company had in mind when they envisioned something better for their children. Just like the Army, I believe in PRIDE’s mission!”

Veteran’s Salute – David Daniel

“My dad served in the military for 30 years. He inspired me to join as well.” David Daniel served in the United States Air Force from 1984 to 2012, enlisting shortly after graduating high school.

“My transition to military life was slightly humorous. At basic training, you follow a strict regimen: when to get up, go to sleep, make your bed, fold your clothes and hang your uniforms,” said David. “Coming from a military family, I thought this was normal. I guess this helped me make squad leader!”

After his first overseas assignment to Guam, David was sent to Patrick AFB in Florida in 1990. Shortly afterward, he was sent to Kuwait for the Gulf War. “It was a surreal experience,” said David. “I packed up and said goodbye to my friends and family, and still couldn’t believe I was leaving.”

David served multiple tours throughout his time in the Air Force, including Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. “You realize that you are much more capable than you thought. I understood this especially during my deployment to Kandahar, Afghanistan; when my team was attacked.”

Through his dedication and exemplary work, David moved from Airman Basic (E-1) in 1984 to Chief Master Sergeant (E-9) in 2012. The Air Force led him all over the world including the Middle East, South America, East Asia and Europe.

Throughout his career, David has completed many roles in civil engineering, helping keep various bases safely running through times of conflict and peace. His bravery also earned him several awards and decorations, including the Bronze Star.

“I went to 19 countries – and loved them all,” said David. “However, my most memorable moment was a 2010 humanitarian deployment to Suriname. I was asked to lead a RED HORSE team (Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers) to build medical clinics and schools. It was an incredible experience to create a positive impact.”

At the end of his career, David served as the Superintendent for the 87th Mission Support Group, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey – acting as the principal advisor to the Commander on all enlistment issues for 3,911 personnel.

Although he had enjoyed serving in the military, David looked forward to a new beginning. “I officially retired on November 1st, 2012, serving a total 28 years, ten months and 14 days,” said David.

“I enjoyed my career, but it was the right time to end. Thankfully, PRIDE Industries offered me a position as the Operations Manager at the Ft. Bliss contract.”

Working in a familiar environment helped make his military transition easier. “My transition went rather smoothly,” explained David. “I moved from Joint Base Maguire-Dix-Lakehurst (JB-MDL), NJ to Ft. Bliss, TX and took off the uniform. I was also fortunate to have my Dad’s advice to know what to expect.”

In 2015, David joined PRIDE’s Western Currency Facility contract as the General Manager. He currently manages a team of 50 people, including those with disabilities and veterans. “I love that PRIDE gives people opportunities and confidence through employment.”

“Working for PRIDE has positively impacted my life, and I enjoy the ability to build teams who accomplish more than they ever imagined.”

Adapting to Civilian Life

PRIDE Industries Veteran Shawn

Transitioning from a career in the military to the civilian workforce can be difficult. Veterans gain unique skills, experiences, and leadership abilities during their time in the military, but they often face unemployment and other service-related disabilities when transitioning.

Shawn Moore, 36, is a U.S. Army veteran who served in the infantry for six years. He was also a paratrooper and attended Ranger school. “I did a couple tours in Iraq and Kuwait,” says Shawn. Shawn suffered multiple concussions from mortar and live fire attacks; he was diagnosed with a Traumatic Brain Injury.

Shawn had little real work experience before joining the military. After his service, he had difficulty finding his place in civilian life. The specialized skills he gained while serving his country did not translate easily to civilian job descriptions. Shawn enrolled in college with a plan to become a pharmacist. After three years, the responsibilities of family and a desire to get back to work made him put the plan aside. “I got to the point where I was desperate; I needed to get a job,” says Shawn.

In 2012, Shawn connected to PRIDE Industries through veteran liaison, Frank Goehringer. Soon after, he began working as a materials trades handler on a contract providing facilities services to the Judicial Council of California. Within ten months, he was on a career track: “I worked hard, and I ended up being promoted to building maintenance technician,” says Shawn.

In his new role, Shawn works with a team of highly skilled tradesmen and engineers out of the Gordon D. Schaber Sacramento County Courthouse – one of 70 courts that PRIDE Industries maintains. “I have learned a lot about electricity, HVAC and motor exchanges – all while working with the community,” says Shawn.

Shawn gained more than specialized trade skills in his position; he found something missing from his military days. “There is a bond that you get when you are in the military; it is like a brotherhood. When you get out of the military, it is hard to find that. Since joining PRIDE, I have gotten that back.”

Although Shawn has excelled in his career at PRIDE, his journey has not been easy. When Shawn first joined PRIDE, he was full of jitters and apprehension. “I was worried about keeping the job because I had not had a job for a long time,” says Shawn. “It was tough getting out of the military.” Leaving the familiar for an unknown is never easy. “They helped me bring that person out. It is nice to know that I was more than I thought I was – in a good way.”

The job has not only helped him provide for his family, but it has allowed him to grow and regain confidence in his abilities and skills. Today, Shawn has set his sights on becoming a full-fledged engineer. “Working with these guys helped me to open up,” Shawn says. “They have also steered me back to school.”

His time in the military stays with him, even today. “To be honest, I have not completely adapted to civilian life. It is always something inside of you that you keep when you get out of the military,” says Shawn. But he has a message for other veterans: “Sometimes it is difficult to take that next step. I have many friends who are veterans with disabilities, and I have told them to call PRIDE. Give it a shot.”

Shawn’s next goal is to purchase his own home and send his children to college – including the new one that he and his wife, Bobby Jean are expecting this fall. “I want to make sure that my family is taken care of.”

As a military man, Shawn took care of his country. At PRIDE, we’re proud to provide a welcome space, training and opportunity for veterans like Shawn to work their way back to taking care of their own.

Click the video below to view Shawn’s Journey to PRIDE.

Kovit’s Story

By Guest Blogger, Kovit Markklam, Quality Control & Safety Inspector, Naval Base Ventura County, Port Hueneme

Kovit’s team members rave about him. “Exudes a level of professionalism, positivity, and approachability.” “Kovit is not afraid to address sensitive, important issues at the site to facilitate awareness and change.” “ Kovit is a major player in the overall health and well-being of the site he supports.”

He offered to tell us a little about his journey to PRIDE. We share it here:

Kovit_M“I am a Navy (Seabees) veteran; I gave 20 years of service. When I was in active duty; PRIDE Industries used to clean our office and shops at Port Hueneme in Southern California. I remember saying, “thank you” to one of the custodians, but I did not get a response – only a smile. At the time, I did not know PRIDE was a company that creates jobs and hires people with disabilities. Later, I discovered that PRIDE had hearing-impaired employee, among others. I thought that was unique and cool.

I was born in Korat, Thailand and raised in the U.S. since the age of about five. When I was very young, we lived in Thailand and we were very poor. It was the way of life there and I did not know any better. Then we move to the States and I grew up as a military brat (Air Force). Life was better here.

In the States, I was fortunate to have teachers and friends who helped us. As a kid, I noticed children with special needs were often bullied and they could not speak up for themselves. I have a younger brother with a learning disability. So I stood up for him and them.

In my late 20’s, I visited my grandmother in Thailand for the first time. I was shocked to see her living conditions. I was heartbroken to see her living in a shack by the railroad track. She had no running water, electricity, stove, or bathroom, and the roof was made of scrap lumber and tin. Unfortunately, she died two weeks after I left. I didn’t know she was living like that. I’ve felt guilty ever since.

That is how I got into working with communities and giving back as much as I can. It makes me feel good to make others feel good. During my last five years of my Navy career, I was stationed on an island called Diego Garcia south of the equator in the central Indian Ocean. I was the Leading Petty Officer for all the First Class Petty Officers and I was part of the Quality of Life Committee. We would try to make life better for everyone who worked and lived on the island.

In the Navy, we did many community projects, such as rebuilding schools, providing showers to the homeless, and more. I wanted to give back, so I volunteered my time for food drives, Habitat for Humanity, and the Boy Scouts of America. I even received the “Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal.”

When I finished my Navy career and heard there was an opening at PRIDE, I jumped at the chance to work for this company. For the last three years, I have been a Quality Control & Safety Inspector on PRIDE Industries’ contract at Naval Base Ventura.

I have always been a people person, even though I did not start out like that. I was a shy kid. People motivate me. Quality of life is very important to me, and I want to assist in any way I can. Everyone has the right to feel wanted, to belong, and to be treated equally. I want to help others so that they can help themselves, and in return, maybe pay it forward to someone else. I don’t know if I have made much change since I’ve been at PRIDE, but I do hope to make an impact on someone’s life here – even if it’s a small impact.”

 

Individuals like Kovit who dedicate themselves to others make an impact on all of us. We are glad that he has found a place with PRIDE.

Stephen’s Story

Escuela Militar

Stephen Williams is a service disabled veteran that served in the US Army from 1991-1993. Originally from West Virginia, Stephen settled down in Louisiana after completing his last station of duty at Fort Polk.

After leaving the military, Stephen attempted to find a full-time position with various construction companies. Despite his motivation and eagerness to work, he found it challenging to obtain long-term employment since none of the companies he worked for would provide accommodations for his disability. Stephen had been injured during his military service, and now has difficulty walking and standing for a long time.

Determined to reach his goal and find an employer that would not view his disability as an obstacle, Stephen turned to Louisiana Rehabilitation Services for help; they referred him to PRIDE Industries. Stephen became a PRIDE employee at Fort Polk in October 2010.

Stephen first began as a Maintenance Trades Helper in the HVAC shop. Due to his hard work and motivation, he was promoted to a General Maintenance Worker (GMW). His current duties include maintaining and repairing AC and heating units, replacing filters and exhaust fans, and responding to various work orders called in by military personnel at Fort Polk. Stephen attends to his work with great enthusiasm. According to PRIDE job coach Jaccara Sandanski, he has received several positive comments from military personnel on the quality of his work and reliable punctuality.

Stephen enjoys his job and especially feels proud that he gets to contribute to the well-being of the soldiers on base. Stephen says, “When I was in the military, everybody worked hard for us. I feel that I have a duty to pay it back.” He appreciates that his fellow PRIDE employees also share the same attitude and provide great service to the troops at Fort Polk every day. “That’s why we are here, to be supportive for our soldiers.”

To help our employees with disabilities overcome challenges, PRIDE provides accommodations, job coaching, and counseling. To accommodate his disability, PRIDE installed a step ladder on Stephen’s work truck, which makes it easier for him to drive around base to complete service orders. He also receives support from PRIDE’s rehabilitation counselor and job coach, Sonja Matthews and Jaccara Sandanski. According to Sonja, “Stephen took a proactive role in identifying his disability related challenges at work, and successfully overcame these obstacles with a few modifications made to his vehicle.” This type of support system has helped our employees with disabilities thrive and reach their full potential; or, as Stephen puts it, “Prove to myself that I could do anything that anyone else can.”

Stephen is looking to his future now. In order to advance his career skills, he has taken the NCCER (National Center for Construction Education and Research) core course available to PRIDE employees at Fort Polk. NCCER creates curriculum and assists in program development to foster construction training. Training is tailored to our employees with disabilities employing a variety of techniques including visual aids and field trips. Stephen desires to use this training to further his career aspirations; his new goal is to be promoted from a GMW to Boiler Tender when a position becomes available.

Now that Stephen is on a successful career path, his next personal goal is to purchase a home for his family which includes two children, a nephew, and a grandchild. According to Stephen “Life is short; strive for all of your goals to the best of your ability. Never settle!”

Stephen’s story is another example of how people with disabilities can thrive in the workplace with proper accommodation and supports.