Veterans Salute – Braden Matejek

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“I joined the military in 2009 after graduating high school in South Dakota to help those around the world whose voices go unnoticed.”

Braden Matejek works as a Production Control Clerk at PRIDE Industries’ Marine Corps Base Hawaii (MCBH) contract. Located near Honolulu, HI, the MCBH hosts 9,517 people including Marine Corps members, sailors, military family members and civilian employees. In his job, Braden acts as a liaison between the Marines Corps and the PRIDE facilities team to make sure the overall condition of the buildings is in top shape – helping keep the barracks home-like for our country’s troops and their families.

Before joining PRIDE Industries, Braden served in the U.S. Army for 7 years, where he learned the leadership skills that have helped him succeed in his career today:

“I enrolled as a PV2 in the Dog Company, 1/503 BN, 173rd Airborne Brigade. Following completion of Basic and Advanced Infantry school, as well as the Airborne school in Ft. Benning, GA, I was sent to Vicenza, Italy. I was stationed there for three short months in 2010 before we were deployed to serve in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.”

“Serving in Afghanistan was a humbling experience; our mission was to fight against the Taliban insurgent forces. I experienced major culture shock while living in this hostile environment, but also gained a sense of gratitude for so many things that I had took for granted. During intense situations, I learned patience, and developed a tenacity for overcoming obstacles and challenging events. I became aware that I am capable of accomplishing anything and grew into that “never quit” mentality.”

“During my second deployment to Afghanistan in 2012, I earned a promotion to Sergeant (E5), which came with the responsibility of leading a squad of young men during an incredibly rough period. Through our time together, I watched them grow and develop throughout harsh conditions and ferocious firefights. When my team and I exited off the C17 aircraft in Ft. Bragg, NC, where our families were waiting to welcome us back with open arms, I felt incredibly proud that I had helped lead them back safely to home soil.”

“I unfortunately acquired a service-connected disability during this second tour in Afghanistan due to multiple IED strikes on my vehicle and was awarded two Purple Hearts. The hardest part of having a newly acquired disability was learning to accept myself as the same person, just with different traits.”

Braden Matajek receives the Purple Heart medal

Braden Matejek accepts his Purple Heart medals earned while serving in Afghanistan

“After reaching my last post in Hawaii in 2016, I decided it was time to pursue other avenues in life. I finished my tenure as an E5/Sergeant and was medically discharged from service. Transition to civilian life was difficult; the first few weeks were like the honeymoon phase of being married; then real life soon sets in. I missed the brotherhood of the Infantry and loyalty of those men and women that I served with.”

“Establishing a support system of friends and family, as well as finding a passion, is vital to any veteran’s success after military life. I started spending more time at the ocean, took up free-diving and surrounded myself with a great people of a common mind. My other piece of advice for transitioning to civilian life is to take things slow, remain flexible and resilient, and follow your plan to success. Remember your military training and become comfortable knowing that you hold the correct skill set to carry you forward. Much of my own self-reliance and perseverance was used to get me to where I am today.”

“Another challenging aspect of transitioning to civilian life was searching for a new career; I searched for positions through USA Jobs, but received no offers. I eventually googled “work for disabled veterans,” and PRIDE Industries came up. I was soon connected with the incredible Job Developer/AbilityOne Recruiter Sean Sullivan and was hired in 2016.”

“I love the opportunity to continue interacting with our young men and women in uniform and enjoy the chance to share my military expertise while managing the barracks on base. My experience with PRIDE has been excellent, and I am trusted to do my job correctly. The accommodations for employees with disabilities are wonderful, and everyone is given the opportunity to succeed in employment.”

“Working for PRIDE Industries has made my life in Hawaii more purposeful and has given me the ability to enjoy moments with my family more than any other company would.”

Veterans Salute – Billy Smith

 

Billy Smith

“As a young man, my life was going nowhere; I felt that something was missing. After leaving my turbulent home as a teenager, I found myself living on the street for a while. But I always wanted more for myself and to see the world.”

Billy Smith worked a series of short-term jobs as a construction worker, laborer, industrial painter, sandblaster, longshoreman, fish and shrimp loader, and gas station attendant before he received his high school GED from Tyler Junior College in Texas. After reaching this achievement, he decided to find his sense of purpose by joining the U.S. Navy in 1990.

“When I first took the military exam, I failed it. However, I retook it and aced it. I loved my life in the Navy. Training involved much hard work, and yep, it was harsh. Basic training involved a few men screaming at each one of us. After 8 or 36 weeks (depending on your test scores), you are off on your own to school and a duty station. It took many long hours of studying after final graduation until we were shipped off to serve on a fleet.”

“I started as an E1 Recruit/Deck Seaman and later attended Advanced C school (advanced Navy training) to study engineering. My final graduation test involved working for 24 hours on a broken jet engine to make it start by the morning. Throughout my service, I advanced to an E3 Fireman, and finished as a GSM1 Gas Turbine Systems Technician, Petty Officer First Class (Surface Warfare).”

Throughout his time in the Navy, Billy served on board of naval ships during multiple deployments, including for the Desert Storm (Gulf War), Operation Noble Eagle (in response to September 11th attack), Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Desert Shield (part of the Iraq War), and many more.

“My most extended term serving was for 10 months in Operation Desert Storm. On the ship, we launched missiles and examined passing vessels for contraband, human smuggling and bombs. We were working to protect our nation, as well as our allies that were there to help us.”

“Even when you come home, taking care of the ship always came first. One time, I slept in the engine room in a hammock all week, working all night. It hurt at times because I couldn’t see my family.”

“Despite the challenges of being deployed, I learned discipline and courage through serving. One of my most memorable moments occurred while being stationed in the Red Sea in 1991 when we escorted a group of our Egyptian allies. They gave us a tour of many cultural landmarks such as the Great Pyramids. It made such an impression on me, and I felt proud to protect people worldwide that need help.”

“Through 20 years of serving, I built my career and one of my biggest passions: engineering. Whether it is working on an LM2500 or an ALISON 501 Jet engine, or a 1000-ton chiller plant, it is a wonderful job to have. Later, I worked as an Instructor at the Great Lakes Center of Naval Engineering to teach young recruits. I am often told that I never left the service, as when I am working on a job all is forgotten but the task at hand.”

“I retired honorably from the military in 2010 in San Diego, CA. My family, including my wife and two daughters, supported me throughout my career and transition to civilian life. It was difficult at first; civilians are not wired the same as military personnel. In my opinion, civilians have it tougher since military life is sheltered, and we have the patience to slow down and assess difficult situations. I’m still using military acronyms to this day!”

After relocating to Texas, Billy joined PRIDE’s Bureau of Engraving, Western Currency Facility site at Ft. Worth, TX as a Stationary Engineer in 2010. “In my position, I help run operations on the plant including the chillers, boilers, air compressors, and turbines,” said Billy. “This environment is very supportive and a perfect for veterans like me. Once I joined, PRIDE even helped me get my recovery license. I would like to thank General Manager David Daniel, Assistant General Manager Brian Judd, Facilities Supervisor Chuck Wedgeworth, and Facilities Supervisor Brandon Kast. I am honored to work for these people every day, and they trust me to do my job.”

“I especially enjoy working with my colleagues with disabilities. From my time in the military, I have a service-connected disability and have received surgeries to reconnect fingers; as a result, I lack strength in my right hand. When I first joined PRIDE, I didn’t know sign language; now I am starting to learn some ASL (American Sign Language) to communicate with my co-workers who are deaf and hard-of-hearing.

“I earned all of what I sought by joining the Navy. Being deployed overseas makes you gain courage, grounds your faith by knowing you’ll make it home, helps you stay true to yourself, and allows you to be part of something greater.”

Veterans Salute – Edward Arango

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“The military encompassed my entire life while growing up. When I finally joined, it was just as I expected it to be. I felt proud to be a part of a larger purpose.”

Edward Arango grew up in Medellin, Colombia. After graduating from high school in 1987, he enlisted in the Colombian Air Force Academy and became an Air Weapon Control Officer. During this period, he participated in joint operations between the U.S. Air Force and the Colombian Air Force to curb drug trafficking.

“My father was my inspiration for joining; he served in the Colombian Army for 20 years, including in the Korean War. He was a man of few words, but always demonstrated dedication, respect, a genuine love for serving and support of other veterans – including my own military career.”

In 1994, Edward decided to immigrate to the United States and separated from the Colombian Air Force as a Lieutenant. After three years of working as a civilian, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force as an Airman First Class and started attending the Supply Technical School in Lackland, Texas.

“Even though I did not speak perfect English, I graduated technical school with honors,” said Edward. “Re-joining the military in a different country still felt very similar, except that I had to start over again at a lower level. However, I learned valuable lessons about how to follow, as well as how to lead. I felt proud to work as a team member with my colleagues.”

Edward served throughout the country and moved up the ranks, including at Hurlburt Field AFB in Florida, Offutt AFB in Omaha, Nebraska, and finally to JB-MDL (Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst), NJ as a Captain. “One of my proudest moments happened when I was promoted to Staff Sergeant after three years of service (which usually takes around ten years).”

After almost a decade of service, Edward’s military career came to an end in 2006 when he sustained a knee injury that required surgery; this unfortunately created a life-threatening pulmonary embolism and multiple complications. After going through this health ordeal, he decided to retire to enjoy more time with his family.

“Service left me with significant back and knee problems. There are many activities I’m no longer able to do that I once loved, such as playing soccer, but I’ve learned to adjust.” Besides recovering from surgery and the following complications, Edward’s transition to civilian life proved challenging. “Civilian life is much more laid back and flexible, and I had to learn to adjust my own expectations of others. In the military, discipline and integrity are highly ingrained – when you ask someone to do something, it gets done. Furthermore, because of my disabilities, many employers turned me down for opportunities.”

After he became physically ready to rejoin the workforce, Edward turned to the Veteran’s Administration’s Vocational Rehabilitation Department for assistance; they referred him to PRIDE Industries. Since 2010, he has worked as a Grounds Maintenance Supervisor at PRIDE’s JB-MDL contract – managing a team that keeps the JB-MDL cantonment, ranges and training areas in prime condition.

“PRIDE Industries gave me the opportunity to be part of a team with the same objective to help our military customer. Through our work, we help ensure their success at home and abroad. I especially enjoy creating opportunities for our employees with disabilities and veterans to succeed in their careers and to overcome expectations.”

“I was genuinely proud to serve my whole career. My experience was the path in life I was destined for.”