Veterans Salute – Christopher Suk

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“I grew up in Roosevelt, NJ, a small borough with fewer than 1,000 residents. Several members of my family served in the military, including my Grandfather, who told me stories about World War II in Germany. My Uncle volunteered to serve in Vietnam, and my older brother joined the Air Force, and their stories inspired me to join as well.”

“After graduating from high school, I worked at my Uncle’s diesel mechanics shop for a year. The mechanical skills I learned built a foundation for the rest of my career. I initially tried to enlist in the Air Force, but I have a slight hearing impairment and they declined my application. However, the recruiter for the Navy followed me out of the recruiting center and convinced me to join.”

“After enrolling in 1993, I went to the Naval Station Great Lakes to complete basic training near North Chicago, in Lake County, Illinois. Fortunately, my brother told me everything about transitioning to military life, and I found it a smooth experience. I started as an Apprentice, where you build skills based on basic aviation maintenance and cleaning. It was an enjoyable experience, as I was drawn to engines and the power plant division.”

“After training, I served at Naval Air Facility Atsugi in Japan on the USS Independence. My first time serving abroad was a cultural shock. Slowly, I adjusted to my new lifestyle and enjoyed visiting Okinawa and Iwo Jima.”

“In 1995, I served in Operation Southern Watch, the enforcement of a ban on Iraqi warplanes and helicopters. I worked on the flight deck of the USS Independence, that relieved the USS Kennedy. It was an intense experience, we were constantly on target and had jets ready to fly. We never had to defend ourselves, but the tension was thick 24/7. Serving in that campaign made me proud, but I was relieved to return to Japan.”

“I continued to serve on the USS Independence and was often on the sea for months at a time. Our battle group was forward deployed, meaning that in a moment’s notice, we were prepared to go out to sea. I worked on maintaining the 514 Tomcat Aircrafts (same as the one in Top Gun).”

“I retired from the Navy in 1997 and moved back to New Jersey. Unlike my transition to military life, becoming a civilian was hard. First thing I had to do was find a job. Fortunately, my military experience gave me an advantage, and I found work as a mechanic at a methane power plant.”

“For other veterans struggling to return to civilian life, I would advise them not to be ashamed to ask for help. Talking to other veterans helps with the transition progress, you learn that you are not alone.”

“In 2011, a recruiter contacted me about joining PRIDE Industries at their JB-MDL (Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst) Integrated Facilities Management contract. I already had a well-paying job, but PRIDE’s mission of expanding job opportunities for people with disabilities convinced me to join, as this is a cause that’s personally important to me. I was hired as a Small Engine Mechanic and now work as a Small Engine Lead. My coworkers and working on a military base are the best part of my job; they make it all meaningful.”

“Outside of work, I have been a volunteer firefighter and EMT for over ten years with the Roosevelt Volunteer Fire department, which also serves as the town’s police department, traffic control, and public works. We might only get 30 calls a year – but we are always ready. When I first joined, there were only four members. We’ve had ups and downs over the years, but eventually we got up to 18 members.”

“As a military veteran, I am proud to support my country and community.”

 

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