When Jason first enlisted, his request to the recruiter was to have a job where he got a gun. Now, this might seem silly to some because most people think that everyone who is in the military has a gun. What else would they be doing, right? Well, no. The military runs like a machine with many parts. Sure, some men (and women) are tasked with jobs that require weapons and war tactics. However, a great deal of the military jobs available range from office positions completing paperwork, mechanics, food preparation, and even music! That being said, Jason is a fast paced individual who gets bored with monotonous positions. So, he began his career as Air Force Security Forces- a police officer. After a few years we figured out that this career at the height of the war meant steady back to back deployments. He was actually scheduled for his third deployment before even returning from his second. After those two deployments were completed, he took an opportunity to cross train into Combat Arms (CATM). This job is technically a police officer position, however instead of security, Jason would be teaching others how to shoot their weapons.
We laugh now, but this job terrified me almost more than the deployments. Shortly after he completed his cross training to become CATM, we got orders to be stationed at Lackland AFB- the hub of the Air Force and home to basic training (boot camp). Jason’s job was to teach basic trainees everything they needed to know about their weapon. Including marksmanship. To get them qualified and comfortable with their gun. Hearing stories and seeing pictures of basic trainees pointing weapons at instructors, loading bullets backwards, peeing themselves, and other absolute absurdity were a regular occurrence. Not to mention, have you ever seen the movie, Full Metal Jacket? Yup. Those are the images that stuck with me. But, that’s besides the point.
Anyways, while Jason’s career evolved, he never moved away from weapons. He eventually began working at a pre-deployment training course at Camp Bullis in Texas. There, he really enjoyed being CATM. He ran his own armory, taught classes to thousands of students, and got to wrench on weapons every day. The men he was stationed with at Bullis were amazing individuals with equally amazing families. The type of people that show up and help you move your entire house in exchange for a Whataburger breakfast. Who show up at the hospital with flowers when your wife is in labor. Just plain good people who care about each other. I think above anything, those individuals are what our family misses the most. They were also very skilled at their job. The pre-deployment course was responsible for teaching students every aspect of deployment- counter IED, land navigation, small unit tactics, movement in urban terrain, mounted convoy operations, and tactical combat casualty care (before you are super impressed by my knowledge, Jason helped remind me of all the technical terms).
At the time of his separation, Jason had worked hard to almost complete his Associate’s Degree and had gone to HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) school and gotten certified to be an HVAC technician. However, his 8 years of career experience were in one thing- Weapons.
Knowing that a career in weapons, or combat arms, would not exactly be low hanging fruit as a civilian in California, Jason got a job as planned as an HVAC tech for a very reputable company. We felt so positive that a company was willing to hold a position for him until we moved because he was a veteran. Promises were being made and we were so hopeful.
Then, reality hit. We had planned and prepared for this move to California for so long. We had back up plans to our back up plans. And we ran through all of them within months. Jason separated from the Air Force in May and by July he was unemployed. We were desperately trying to stay hopeful.
Have you ever had one of those bad dreams where you’re running away from something scary, but you can’t find your balance? You keep tripping and falling, and you’re so dizzy you don’t know which way is up. That is what life has felt like for us since July 2014.
Jason has tried every possible career opportunity. He has turned away a total of zero jobs. He has attempted HVAC until all avenues were exhausted, he has sold plastic containers in the bottling industry, worked as a night shift mechanic at LAX, sold oil and water well drill bits, and stocked shelves in grocery stores at 3 a.m. That is only the list of jobs he worked, you should see those that he applied for! All we wanted was to be successful at life here. Whatever job that achieved that, he was open to! His famous line over the past 2 years has been, “I’d shovel shit if they paid me right.”
And while none of these jobs involved weapons, he busted his tail to be the best he could at each one of them. The problem at these jobs was not Jason. He was never fired. The problem is bigger. It is the way these businesses were run.
Jason and I don’t come from a world where bosses can just change their mind. He has spent the last nearly 10 years of his life under a contract. Beyond contracts, people just treated each other with a bit more respect in his military career. However, the civilian world isn’t so cut and dry. I wish that my opinion was that we had one bad experience. However, since Jason separated from the Air Force, all but one of the employers Jason has had, either changed his pay, discontinued our benefits, or failed to follow through on paying commissions owed. We have learned over the last 2 and a half years that this is to be expected with employment as a civilian.
Then, one of those amazing individuals who worked with Jason in Texas called to tell him about a government position opening. A CATM position in Palmdale where this friend was now stationed (small world!). The low hanging fruit that we never expected to see. A chance for Jay to finally have a career he is passionate about. A job that sees his experience as valuable. Where his 8.5 years of military service actually counts for something. A place where his resume is in a common language and his qualifications hold value. Benefits. Retirement. Reliability. Needless to say, Jason applied immediately and went through the interview process. Then, we waited.
About 6 months went by and we heard nothing. We didn’t talk much about it because the disappointment was too much to bare. It is hard to admit out loud that another option did not pan through. During our wait to hear back, we had decided to take on this motorhome adventure. About 2 months in to motorhome living, we found ourselves at another crossroads. His current employer was making it painfully obvious he was not interested in following through on the promises made for raises and commissions. As we tried to narrow down what direction to go, Jason’s friend called again and exclaimed, “Hey, congrats buddy!” Obviously confused as what the congrats was for, Jason’s friend explained he got the job.
Up until this point, we were reacting to what life had been handing us. Just trying to survive and stay afloat the best we knew how. Time after time, it just didn’t work. When we moved into the motorhome, it was an act of taking back control. Not only of our finances, but at our life’s path. Around this time is also when we began to dig deeper into our faith. Understanding God’s purpose in our life was one more way we felt empowered to make the hard choices that would lead us where we wanted to be. Once we started to follow through on these difficult decisions, like moving into the motorhome, everything made a little more sense. And this job offer came through.
This position was the right choice for our family in so many ways. While the pay wasn’t ideal, living in the motorhome without a mortgage allowed us to mostly overcome the financial aspect. It has given us the best benefits package since Jason was active duty, includes an amazing retirement plan that he is eligible for in only 12 years, and all the other benefits most come to expect with a good job. However, the most desirable part of this job isn’t listed in the benefits package or job description.
It is Jason’s passion for the job. He spent 8.5 years working a job and dedicating his life to something he was passionate about. It gave him purpose and motivation. He is a natural born teacher and enjoys interacting with people. While we thought we had an equivalent plan for the civilian world, it didn’t pan out that way. Besides the loss of benefits and adequate pay, what we lost the most was Jason. He now is able to work with people who read his resume and not only understand it, but value the hard work he has put in through the course of his career.
So, despite the pay cut (I know, how could it possibly get any lower, right?), we took the position on a leap of faith that this was the path for us. We have not been disappointed. He has already received a raise and we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Our journey now has a foreseeable destination. The time we have spent living in the motorhome is for a greater purpose that we can start to better understand. Which only serves as further motivation.
This is finally the moment that reassured Jason that his time in service is and was for a greater purpose. So many veterans spend the time after they separate from the military searching for their worth. They used to wear a uniform and pride. They feel that same pride when listing their accomplishments on their resume. For that resume to fall short time and time again is a feeling that I truly cannot comprehend. Jason will tell you that above anything, his biggest struggle was transitioning to life as a civilian. The biggest hurdle has been feeling worthless in the job market.
He is not worthless. No veteran is worthless. It may take months, or even years. But, as long as you continue to work hard, explore every opportunity, and allow others to help you, your purpose will become clear.
We are still learning our purpose. We are growing and changing. God has shown us that as long as we continue to make the effort and choices to grow, even when life makes it so damn hard, our journey will continue to become clear.