Veterans Salute – Joan O’Connor

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“I grew up on a farm in Walnut Ridge, AR. While attending college at Arkansas Tech University in Russellville, I joined the ROTC and decided to fully embrace the Army, as I enjoyed the comradery of the unit and the feeling that I worked for a worthwhile cause.”

Joan O’Connor is the HR Manager for PRIDE’s Little Rock, AR office. In her job, she manages a team of job coaches and admin staff for PRIDE Industries’ Little Rock Custodial, Little Rock AFB and Ft. Campbell, KY contracts to recruit and support employees with disabilities. Joan’s excellent leadership helped PRIDE to earn the 2017 Employer of the Year recognition by the Arkansas Rehabilitation Association.

Before joining PRIDE, Joan served in the US Army from 1978 – 1984, where she rose up the ranks and learned the skills which carry over to her role today. Below is her story, in her own words:

Joan’s Story:

“I was commissioned into the “Women’s Army Corps” in May 1978, which had just fully integrated into the Army by the time I went on Active Duty that August as a Chemical Officer (NBC). My first unit was the 75th Field Artillery Group at Fort Sill, OK where I was their first female officer. I was later assigned to the 8th DIVARTY in Baumholder, Germany, and ended my service as the Officer in charge of the Personnel Processing Center there.

I earned my commission as a second lieutenant (2LT/O-1) and was then promoted to first lieutenant (1LT/O-2) in 1980 and to Captain (CPT/O-3) in 1982.

My transition from a civilian to a military member felt incremental. The hardest (but most comical) adjustment I had to make was adjusting my southern manners – I only addressed people as sir and ma’am. I was always getting corrected for calling NCOs “sir!”

The most significant skill that I learned in the military was adapting my leadership style to a wide variety of learning techniques. I grew up in a small town that had a close-minded atmosphere. After joining the Army, I quickly learned how to work in a fast-paced work environment with a greater diversity of individual backgrounds to work together as a team.

I was fortunate to learn from excellent NCOs (non-commissioned officers) and officers who impressed on me the value of experience as well as education. Learn from those who know -that lesson still helps me today. This advice also guided me through different situations such as entering a live nerve gas chamber for training.

I left the Army in 1984 after six years of active service in both the US and Germany to  raise a growing family. Again, my transition to civilian life felt incremental, as I was still a military spouse. My advice to veterans transitioning to civilian life is not to go cold turkey. Keep in touch with your military friends and try to find a similar job if you enjoyed your past role. Take advantage of the educational and other benefits and use your experience to the benefit of others. 

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Joan O’Connor accepts the 2017 Employer of the Year recognition by the Arkansas Rehabilitation Association

I made my way to PRIDE Industries by chance, and I am so glad I did. After being laid off in 2008, I saw an HR job opening at PRIDE’s Little Rock, AR office and thought it was a perfect fit. I relate well to PRIDE’s mission, as I have a significant hearing loss (which became worse by my time serving in the Army Field Artillery) and have a child with learning disabilities. I also previously worked with the ARC and with an organization that advocated for the adoption of children in state care, many of whom had disabilities.

After nine years of joining PRIDE, I still feel the same way!

The most enjoyable part of my job is the wide variety of people that I work with to achieve the same mission, including nonprofits, community organizations, and governmental agencies. It feels wonderful to help people who might otherwise never have an opportunity to work for a “real” paycheck and contribute with their talents. I also appreciate the opportunity to show our community what people with disabilities can achieve if given a chance.”