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Interview with a Department of Transportation Worker

In this career interview with a military veteran, a vet with 20 years experience shares the struggles he faced when transitioning from military to civilian life. He wishes that his civilian coworkers had a work ethic like the soldiers he had worked with for many years; facing challenges as a team, and getting the job done without complaining or wasting time.

Q: What is your job title and what industry do you work in? How many years of experience do you have in this field? How would you describe yourself using only three adjectives?

A: Currently, I work for the state in the Department of Transportation. I am happy with my job, although I make less now than I did in the military. It was a long road to get here though. Transitioning from my military career to the civilian world was a lot harder than I thought. I do know of guys who just sort of fall into a great civilian job after their military career, but they are mostly officers. In my case, my military skills did not transfer so well into the civilian world.

Q: How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?

A: When I was in the military, I was in an artillery unit. I loved the work, I really did. Eventually however, you begin to realize that you need to move on. My wife ended up having some bad complications with her pregnancy and I was unable to be with her. Our son was born and I was away on deployment. We had no family in the area and it was a tough time for her. Luckily, we had older kids that could help out, but it bothered me. I began to think about all the things I had missed over the years and it really started to get to me. We had some little issues come up after we got back from deployment and because of that and a lot of other reasons, I just decided to put in for retirement.

Looking back now, I realize how unprepared I was for retirement and the transition to civilian life. If I had to do it all over again, I'd go to more transition job fairs and I would spend more time networking. I really didn't think it would be so difficult to get a job though. It took me about 6 months to get a job. Luckily, we had set aside some savings or else I think we would have lost the house over it all. My retirement orders got messed up and it delayed my retirement pension pay. Although I had a Thrift Savings Account, it took a while to fill out the paperwork and get all of that processed. In talking with other veterans, I have found that I am not alone. I know of several people who have lost their homes during the transition process because of things like this. That is a shame, but it happens.

Q: What’s your ethnicity and gender? How has it hurt or helped you? If you ever experienced discrimination, how have you responded and what worked best?

A: I do not think that my ethnicity and gender hurt me when I was looking for a civilian job. I do think that my age certainly hurt me. When I retired from the military, I was in my early 40's. That is a pretty advanced age to be entering the civilian job market for the first time! I did consider staying in the military longer, but I am glad that I retired when I did at the age I was. I can't imagine how hard the transition must be for people in their late 40's or early 50's.

Q: How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?

A: I guess you could say that I went back to what I knew. I applied for state jobs and I got a job working with the Department of Transportation. Many of the guys that I work with are former military, so we all understand each other pretty well. Only a few of them have been career military though. Most did a few tours and that was it.

I would be lying if I would tell you that I don't miss being in the military some days. I really enjoyed it, but I suppose if I didn't I wouldn't have done 20 years. There are some days when I have a really bad day at the job and I think, maybe I could just go down and see the recruiter. Of course, I know those days are long over. Sometimes, it drives me almost crazy how there is no teamwork amongst some of the employees here. No one works as a team or thinks about how their job affects other people's jobs. We didn't have that too much in the military. Those are the sorts of things that drive me crazy and make me want to quit. Or, when people complain about how much work something will be and try to get out of doing something. That really upsets me because I worked hard my whole life. Sometimes I think that people spend too much time trying to get out of work. If they would only put that energy to the job! Of course, as a soldier, you don't really get to complain. You have to work with little sleep in pretty horrible conditions at times. It just is what it is.

Q: What kind of challenges do you handle and what makes you want to just quit?

A: I worked during the one hurricane down here. We had to keep pumping water out of the tunnels and we worked a lot of hours. Some of the guys were really upset about the fact that they didn't get at least 8 hours of sleep. They got food for us to eat at the shop during our shifts and some of the guys refused to eat the food because they didn't like it. Those of us that had been in the military just kind of laughed amongst ourselves and did what we had to do. I think I got like 50 hours of overtime that week! I was glad for the extra pay though. Now that is something you don't get in the military--overtime pay!

Q: What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?

A: If I were to give advice to a friend, I'm not so sure I would encourage them to go career military. I don't know though. I joined up when I was young out of a sense of duty and a desire to see the world. Now that I am older, I have different priorities. I'm thinking more about paying the bills and affording college for the kids! I wonder if I would have been more successful financially if I had never joined up with the military. I wonder what kind of money I'd be earning now if I had started out in the career I have now as a young person.

I would definitely advise my friend to plan carefully for the transition from the military to civilian world. I would advise a friend to save up at least enough money to last for 6 months. That way, you can keep on going during the transition period and your family won't be impacted too much by the change.

I'd also tell my friend to be encouraged. The transition is difficult, but you will get through somehow. In our most difficult time, when life was looking very bleak, people stepped up to the plate and helped us out. I remember at one point, when the car broke down and I was trying to find someone to tow it. We didn't have much money and the tow truck driver told me not to worry about the bill when I told him I was a veteran. He dropped me off at home after towing the car to the repair shop and when I got out, he shook my hand, thanked me for my service and sort of drove off into the sunset!