During my military career, I served as an infantryman and Respiratory Specialist. I provided operations management services as a Pulmonary & Critical Care Manager, a Senior Healthcare Manager, and during the last years of service, as an Assistant Inspector General. It could have been an easier route to stay with what I knew–being around the government sector. But I wanted a total shift from what I had been doing and what I had experienced in the military.
In the military, after completing Advanced Individual training, you go to your duty station and start working in your career field—for me, it was Infantry, then healthcare in a field unit and then in the hospital setting. A career in the military, compared with a similar one in the civilian sector, is focused on combat readiness. Military service prepares you for the unknown and unexpected. Even when things get out of my comfort zone now, I’ve learned in the military how to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations.
My last duty station in the service had been in Chicago. My wife’s and my family all live in Rhode Island, so that drew us back here. I began looking at a couple of different schools in the area to see what they offered. Looking to the future, I wanted a school program that would best prepare me to work in an Information Technology career.
An IT career would give me the ability to work remotely from anywhere in the country or the world, wherever there is internet access. During my military career, I used some computer skills for office work and basic troubleshooting, but IT wasn’t my role. If we needed to resolve issues that went beyond the normal basic troubleshooting, an IT team would provide support. I’ve worked with computers on my own, and have done some research about technology. But I wanted to go to school to find out the ‘why’ behind some of the things I was doing.
I had tried transferring credits from my Associate’s Degree to a couple of school programs. The degree-granting schools wouldn’t take them, because I had earned that degree more than ten years ago. These schools wanted me to start over from scratch by taking all of the core classes. More important than a degree, I wanted skills for employment. Contacting MTTI, Cheryl, the Admissions Representative for the Computer & Networking program, set up a visit to the school. She also scheduled a phone interview for me to talk with the program Instructor.
He answered the questions I had about the Computer / Networking program. The hands-on portion of the program really appealed to me. I also liked the seven-month time frame for completing the program at MTTI, compared with longer degree programs at other schools. The technical school won out; I decided I would go with MTTI.
Deciding what your next career, school and job will be, together with navigating new environments, is mentally and emotionally daunting. Trying to relate what I did in twenty-something years in a military career to a civilian job, and then, in a short period of time make the transition into civilian life, felt like starting over from the ground up. During my military career, I was pretty much a subject matter expert, who people would come to for answers and advice. Returning to school and entering into a new career field, I’m the one asking other people for help and advice.
I experienced trauma and issues that I will deal with for the rest of my life. The mission in the military is to prepare to go to war. You pray that will never happen. War is horrible and ugly; when engaged in warfare, human beings are capable of unthinkably cruel acts. But our mission in the military is to defend our nation against foreign and domestic enemies—to serve and protect. When the country goes to war, we answer the call.
I did that for my first five years in the military. Deployed at the beginning of the second Iraq war, we went in and replaced the first group. I witnessed firsthand the destruction—the carnage and mayhem—of war. In the infantry, your mission is to close with the enemy by means of fire and maneuver to defeat or capture him, or repel his assault by fire, close combat, and counterattack1. When somebody you know gets hurt or killed in combat, you package them up and evacuate them out of the combat zone. Your mind is focused on the mission and the survival of those on your left and right—your brothers and sisters. You don’t allow yourself in that moment to think about what you have experienced; once out of sight it’s out of mind.
A lot of people in the military will stay in one lane, and in one job, for their entire career. I saw both sides of war—combat and the hospital side. Witnessing the very long and painful road to recovery of combat survivors was rough. That’s not something you can say, ‘Oh, hey, I don’t want to think about it.’ The physical, mental and emotional wounds that I and others in the military carry are life-long. Returning home after their miltary service, Veterans often feel misunderstood and unrelatable; that makes it tough to cope with transitioning back into civilian life. Some Veterans just isolate themselves; others drink, and unfortunately too many end their lives by committing suicide.
Some days I had to force myself to be in the school environment. I was motivated by wanting to have a stable job, one that would allow me to provide for my family. But at times I didn’t want to do this; I didn’t want to be there. It wasn’t about MTTI; I just didn’t want to be at any school or around anybody or anything. I had no issue with MTTI. The people at school were great—I liked my classmates and Instructors. It helped that I wasn’t in a huge class; I was around just a select few individuals each day.
For Veterans who have a rough time transitioning to school and into the civilian workforce, my advice is: ‘complete the mission’. No matter how difficult or challenging it will sometimes be, keep going until you complete the end goal you set out to accomplish.
Reach out for assistance when you need support. The Veterans Affairs and other organizations, including Hire Heroes USA2, are more than willing to provide aid to Veterans. Sometimes that information is not very well advertised, so we haven’t heard about it. Many of us are often too proud to reach out—or we reach out too late. But there is help for us out there when we do.
I feel fortunate that Ken was my instructor. His teaching style was easy to follow. He had different teaching methods–different ways to present the material, all of which were helpful in reinforcing what we were learning. Applying what we heard during the morning lecture, with the hands-on in the lab in the afternoon, really drove home the skills we were learning.
I came to MTTI with an up-to-date resume that Hire Heroes USA2 helped me prepare; I just added the skills I was learning at school. Shawn, the Career Services Specialist, brought in employers from different companies to interview us for internship and hiring opportunities. I met with almost everyone who came in; the more practice you get, the better prepared you will be when you interview for the job you really want to go for.
Networking with people is a big part of accomplishing your goal to get the job you want. Today you have all kinds of sources to reach out and network with others digitally, and to get your name and resume out there on Linkedin and other internet sites.
She told me what a great company it is, and that I should look into it. She put me in touch with the IT Director. I interviewed with him and accepted an internship, to see if it was where I would like to work long-term.
We talked about the internship and what the expectations would be. We agreed that the internship would help us know where I might fit within the organization. The Director understood I was finishing up at school and still learning. In IT, you will constantly need to continue learning as technology changes.
Situations like that don’t get me nervous; I don’t often get rattled. When I came in, I was glad to be there; they were happy to have me. I concentrated on learning the business and some of the roles I might have. I had some experience with things that are almost universal and that I could bring to the table, while learning the IT piece. The team I work with is great. At the end of the internship, they wanted me to stay on and I wanted to stay on—so it worked out well.
Some operations and programs we use are the same as we had learned in school, including Windows 10, Acronis (imaging program), some Linux and Mac OS. The networking that Ken taught us has been helpful for troubleshooting. Sometimes I look up IP addresses and use network configurations to troubleshoot—those were definitely good skill sets to learn at school. I am familiar with Microsoft 365 from having it on my home system. Working at eClinical Solutions, I’ve been able to gain experience with new programs, like OKTA verify, Office 365 Admin and Zendesk (ticketing system).
Right now, I am gaining experience while providing technical support. This is definitely great exposure for me to figure out which route I want to focus my attention and efforts on. I could stay with what I’m doing now and progress to the next level. Or I could go into networking operations. Cybersecurity definitely intrigues me. Or, I might choose to become a program engineer.
But it’s not a prerequisite to get hired in IT. Even when I directed departments and worked in the clinic in the military hospital setting, our computer support team had just minimal working knowledge of what we were doing related to actual patient care. But they knew IT. They knew how to get the computer running and we took care of the rest. It’s the same in civilian companies.
I had not done any of this when I was a healthcare operations manager in the military. I’m familiar with a lot of the medical jargon in those studies, but I’m not, right now, touching any of that. That’s more on the client side. My role is to provide internal technical support for our workers—our employees. We have another team that provides external, client-side support.
Technology moves so fast and changes so rapidly. Every day you come across something that you say, “I have not seen this before.” The important thing is not to worry about it; instead, do some research each time you encounter something new to you. Continue educating yourself and obtaining certifications in areas of interest.
I’m happy to have completed school and be back in the workforce—I’ve accomplished one of my goals. But I did enjoy the school environment and the program. At a larger school, you can just be a cog the wheel. At MTTI, the smaller class size and the more personal relationships with the instructors and some staff—plus my classmates—definitely played a role in helping me get through school.
During the rough patches, they encouraged me to complete the mission to transition from school to career. I’m thankful also for the support I received from the VA and Hire Heroes USA2.
The program definitely gave me a good foundation. You get a good working knowledge in just seven months that can take you pretty much anywhere you want to go. Once you are working in the IT industry, you will gain a lot of experience as you come across each new and different situation. MTTI gives you the starting point you need to get hired in the IT industry and start your career.
1US Army’s AirLand Battle doctrine
2Hire Heroes USA – Richard recommends them to Veterans for assistance with resumes, finding training programs and searching for jobs. “They’re a great resource. Even now, if I need assistance, I’ll contact them.” https://www.hireheroesusa.org/