After three years out of work, Bridge My Return steers former air traffic controller into new career

BMR Staff

SrA Jeffrey Thompson

In joining the U.S. Air Force in 2004, my perfect score on the armed services aptitude test meant I had my choice of job. I considered becoming a linguist, but opted for air traffic controller: We had the best post-military career prospects and better uniforms.

For a while, this plan held. I went everywhere while learning my occupation, serving on bases in Idaho, Afghanistan, South Korea and too many other places to name.

Seeing the world

Did I enjoy my time in the military? I’d be lying if I answered yes. But for a kid from Harlem, the service exposed me to transformative experiences that I’m proud of and can share with my younger brothers.

As a contractor based in Afghanistan, I traveled the world. I attended a bubble party in Germany, swam off the island of Phuket, slept in a palace in Dubai, observed penguins on the continent of Antarctica, and played professional basketball in the United Kingdom and Turkey.

I left the service in 2008, and eventually returned to New York. That’s where I built a successful career with the Federal Aviation Administration in air traffic control, guiding planes in and out of LaGuardia Airport in Queens. I earned a six-figure salary.

In 2018, a serious medical diagnosis knocked me off my career runway and then COVID-19 arrived to drive my job seeking prospects deeper into the ditch. I lost my job and my health insurance. Even after I got a clean bill of health, I couldn’t get hired back into air traffic control.

At times pounding the (mostly virtual) pavement over the next few years, I nearly lost hope that I could turn things around.

Getting back to work with Bridge My Return

It was Bridge My Return — a Chicago-based organization that matches Veterans with real-time jobs and support — that guided me back on course.

After almost three years looking for a job, they found me a position as a life insurance advocate at Origin8Cares. In less than a week, I got an interview and a job. The process was super easy and the support nonjudgmental. You create a resume using the resume builder, are connected to matching jobs and paired with a coach to offer personalized advice. My support coach follows up to ask how I’m doing and share resources.

I tell other Veterans struggling to find work that you can’t give up or let a rejection of your resume mess with your head. It wasn’t helpful to imagine all the potential reasons why a company wasn’t hiring me. They’re making a business decision, and you have to fit.

Tapping every available resource

I recommend that my friends transitioning from the military or who are Veterans explore and use every available resource. They are there for a reason. That includes services from places such as Bridge My Return; LinkedIn, which offers service members and Veterans free one-year access to its Premium and Learning services; and benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

That’s what I did, even though not everything paid off and not every encounter delighted me.

Before finding my way to Bridge My Return, I trained in information technology using VA’s Vocational Readiness and Employment (VR&E) program. You can also tap Defense Department, state higher education, VA or other entities for funds to pay for more schooling or to earn a degree. The more educated and trained you are, the more valuable you are to employers and in the marketplace.

I scoured the resources on LinkedIn to learn how to customize my resume for specific jobs and better prepare for interviews.

And any Veteran should consider getting into therapy. The military is an uprooting experience for individuals and families, and it’s normal to need help transitioning to civilian life.

In time, and with the assistance you earned by serving, you’ll get where you want to go.

Learn more

Bridge My Return:

LinkedIn Premium and LinkedIn Learning for the military and Veterans, and military spouses:

VA benefits:

Posted in these groups: Veterans Affairs (VA) Transition Civilian Career Resources Motivation

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