“LIFE is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” John Lennon
In 1997, I strolled out of the Air Force; the sweet song of civilian freedom ringing in my regimented ears.
“No more rule books, no more saluting, no more uniforms ruining my looks…”
At that time, a four-year degree and military experience opened employers’ doors. Look out America, I thought. First, a stiff tailwind blew Chicago-way, and then it wafted me westward to the California coastline.
In a short while, I missed the comfort of military structure. I don’t mind saying that I sustained a few bird strikes from the “Real World.” Civilian life ain’t easy, folks. But, I worked every day – wearing a determined grin like a set of sergeant’s stripes. Travels’ excitement and a commission-driven sales career felt stale after a few, bold years. Wouldn’t you know it? My footloose existence wasn’t as satisfying as I’d expected.
Where was my purpose?
My personal jet-stream took eight years to deliver me to the East Coast. In that time, I’d transitioned into matrimony and welcomed an energetic child. Domestic life was great. My husband supported the family as I cared for our child.
Shortly thereafter, I explored a master’s degree through Wilmington University. The GI Bill offered reimbursement, so, in 2007, I slalomed through some excellent classes. My son grew and a curly-headed daughter appeared. It was a happy time.
In graduate school, I discovered an aptitude for instruction. Teaching fascinated me. Immediately, I set my sights on learning the nuts and bolts of a new profession.
Mercurial time sped toward 2010 and change dropped into my lap. Economic times were ruthless. My household income now reflected the teetering, national recession; I worried about unpaid bills. Sympathetic friends and family counseled patience and urged more effort.
I could do “effort.”
I urgently sought a job…any job…to supplement my contractor husbands’ income. But, Delaware wasn’t hiring. Even Wal-Mart wasn’t interested in the experience I presented – veteran’s preference yielded nothing.
In the summer of 2010, I contacted Mr. Clifford Rumph, the Local Veteran’s Employment Representative at the Delaware Department of Labor One-Stop. “Finish that degree!” He encouraged me…and sent reams of job notices.
Winter storms pounded Delaware, while our financial clouds precipitated what no snow plow could handle. My family’s income plummeted to almost nothing and useless job-hunting discouraged optimism. Yet, I focused on my best option; finishing school.
Spring of 2011…a different world.
Persistence pays. When the month of May, 2011, rolled around, I’d earned a Master’s in Education degree, as well as Delaware certification to teach a variety of subjects and grades. Whew! I was ready for the educational job market.
Azaleas bloomed yellow in the spring air, but my career prospects hibernated like grumpy grizzly bears. I soldiered on, searching school districts across Delaware and Maryland. Network contacts told me about teachers getting hired. (Not me.) Though qualified, I wasn’t one of the lucky ones. Why?
Well, unemployment figures topped 9 percent.
Incumbent teacher turnover was very low. Some days, I gave up hope of an interview, though I applied for job after job. Depression settled like fog. Home foreclosure notices menaced my dreams. I didn’t know what to do.
Reconnection with my Veteran’s Employment Representative (the diligent vet, Mr. Rumph) saved my metaphorical ship. Hope flickered like a beacon.
Veteran status still counts.
At his professional best, Mr. Rumph forwarded my qualifications to a fellow veteran. The man who received my resume was Robert Harris (USAF, retired); principal of Kent County Alternative Programs, a school in Dover, Delaware. Would I get a response? Squadrons of butterflies attacked my stomach. I prayed for an opportunity.
It was mid-June. The phone call from Mr. Harris shocked me out of my anxious fog. Mr. Rumph’s recommendation had done the trick! That all-important, veteran association developed into a high-level meeting; which extended to a positive interview.
What can I say?
Of course, there is always more to an old-timer’s story, but those are the bare facts. I got hired. Maybe I impressed the review panel by wearing a sharp-looking jacket and pants, somewhat similar to military attire. I suppose that type of clothing didn’t ruin my looks after all.
Now, what was a rough road seems like the path to destiny. Then again, highly qualified and talented individual though I am, my abilities might have gone unnoticed without the “vet connection.”
Believe me, bitter desperation packed the last few years of my life. But, I can’t complain. Hard work is a veteran’s battle plan. From time to time, we get help from friends, like Mr. Rumph. Yes, indeed. Memories of those recent, gritty days will dissolve. Now, I lift my face toward a sweet rain of new challenges and steady paychecks. I’m ready. Forward, teach…!
“LIFE might happen, but so can I.” Lane Carter
The author, Lane Carter is an Air Force veteran who received help from DOL Local Veteran’s Employment Representative Clifford Rumph.