After 4 ½ years in the Army, Andres Mendoza advanced to staff sergeant. He emerged from two tours in Afghanistan with a positive attitude and a deep appreciation for those he served with.
Yet, Andres felt that the skills he gained during his seven years in the military didn’t seamlessly translate to the civilian world.
He spent several months filling out applications − and receiving rejection letters − for a variety of jobs after he was honorably discharged.
“It was like being 18 again at 26,” he recalled. Andres said he likes to consider himself self-sufficient and didn’t think he needed anyone’s help moving forward in his career as a civilian.
One day his wife ran across a Facebook page that announced an upcoming job fair in Victorville, California, where they now live.
He was hired on the spot for a job loading and unloading trucks at a nearby warehouse. He also met a representative from the High Desert America’s Job Center of California – opening a door to opportunities down the road.
Andres soon began to feel called to help other veterans assimilate to the civilian workplace after leaving service, so he enrolled in a bachelor’s program for social work at Brandon University while working at the warehouse. After receiving several invitations, he also decided to meet with a disabled veteran outreach program specialist at the High Desert center.
In fact, the job center hired Andres as part of a work/study program and strongly encouraged him to apply for any upcoming disabled veteran outreach specialist positions. An opportunity opened up about a year and a half later, and Andres landed the job.
As someone who has been in the trenches, he has compassion for his former fellow service members and feels he’s uniquely qualified to help in their transition back into the civilian world.
He credits their adaptability and willingness to take instructions as being huge assets when employers are looking to hire. “That’s the perfect recipe for success in the workforce,” he said.
Andres will graduate in May and plans to apply for a master’s program to continue his social work studies.
In the meantime, Andres now loves going to work every day “helping veterans overcome their barriers to employment.”
“I want to provide others the opportunity that was provided me,” he said. “The system works. I just point to my own story as proof.”
Leo Kay is the regional public affairs director for the Labor Department in San Francisco.