Why I Do What I Do – April 2014

why-i-do-what-i-do-featured-imageIn 2006, I joined the Army National Guard out of a sense of greater purpose. Along with a number of 17 and 18-year old kids, I raised my right hand and swore an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States.  I was 32 years old and committed to an organization that would demand more of me and my family for the next 7 ½ years.  I would be away from home.  We would miss each other’s birthdays, anniversaries, and graduations.  My family would reach their limits of emotional stress.  My 30-something body would be taxed to its limits through an endless grind of training, lack of sleep, and meals-ready-to-eat.

I did it because not everyone could or wanted to join a service that might send you to a place where people who didn’t like you would try to keep you from coming home.  Others found their place in the world:  the doctors, lawyers, firemen, and other, all of whom we need as much as our soldiers.  I just happened to find mine in a place I’d never expected until late in life.

It was 7 ½ years, with the bumps and potholes that come along with that journey.  I had just finished my officer signal school at Fort Gordon Georgia.  The summer had been typical for the South: hot, humid, and full of fire ants and chiggers.  Still a second lieutenant and wet behind the ears , with the shine still on the gold bar stuck to my chest, I was coming back home to Spokane after 5 months away.  It wasn’t the longest time I’d be away, but it was enough.  It’s a funny thing about the special eternity that comes with being away from your loved ones.  You look ahead to the days that stretch out in front of you and they seem endless; you can’t imagine they’ll ever come to an end. Then, you look back years later and find the memories seem to have taken no time at all.

The welcome I received when I came home was mixed.  My family was grateful.  We could make up for lost time, the drains would be fixed, and roof tiles could be replaced.  My employer was uninspired by my journey.  We were a small web development company struggling to make ends meet.  I had taken the job to be closer to my wife and a fanciful notion that the job would still be waiting for me no matter where the caisons went rolling along.

They had gone a little too far for my employer.  There weren’t enough projects to keep me on, and for the first time in my life, I found myself unemployed.  The sense of purpose I felt in being able to take care of my family had evaporated in a 2-minute phone call.

Not one to panic, I dusted off my resume.  Some new faces started coming into my life.  These faces, those of my interviewers for jobs to which I’d applied, terrified and gave me hope simultaneously.  They were the ones who could help me regain the sense of purpose I’d lost, or close another door in my quest for self-sufficiency.

I applied where I could.  It is hard to think of holding out for a dream position when your concerns are of paying your electric bill and putting food on the table.  I had an eclectic background that combined life sciences and information technology.  Where I could put this menagerie of skills together, I wasn’t sure.

I was away from home again, training for a pending mobilization with my National Guard unit in Boise, Idaho.  I remember sitting in a World War 2 era building with a bad wireless connection that made a paper cup and strings seem reasonable, making plans for moving an entire brigade of soldiers over 7000 miles away.  I was also thinking that no employer would want to give someone a chance when that person had the elephant I did in my back pocket:  in a little less than a year, there was a good chance I’d  be deployed overseas for a year.

My phone only had one bar of service when Juanita Jiminez (now Gray) called and asked me, would I like to test for the position I had applied for at Career Path Services.  Of course I did; the position seemed like a great opportunity: it was close to home and the work was in an area I enjoyed.  I also hoped that an employer whose mission was to help those with barriers to employment find jobs would understand my situation.

They were going to test me in JAVA, a computer language that seemed a little ambitious for the web development position to which I’d applied.  I knew right then that this was a company in need of a web developer.  I took the test, and failed it spectacularly, as did the other candidates for the position.  We were in good company in that sense, even in our competition.

Assuming it was my other skills that impressed my interviewers, I was hired.  Career Path Services was impressive in it’s beliefs and actions of helping others gain their freedom through employment and ultimately self-sufficiency.  The army had taught me that there are times when freedom only comes at the end of a rifle or through the fall of artillery.  Career Path Services showed me that freedom could come with a few kind words and a guiding hand.

It took me sometime to realize I had found a second home in Career Path Services until after I spent 14 months away from the only one I ever knew.  I’d been everywhere from Newfoundland to Germany to Iraq.  That time was full of change and was all I knew.  My family would accept me.  They had been to the meetings and read the literature on what to expect from a returning soldier.  Would my employer?  I’d been in this position before, for a much shorter period of time, with unfavorable results.

My relief at what I found was the breath of life I needed to put old worries to rest.  They did understand my need to serve; I had guessed correctly.  They understood, and to this day, still understand the long hours that are required to give back to those who can’t always give of themselves.  After two years of training, traveling, and serving, I found one of the pillars of my self-worth and self-sufficiency intact.

Career Path Services has allowed me to carry on the values the army drill sergeants tried to instill into their sleepy recruits at 4:30 a.m. every morning of basic training: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage.    You look, sometimes just not quite hard enough, and aren’t expecting to find that place where you belong, where you can be a part of something much larger than yourself. Yet, after 4 ½ years of employment with this organization, I’ve done just that.

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