In this career interview an Army veteran speaks candidly about his military service as well as the challenges he faced during the transition to civilian life. As a Project Manager for the US Government, he takes pride in saving taxpayer money when negotiating with contractors and believes children would greatly benefit from personal finance education.
Q: What is your job title and what industry do you work in? How many years of experience do you have in that field?
I currently work as a Project Manager for the federal government. I have always worked in some sort of function within the construction/engineering industry. I have 10 years in the construction industry and my background varies from residential, commercial and now federal project.
Q: In what ways does your military experience help or hurt you or change the way you do your job compared to your peers?
The military is very helpful in my job and career endeavors as compared to my peers. First veterans—in my case a disabled veteran—often get preferred status in the hiring process. Also, even though I already had a great work ethic, the military provides you with specific intangibles such as teamwork, attention to detail and timeliness.
Q: Please tell us about your transition from military to civilian life. How did you accomplish it and what would you do differently if you could redo it?
I guess before I can tell you about the transition to civilian life I should discuss my transition to the military. I entered active duty Army in the aftermaths of 9/11. I served in the U.S. Army in 2002-2004. I was an 18X (Special Forces Candidate), 11B1P was my main MOS, meaning I was a parachute infantryman. I was injured in Special Forces training and was medically discharged (40% disabled). I currently hold an AAS, BS, MCM, and I am working on my MBA from Washington State University. I currently work for the U.S. General Services Administration as a Project Manager.
My injuries occurred during an exercise crossing a chest deep river in Special Forces training for the Army. Somewhere in the middle I stepped on either an underwater rock or log and partially tore my right ACL. The old adage for us was that there is a difference between pain and hurt, if you are in pain just drink some water and drive on. Well I drove on for roughly another week, then on a full equipment run I tore my left ACL due to overcompensation. It was a career ending move for Special Forces, so the Army sent me to to a mechanized unit in Germany to hopefully heal and return to special ops at a later date. After arriving in Germany the doctors evaluated the situation and deemed me ineligible for active duty assignment. It was a rough transition going from an elite position in the best physical condition of my life to feeling like a nobody worth discarding. I struggled with the issue a lot, and sometimes I still do. There is an element of excitement from jumping from planes, shooting, and being just awesome, then the crash of reality and a desk job. Overall I would never change the experience I had, everything I went through with the Army gave me the opportunities I have today.
The transition afterward was a little difficult because we didn’t plan on getting out. After my injuries the Army sent me to Germany to the 1st Armored Division in Buamholder. After medical examinations and pleading for the Army to keep me, they informed me of my impending discharge. Being in a foreign country my wife and I contacted our previous employers and were lucky enough to secure our old positions. I tried everything to remain in the service but due to the severity of my injuries the Army wouldn’t let me change MOS. So while I would do it all again, I would definitely avoid getting hurt.
Q: Would you describe the things you do on a typical day?
A typical day for me is busy to say the least. On average I have 10 or more projects in various phases of the construction process. On any given day I am answering emails, phone calls, producing construction documentation, and inspecting construction projects. With everything going on, it is important to be very detailed and organized. When I am not too busy, I create daily tasks and milestones for myself that help me meet my objectives.
Q: On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your job satisfaction? What changes would it take to unleash your full enthusiasm, talent and productivity?
I would say my satisfaction is 7 out of 10. I am satisfied with my current position but there are limited if any opportunities for advancement. To keep me enthused I have to be actively engaged in problem solving every day. I have a very strong entrepreneur drive and a desire to have my own business. I feel that being one’s own boss must provide the ultimate challenge and one can only depend on oneself in that situation.
Q: What did you learn the hard way in this job and how did that happen?
The hardest thing to learn is how to be politically savvy. During a construction project I was asked to have the contractor perform work I deemed outside of their scope of work. My answer to the request was a simple no I will not have the contractor perform that request. Needless to say the political powers above me were not happy with that answer. I had to formally apologize for saying “no” and then rephrase my answer to something more appropriate such as “please send a formal funded request to our office to process outside of this contract”. It is amazing how much trouble one little word can cause.
Q: What don’t they teach in school that would’ve been helpful to you?
The one subject that schools should teach is personal finance. In today’s society everything is fast paced and financially driven. Marketing efforts of every company want to separate you from your money. Teaching children at an early age of fiscal responsibility can mitigate a lot of the troubles we see today.
Q: How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?
I started down this career path in high school. There I took drafting and design classes that inspired me to pursue my associates degree. Afterwards I moved away because of work, and to apply to architecture school. Around then 9/11 occurred and derailed my plans. The only thing I would do differently is that I would have entered the military as an officer instead of an enlisted soldier. After getting out of the service I looked at what education possibilities were available for my drafting background. With architecture so hard to get in to I entered the construction industry. While I am not an architect I design and build things daily so I get the satisfaction of seeing an idea become a reality.
Q: What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you in this job?
Walking a contractor through a restroom renovation and having a tenant come in and begin using one of the stalls. That ranks up that among the strangest and most embarrassing things yet.
Q: On a good day when things are going well, can you give an example of something that really makes you feel good?
In performing government construction estimates and negotiating the contractual work with the contractor. There are instances where in negotiations with the contractor, I have saved the government and taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars. While that is extremely insignificant in the grand scheme of spending, it does feel good to know I at least saved something.
Q: When nothing seems to go right, what kind of snafus do you handle and what do you dislike the most?
There are a lot of contractual issues, non performance of contractors on construction projects. The biggest dislike I have is with the government’s requirements to get a project from start to completion. While I understand precautionary measures and monitoring the private sector moves at a much more efficient pace, the government could save millions of dollars just practicing at commercial industry standards.
Q: How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance?
The job is extremely stressful at times. The key is to stay ahead of the process requirements and be very detailed in everything you do. I have a great work-life balance with alternate work schedules and teleworking options available to use.
Q: What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough and/or happy living within your means?
I currently work at the GS12 level or roughly $70,000+ per year. While my educational background has expanded greatly I could make quite a bit more in the private sector. But the government provides a solid foundation and job security that I enjoy. Yes, we live within our means; it is extremely difficult because as a family of 5 we are on one income.
Q: What’s the most rewarding moment you’ve experienced in this position? Of all the things you’ve done at work, what are you most proud of?
While accolades are nice the most rewarding experience, is every year we have a bring your kids to work day. On this day we bring our kids in and let them stay with us throughout the workday. This is extremely rewarding and they get a sense of what daddy does all day.
Q: What’s the most challenging moment you’ve experienced? What would you prefer to forget?
Typically, it is doing work I think is complete only to have the regional or national office say regulations or processes have changed after the fact. Procurement methods are constantly changing and it can be very challenging to get work completed. The biggest thing I wish I could forget is a restroom renovation project. The building was occupied while we were doing construction; during project walk-throughs we would often have to wait until after someone finished using it to go in. All I can say is it was the stinkiest project yet!
Q: What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?
At least a bachelor’s degree, the preferable field is construction management, engineering, or facility services.
Q: What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?
The work is extremely rewarding, very few positions provide the satisfaction of seeing your work become reality like construction does.
Q: How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?
I get around 3 weeks of vacation a year. More vacation is always good and with the government the more years you put in the more hours you get. We also have alternate work schedules where you can work 4-10 hour days that also are a benefit for work –life balance.
Q: Are there any common misunderstandings you want to correct about what you do?
The biggest misunderstanding is the government just wastes our money. While this may be true for certain government decisions I can say that I am doing everything I can to save taxpayers money. This is from contractual negotiations, competitive bids, and sustainability projects.
Q: Does this job move your heart? Feel like you found your calling or sweet spot in life? If not, what might do it for you?
In my heart I belong and will always belong in the special operations community of the military. While you can’t always get what you want, you can create your own opportunities and happiness. Besides doing what I am doing, I always wanted to be an architect, so this is about as close as I can get without further education and expenses.
Q: If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?
I see myself with my own company. My wife and I have a plan that is playing out as we speak, so hopefully in 5 years I will actually be writing my own ticket (or paycheck).
Q: Is there anything unique about your situation that readers should know when considering your experiences or accomplishments?
Not really, there is nothing special about me. I am just blessed to have a wonderful family and a great job. The key is to always seek to improve yourself; you must prepare you mind, body and spirit to achieve your destiny.