How Veteran Manuel Pacheco found meaning in his civilian career
Manuel Pacheco grew up in a small farming community in southern California where jobs outside agriculture and cattle were scarce. But Manuel had bigger dreams.
“I heard stories from my father about his time in the Navy during the Vietnam War—how he was proud of his service, saying it was an honor to give back to the country that has given us so much," says Manuel. He began to see military service as an opportunity to serve the same higher purpose while learning new skills and seeing more of the world.
In 1997, Manuel enlisted in the U.S. Army. He served eight years in the Army and the California Army National Guard (CARNG). His years in the Army carried him throughout the United States and Korea. Before deploying on Operation Enduring Freedom, Manuel earned a bachelor's degree in journalism with a minor in cultural studies.
Memorable Moments from Manuel's Military Service
While stationed in Fort Hood and serving as the designated executive officer (XO) driver, Manuel was called on during the night to rush the XO to an accident involving serious injury to a fellow soldier. When they arrived, Manuel saw that the military medic had frozen on the scene: a man trapped under a military armored track vehicle.
Manuel's own training as medical first responder and combat lifesaver kicked in, and he was able to assist the medic and comfort the soldier.
“I'm glad that my training was ingrained in me so I could act when it counted, especially while trying to save someone's life," Manuel says.
Serving in Korea also had a significant impact on Manuel, both as a soldier and as a man.
“While training at the Korean demilitarized zone, I saw the beauty of the country—majestic mountain ranges, waterfalls and Buddhist temples."
This was also where Manuel learned to play drums, which he says helped him deal with stress and continues to be an outlet today. Manuel is currently a percussionist by night, playing what he describes as Mediterranean surf rock fusion with his band, Zamman.
Following the 9/11 attacks, Manuel's CARNG unit was called back to active duty in 2002 as a reactionary force for Operation Enduring Freedom. While stationed at Travis Air Force Base, Manuel worked directly with the Air Force Security Forces. While helping to subdue a man who tried to fight, he badly injured his knee.
Though Manuel had attended the Primary Leadership Development Course and started officer training, he was honorably discharged in 2005. His decision to separate from the military stemmed from challenges with his knee and poor hearing that resulted from his artillery work.
"How can you take care of those under your command, if you have trouble taking care of yourself?" he says of his decision to transition out of the military.
How Manuel Has Found Similar Purpose in His Civilian Career
Like many new veterans, Manuel found it difficult to leave military service and find meaning in his civilian work. Plus, he struggled to connect with his new colleagues on the same level as his fellow soldiers.
“It's challenging to get out of a very structured life that includes being part of a group that is like a family. Those I served with felt like my brothers and sisters," he says, explaining that he found it hard to find resources that helped veterans on a deeper level. Yet, he learned to adapt his military training to everyday life.
He partially credits his successful transition to landing a role at SAIC, known today as Leidos, in 2005.
“Now, after all these years, my coworkers are like family. They're great listeners and could relate to what I've been through, so they really helped me through my transition to civilian work," he says. “I don't want to be a lone wolf. I don't have to be anymore."
As a project coordinator for the Leidos whole health division at the Naval Health Research Center, Manuel works with many fellow veterans in a group that helps active-duty Marines and Navy sailors rehabilitate after physical injury and mental trauma. He's glad to be part of a team that helps current service members take advantage of newly developed services.
“Leidos really makes an effort to actively support and help veterans," he says. “I take that with me each day and still see our current work as a valuable mission."
, Project Coordinator, Naval Health Research Center
I get to be part of the team that is helping people recover their health and improve themselves," he says. “I'm proud of my service and that I can continue to give back to our country.
Rather than being done with his service, Manuel says his current role helps him extend it.
To those about to make the transition from military to civilian life, Manuel offers this advice: “You may feel uncertain about leaving the service, but try to realize that this feeling is similar to what you felt before missions. Go forward with your training and experience, take advantage of the resources available, and reach out to other veterans for support."
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