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 – David

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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.”

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.”

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.”

Honoring Our Fallen Heroes

“137 years later, Memorial Day remains one of America’s most cherished patriotic observances. The spirit of this day has not changed-it remains a day to honor those who died defending our freedom and democracy.”     — Congressman Doc Hastings

On Memorial Day – Monday, May 28th –  we pause and remember the brave women and men who have made the ultimate sacrifice while protecting our freedom and fighting for their country.

PRIDE Industries’ mission is to create jobs for people with disabilities – this includes veterans. Our programs and services help veterans with physical, emotional, and mental scars which create obstacles to employment and self-sufficiency. PRIDE also provides opportunities for individuals who have difficulty rejoining the workforce. On this Memorial Day, we welcome our returning veterans and honor our fallen heroes.

To all, a joyful and safe Memorial Day.

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.”

Feels Like I Never Left

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Richard Wilson, joined the PRIDE Industries team at Fort Bliss, TX in 2014 after serving 18 years in the U.S. Army. Richard retired as a staff sergeant/E-6.
At PRIDE Industries, we help individuals who return with physical, emotional, and mental health disabilities that create obstacles to employment and self-sufficiency.

Richard became an orphan as a very young boy. His first few years were spent in a South Korean orphanage until an American couple adopted him. At eight years old Richard relocated to the U.S. with his new family. Learning a new language, adapting to a different culture, along with being given a new American name was challenging, recalls Richard.

He grew up in a small town in northwest Nevada. His teenage years were rough as he made wrong decisions and was going down the wrong path and barely graduated high school. Richard hungered for a fresh start. He joined the U.S. Army hoping it would provide a better future.

“I did not think I was going to make a career in the military, luckily it was exactly what I needed,” says Richard. While in the service Richard held several positions and completed three tours in Iraq. His time in the military left visible and hidden battle wounds.

Once his military career ended, he had difficulty transitioning to the civilian workforce. Richard attended multiple job fairs and joined numerous veteran’s programs, but nothing came through and he was unemployed for six months.

Though Richard aspired to continue protecting his country after retirement, life had other plans. “I wanted to be a border patrol or law enforcement agent, but I was unable due to my medical condition.”

Fortunately, Richard met Cynthia Baca at a job fair. Cynthia is a Recruiter for PRIDE at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, focusing on individuals qualified under the AbilityOne Program. Under the AbilityOne program – a federal initiative to create jobs for individuals with significant disabilities – PRIDE Industries provides base-wide facilities support to the Army installation. “After I got into the program, Ms. Baca always updated me on new job listings and helped me apply,” says Richard. For Richard, Cynthia’s efforts to help him become employed were unlike anything he had experienced before. He credits her for his success at PRIDE, “I now refer other disabled veterans to Ms. Baca for help.” Learn more about Cynthia Baca.

Once at PRIDE, Richard began as a service order desk clerk. Later, Richard’s skills and work ethic earned him a promotion to the warehouse as a stocker. “Helping the technicians is the best part of this job,” says Richard. “I love working at PRIDE Industries, and my co-workers in the warehouse are like family.”

Although he loves his job, he does miss being a soldier. Luckily, his job at PRIDE has an additional benefit. “Working in a military community feels like I never left the Army,” says Richard. “It is rewarding contributing to the team that helps soldiers and the civilians that work with them.”

Though Richard’s military career ended with a disability and new challenges, he is grateful for the opportunity. “PRIDE allows me to continue to serve the military community,” says Richard.

We are so glad you found your place with PRIDE Industries Richard and thank you for your service. To learn more about PRIDE’s employment services for veterans visit: prideindustriesfoundation.org/programs.