After returning home from two tours of duty in Somalia and Iraq, I found that similar to many veterans, I struggled with the transition to civilian life. Initially I thought I had only two options: police officer or fireman. I decided on becoming a patrolman, but there were a limited number of openings, and the salary would have made it difficult to support my family.
After much research, I decided to work in retail. I took my first position with Walmart not only because of the secure salary but also because Walmart seemed to be a company that offered equal opportunity to every kind of person. Just like the military, I would be able to prove my abilities and possibly be rewarded for high performance.
Several months after separating from the Marines, when I felt the desire to rejoin the military, Walmart encouraged me to return. I joined the Army National Guard and was eventually called back to Iraq to serve in Operation Iraqi Freedom. I was a lead sniper, in charge of training more than 200 Iraqi policemen and 15 Americans. I was responsible for teaching them everything from leadership to gathering intelligence in a combat environment.
My part in the deployment ended after mortar rounds landed preceding a serious firefight in which I suffered several injuries after mobilizing my men to safely return to camp. I was awarded the Bronze Star with valor for my leadership; however, my recovery took months of surgeries. Today, I’m legally blind in my left eye, and still have some memory issues from a traumatic brain injury. But through all those difficult times, my managers at Walmart were really supportive. They helped me work around my limitations and even flew me to Kansas City to receive the Sam Walton Hero Award in front of 5,000 people.
After my recovery, I learned how to translate my military background to the business world even further. It may sound very different, going from staff sergeant to running a grocery department, but leadership skills remain constant. It’s all about establishing routines, simplifying things for associates, leading them and understanding them. Because of that, I’ve been able to grow my career.
I was recently promoted to Fresh Operations Manager and lead more than 1,000 associates. I work in the field, teaching and training fresh operations in our stores and have remained committed to our troops by supporting Walmart’s initiative to hire veterans. I work with HR to help them understand the different military ranks and how that translates to jobs. In the last five years, Walmart has hired more than 100,000 veterans and we’re a stronger company because of it.
I like to stay involved in supporting veterans in any way I can. I co-founded Helping Hands for Freedom, a nonprofit that supports the families of wounded and fallen soldiers. Most soldiers and their families lack the kind of support I was fortunate to receive from Walmart, so we do everything we can.
It’s great knowing I work for a company that supports my involvement with veterans. My plan is to continue to grow within the company and move up to senior leadership on the grocery side of the business. I want to continue to move forward with my development and growth so I can continue to lead and develop associates across our company.