Andy, Navy SEAL, Machining I Graduate

by | May 9, 2023 | 2023, News & Media, Student Stories

“I love it here. The instructors here take ownership of their work and mold it to each student. It’s something you don’t see every day.”

Andy Nichols is a retired Navy SEAL Master Chief of 26 years. “I joined in 1985, right after high school,” he said. “I didn’t start out as a SEAL. I started out as a Naval Aircrewman.”

Like his dad, Andy was an “aviation buff” and was fascinated by military history. After high school, he wanted to pursue a career that would feed his passion for aircrafts. “What job is going to let me fly?” Andy asked himself. “That’s going to be my job.”

In the Navy, Andy hunted and tracked down Soviet submarines. “Then I switched to another platform where I flew in S-3B Vikings off the USS Saratoga and served in Desert Storm,” he said. Later, he became an instructor and taught oceanography, radar theory, advanced acoustic analysis and more. In 1997, Andy went to BUD/S and became a Navy SEAL.

“We have an undersea component in the Teams and that’s what I focused on,” he said.

After serving 26 honorable years, Andy retired from the military. When asked about why he retired, Andy said, “It was time. It was a hard decision, but I made it. I loved doing what I was doing, and not so much the particular job I had, but the people I was doing it with. I loved helping out the junior Sailors and mentoring.”

Soon after retiring, Andy worked with Force Protector Gear, a company started by his close friend and fellow Navy SEAL. “I had things set up,” Andy said about his retirement. He acknowledged that having a job lined up immediately after leaving the military helped ease his transition.

Andy still works with Force Protector Gear as a consultant through his own business, Rugged Outdoor Entertainment. He currently spearheads their research and development, vendor support, and all their marketing efforts.

Andy’s journey to discovering Workshops for Warriors is unique compared to other WFW alumni who typically do not have as much civilian work experience. “A friend of mine, George Denali, owns a motorcycle suspension business here in Alpine, CA,” Andy said. “We’ve been friends a long time, and I’ve helped him out because I’m passionate about motorcycles.” Andy was on the United States Off Road team in 1996 and competed in International Six Days, the world’s largest off-road motorcycle competition. George makes custom motorcycle suspension and has his own patent pending designs. “He’s gotten pretty successful, but he’s tired of having stuff made in Asia.”

“He’s a pretty patriotic dude,” Andy said. “He doesn’t want to do that anymore. So, he approached me with the idea of opening a machine shop and asked if I was interested in running it. I said, ‘Sure, but there’s this pesky little problem – I didn’t know a darn thing about machining.”

Andy realized he needed foundational knowledge about CNC machining to successfully run the machine shop George had proposed. So, he searched for machining programs online. “Workshops for Warriors popped up, and I’m like, wait a minute, this is for veterans. I had thought, before I saw Workshops for Warriors, that it would be cool to start this machine shop and grow it to a point where I can hire a veteran. And I saw that Workshops for Warriors does that at scale. I applied, and once I got here, I realized this is exactly what I needed.”

When asked about his time at WFW, Andy said, “I absolutely love it. I love manufacturing things. I love running the machines. Seeing something go from a concept to something that you hold in your hand – I love doing that.”

“The biggest thing that I have been blown away by is not what actually happens in the classroom. It’s what Workshops for Warriors does holistically for a veteran that may or may not be on the right path or may need some help with their transition. Because everybody is not as fortunate as me to have something lined up. By day one, it was very apparent that the instructor cadre here takes pride in ownership. They’re here because they want to help veterans learn a craft, how to present, and how to get a great job.”

“They back up the students all the way up through the interviewing process and building their resumes. And the most impressive thing was the career fair. The whole mission of this place boils down to that day,” Andy said.

Andy offered words of advice to veterans and anyone transitioning out of the military: “I would tell an aspiring person to figure out where they want to be and then plan backward from there. Workshops for Warriors is great if you want to get into either the welding or machining field. I would also say to be hungry and humble. If you show up every day and you put out a thousand percent, you’re going to get there because this place like any other place rewards hard work.”

Andy graduated from Workshops for Warriors’ Machining I program in the Spring of 2023 with 36 nationally recognized certifications. He enrolled in WFW’s intermediate Machining II program. When speaking about his future, Andy said, “It’d be really nice to come back and eventually be one of the guys sitting on the other side of the career fair table. Wouldn’t it be cool to come full circle?”

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