Josh, Navy Veteran, Machining Graduate

by | Aug 14, 2017 | 2018 - Older, Student Stories

“I’ve never not wanted to come here. I know that I’m going to be welding and learning, but the people here are good. I’m infinitely grateful for this place and for all you guys.”

Josh is a 17-year Navy Veteran who enlisted in 1999 right out of high school because he felt the call to serve. As a native Texan, patriotism ran in his blood.

“I’ve been working since I was 15, so independence is something that I value and decided the Military was a good way to be on my own. I could do stuff that was interesting and exciting and then at the same time you feel like you’re doing something that’s keeping your family safe.”

His first tour was on a submarine on the USS La Jolla as an electronics technician, but he later moved to mine warfare where he was on five minesweepers, or wooden ships, all across the country and eventually deploying to Bahrain.

“I’ve done one deployment to the Pacific theater, and then the rest of my work has been in the Fifth Fleet, or the Persian Gulf and Arabian Gulf. I was on five minesweepers. I made it to first class petty officer E6 on that platform, and then I became an A School instructor for mine-men A School back when the Navy had rates. At A School is where I picked up Chief, and then I went from being an instructor to being a Riverine. I did the full range of Riverine operations from the security team, which is like an embarked infantry squad, and then I finished as a boat captain there on the Riverine command boat.”

Josh continued to explain that it was on the Riverine command boat that he become badly injured, being forced to end his 17-year career and transition back into civilian life sooner than planned.

“[The boat] is about a 50-foot aluminum boat that’s designed for the river, but we deployed to the Persian Gulf. Since the boat wasn’t really designed for that, I got injured. I got several injuries in my spine. A lot of the other guys had a lot of spine and knee injuries too. I got back from my last deployment in 2013, and for the last three years I’ve been realizing that I am not as physically capable as I was. I have a lot of trouble running, exercising, even sitting and standing.” He added,

“After my deployment with the Riverines, I went to the Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center in Point Loma. It was a flag command, so I worked for an Admiral doing mine-warfare training and assessment. I trained U.S. forces, I trained Korean forces, and other countries. I’ve been to the NATO Center for Mine Warfare Center of Excellence. I just got to do a lot of high-level mine warfare stuff for the last three years. That kind of obscured the fact that I had an injury. When it came time to transfer from this command, I went to do all the physical check-ups to go back to sea, and wasn’t meeting the requirements, physically.”

Josh has a bulging disc in his L5S1, or his bottom vertebrae. In addition, he has narrowing of all his other discs and several bone spurs, which causes constant dull pain. His medical board process is saying six to eight months until he can officially transition out of the Navy, but Josh explained that those figures have not changed for nearly fourth months.

Fortunately, Josh heard about Workshops for Warriors and had a command that allowed him to attend.

“I got discouraged for a while, but I ran into an old shipmate who was a current student in this school and convinced me to give it a shot. Welding, to me, seemed like witchcraft. I knew that people were joining pieces of metal together, but I really didn’t know anything about it. But I thought, ‘You know what? I need to do something. I need to get involved. I need to not lay in bed feeling sorry for myself.’” He added,

“I was really fortunate to have an understanding Commander who realized the psychological impact it has on somebody that you won’t be able to do your job anymore. I got into the school and fell in love with it; fell in love with welding in general.”

How Welding Created a Lasting Impact

For Josh, welding helped bring him peace in several different ways. After living an exciting life of jetboats and machine guns, realizing he may never be able to do these things again took a toll on him for nearly three years since his injury. The first thing welding did was help create a place where he could focus and change his “fight or flight” mindset.

“You get lost. I know for a fact that a lot of my peers feel this way. Your mind is in overdrive. Every little thing. Any missed call you get, you equate to an emergency. I can’t get a phone call from my mom and miss it, without thinking, “Oh, who died?” As a senior enlisted person, you’re constantly trying to stay ahead of all the disasters, trying to stay ahead of all the emergencies, and so you assume the worst. Always. If you’re constantly just assuming the worst, your mind doesn’t have any relief. It really starts to take its toll on you.”

He continued, “You hear two things all the time, ‘Well, don’t think about it. Well, don’t let it bother you.’ Well, that’s not exactly possible for someone who’s whole livelihood is based on thinking about it and worrying about it, and becoming a head-case in the process. In the welding booth, though, it requires focus and concentration. Which to me, is the only way I could meditate. I believe that meditation works for people, but I cannot sit down, be still and quiet, and think my problems away.”

Josh’s Doctor has even commented that she can see a difference in Josh since he began welding. For Josh, he made it over the hurdle that so many transitioning service members and Veterans face when entering back into the civilian because he found welding and Workshops for Warriors.

April 5, 2017 – Cufflinks Josh welded to wear at Workshops for Warriors’ Inaugural Gala aboard the USS Midway.

“It’s been helpful to the point where I was able to stop taking anti-depressants since I’ve been here. I had tried to stop taking them several times and it’s just really hard. It’s been two months now. I don’t think I will have to take them again. The first couple of weeks were pretty rough, the actual physical effects of coming off of it. I was being forced to concentrate on something everyday. It was helpful to get past that. Now, I can see hope.”

When asked if there was anything specific he attributed this too, he had a very clear answer.

“It’s because there’s a result. It was probably a way for me to realize, ‘Oh, I can do stuff, again.’ Over and over again. It takes about a minute to burn a stick electrode, and at the end of that minute, I’m feeling like I’m not worried.”

Believe it or not, the second impact welding had for Josh’s life directly related to his injury and his physical health, something that was very unexpected.

“When I first started welding and when I first started coming to the course, I would only be able to stand up so long. Actually, this was an unexpected side effect. I have been able to stand up longer since I’ve been in this course. I think that goes back to what I was saying earlier about concentrating and being meditative. When I’m standing up and I have a puddle of molten steel in front of me, I’m not concentrating on my back. Before I know it, I notice that I’ve been standing up the better part of an hour. That’s just something prior to coming here that would never have happened. It probably hasn’t happened in the last three years.”

The third affect that welding had for Josh has everything to do with purpose and getting back into a career where he felt comfortable. Not unlike many other Veterans and Transitioning Service Members who come through Workshops for Warriors, leaving the Military without a clear path to success can send someone’s mind off-track and create the feeling of being lost.

“At this point, after 17 years in the Navy, I was forced to spend so much time behind a computer that you start to feel like, ‘Maybe I can’t do anything with my hands.’ For me, it was kind of self-validating. I’m one of those people that I want to have a purpose and I want to be useful. To be able to do something that has been something I always considered to be magic. To be able to do it and understand it, that part has been great, and there’s more in the welding trade to learn than I’ll get to in my lifetime.”

Most importantly, welding helped Josh get back to an environment where he could thrive—something he didn’t think possible after his injury.

“I’d be at the firing range, you get used to needing eye protection and ear protection everywhere you go. I lost that feeling working behind a desk. To get back in the welding booth, you’re working with high energy systems. Military people, in my experience, they do well under pressure. They’re not scared of things that might be intimidating. If it’s hot, it’s burning at 10,000 degrees, and it’s loud, I’m fine with that. I like working in that environment. It gave me a reminiscent feeling of what I used to do.”

Nostalgia and what welding can mean for his future is also something Josh caught onto right away when he started at Workshops for Warriors.

“That’s the other thing I love. There’s another sense of heritage beyond Navy heritage. I’m reliving that with the welding heritage because all the welders are older. They’re five or ten years out from retirement. American Welders, as a whole, are going to reduce by a large percentage. That’s maybe some mental gymnastics, what people do to help justify why things are important to them, but to me, I feel like I’m carrying the torch for a noble trade.” He added,

“That fills the, ‘What am I good for,’ feeling that a lot of people have when they’re transitioning out of the military. I’ve spent as much time in the Navy as I have out of the Navy. My entire adulthood has been in the Navy, so it is your identity. It’s not like I need another identity to shift into, but it makes things so much easier. These are some no nonsense people who are just working. I appreciate that, and I’m proud that I can start to be a part of that group.”

Instruction and Experience at Workshops for Warriors

While the craft of welding undoubtedly had an impact on Josh’s life and future, it was Workshops for Warriors that gave him the nationally recognized credentials he needed to succeed in this job field. Further, it was his instructor’s love of welding that made it even easier to love this already fascinating trade.

“I would be dishonest if I didn’t say that a big part of it all is the environment here. I have a lot in common with most of the people here, and as an instructor myself and as a master training specialist and a curriculum developer, I can just see that Derek [the instructor] builds so much progress, but at the same time, flexibility, into the curriculum. It’s really kind of shocking that we’re able to do that that way. There’s flexibility, but everybody is making progress too.” He added,

“A lot of staff members have been in your shoes. I never leave here without an answer. Whether it’s welding related, or if I need some advice on my transition out of the military. Everybody here is great about telling you what they know and their experience, and helping you out.” He continued, “When I don’t even want to go to the mall, I don’t want to go to the grocery store, I don’t want to do a lot of stuff, I’ve never not wanted to come here. I know that I’m going to be welding and learning, but the people here are good. I’m infinitely grateful for this place and for all you guys.”

Josh continued to explain that there are welders who go their entire careers without ever having a legitimate qualification, which makes he feel like he has a leg-up in a trade that is needed all over the world in almost every industry.

“I just wish we had more capacity. In the Navy if you’re a Chief, you have your own division, or your own department. You had men and women that you care about and you take care of. I contact these people and I brag about this program and tell them to try to get in here. I hope that this program expands and can accommodate a lot of people because I think it’s going to do so much good.”

Looking to the Future

More than anything else, the underlying tone of the interview with Josh was that of independence and the art of welding. Above all, being able to create something and be held responsible for the quality of that work is what Josh is looking most forward to in the future.

“There’s not really anyone to blame for a faulty weld besides me. In this trade, you’re only limited by your personal amount of effort and your personal amount of aptitude. That really appeals to your ego and your pride, and that’s awesome for me. When I’m in the booth, I put my gear on, and I know that I’m getting ready to do something. There’s some anticipation building, and then you have to concentrate. You’re focusing. Then at the end of it, there’s what you did right in front of you. You chip the slag away and there’s a weld, and now two pieces of metal are stuck together. The energy that you are expending to do it, the mental energy, it went to good use.”

Josh also explained that although welding is loud and dirty and hard work like the Military can often be, it’s that tangible result that he was missing during his 17-year Navy career. That is something that you don’t get in the Military, and it surprised him how satisfying that was.

April 5, 2017 – Josh being recognized at Workshops for Warriors’ Inaugural Gala aboard the USS Midway

“There’s no reluctant welders. Everything you see in here about welders. They love their job. That’s encouraging for me, going forward.  They know it’s hard work. Nobody’s denying that it’s hard, but at the same time, they enjoy it. You get a tangible result to your effort. That’s one of the things that is really hard to get in the military. If you do everything right in the military, nothing happens. That is the indication that everything went perfectly, is that nobody died, there’s no change, no difference. That’s one of the reasons I like it so much. There’s an immediate, tangible result to your effort. It’s undeniable. I’m not limited by the hierocracy of my command. I’m not limited by anything—it’s just my effort putting these tools to use. If it doesn’t turn out properly, that’s an indication to me that I need to adjust. I need to change something about the way I’m doing it. I got in the habit of really blaming a lot of people for everything else that was wrong.” He continued,

“I’m looking forward to my success being based on my effort. My effort and my inhibition, not limited by what somebody says I can do and can’t do because I can do it all myself now; now, that I know how to weld.”

Specifically, Josh is interested in creating custom furniture and using his welding skills to build custom items. This helps bring people’s ideas to life and was the perfect way to cross his welding skills with something he has always been interested in pursuing. In fact, this drew him back to Workshops for Warriors for a second semester to take a few machining courses.

“Before I came to school, I started to be interested in woodworking and building stuff. As the classes go on, I’ve been putting together a little idea book of furniture I’d like to build out of wood and metal. There’s a lot of growth in the tiny home or the small home minimalist-living, and there’s a lot of great ideas that are going to be made possible by people who can weld and do woodwork. That’s what I’m interested in. I just really enjoy when I can take someone’s personal preference, or desire, and put that into their piece. After 17 years in the Navy, clearly, I’m not in this for the money. It’s just a lot about job satisfaction.”

“If that doesn’t work out, I can go work at a fab shop, or a metal machine shop. I’m up for all of that, and I feel like I can hold my own there.”

Between the instructors, his love of welding, and his aspirations for the future, Josh’s overall look on life after the Navy has changed since attending Workshops for Warriors, and we are honored to have him in our program and excited to have him as an ambassador once he graduates and pursues his newfound passion.

“It got me out of a really bad rut. If I could summarize my before and after, or my before to current; just an increase in confidence, increase in concentration. I have a skill now. I have a trade, which is a recognized trade that is worth something out of the military. It’s really not going to help me in the civilian world that I know how to conduct a Riverine assault, but this will.”

“I never imagined that I could. If you had asked me five months ago if I would ever be able to put two pieces of metal together, I would have said no. I never would have thought that it would be as rewarding as it is. If it’s done this much good for me, and I’m a serious case, then it’s going to be great for a lot of people.”