Veterans Explore New Careers After Military Service

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In commemoration of Veteran's Day, host Michel Martin speaks with two veterans about their career paths since completing their military duties. Hear from Gavin Bradley, a former Marine and now a director of college counseling at Pace Academy in Atlanta, and Dave Clements, a former Petty Officer First Class who now works for the Mayo Clinic in Cleveland as a cardiovascular perfusionist.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

Im Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, Congressional ethics watchdogs have looked over the shoulders of some three dozen members of Congress so far this term, but formal investigations have been opened on seven, all of whom are members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Well ask why in just a few minutes.

But first, it is Veterans Day. That is the day set aside to honor military veterans in the U.S. and indeed in many countries around the world. Its celebrated on the anniversary of the signing of the agreement that ended World War I. In a few minutes well talk about the challenges and needs of our most recent veterans with Joe Sestak. Hes a former Navy admiral and the highest ranking veteran elected to Congress.

But first, we decided we wanted to hear more about the lives some service members are leading after they leave military services, especially people whove made choices one may not expect. So we called Gavin Bradley. He served in the Marine Corps, where he reached the rank of corporal. From there he went on to the University of Chicago and studied history and political science, and from there he started teaching. Now he is the director of college counseling at Pace Academy.

And later we hope to be joined by David Clements, who was a nuclear reactor operator in the Navy and he is now a cardiovascular perfusionist, and hopefully hes going to tell us what that is. But first, Gavin Bradley, thanks so much for joining us.

Mr. GAVIN BRADLEY (Pace Academy): Hello, Michel, thank you.

MARTIN: Why did you join the service to begin with?

Mr. BRADLEY: I had - my mothers father had been a marine in World War II and didnt have a son, he had two daughters, and so he had always - I was the oldest grandchild, and its always been part of his conversation with me. My father was a university professor when I was growing up and that was not sort of part of my fathers conversation with me. But what had happened after an initial attempt to college, I left - I decided I wasnt ready for college and was looking for something different to do, and my childhood conversations with my grandfather came up at that point and - try something different from what most of my friends were doing at that point.

MARTIN: And at what point did you join the Marines, what was going on at that time?

Mr. BRADLEY: It was 1986, I had left college and was, either my friends were either in college or not doing much productive and this was sort of a positive path and it was very good for me. So it was sort of the end stages of the Cold War, I guess, at that point.

MARTIN: So did you enjoy your time in the service?

Mr. BRADLEY: It was very good. It was a fantastic opportunity for me to kind of start off in a fairly controlled environment. Boot camp is incredibly controlled, as you might imagine. But the thing about the military, and for me, the Marine Corps especially, is the degree to which they kind of met(ph) out your responsibility, and so as you obtain higher ranks, you gain more responsibility for yourself and for other Marines. Ultimately the Marine Corps, I think especially with the empowerment that non-commissioned officers receive, and I was a NCO, it meant that I was, you know, I had Marines under my charge. And I was actually in Panama for the invasion in 1989 and I had a fire team that I was responsible for, as part of a platoon there. And it sort of is, it helps you grow up in a way and mature in a way that I think is very different from college.

MARTIN: I know youre kind of helping other young people grow up in a way, as the director of college counseling at Pace Academy in Atlanta, Georgia. Thats a private school. Thats a private secondary school.

Mr. BRADLEY: It is, yes, sir.

MARTIN: Is it co is it co-ed?

Mr. BRADLEY: Yeah, were co-ed, K through 12, so Ive got my own children here in the lower school and I kind of see students across the spectrum. I also coach football here. And so, yeah, it does - Im the college counselor who dropped out of college, but now that helps people evaluate those options. But occasionally we do have a conversation about the military. My school is, I guess it would qualify as very elite, but (unintelligible) lot of our families sort of come here with that goal in mind. But for some of our students, in my past thats been a good option for them. And having my perspective, I think, has helped some families, given where I ended up going to college, and then I went to graduate school at Columbia University. Its sort a very different path than people imagine, most people in military take.

But in my experience a lot of my enlisted Marine friends ended up finding themselves in very different circumstances than what their past might have indicated or what their goals, you know, had initially been.

MARTIN: Well, I guess Im wondering that - serving in the Marines during the invasion of Panama and then being a college counselor at a private school in Atlanta seemed like very different experiences. But I do wonder if your experience in the military serves you or how it informs the work that you do now.

Mr. BRADLEY: I think, you know, having been with sort of people, with a group of people - and again, a number of my friends ended up going to college that didnt make a career in the military or enlisted career in the military. I think, you know, I got an empathy for sort of the different paths that students can take in my current role. I encourage a lot of our students, not a lot but some of our students, and often boys, to think about other things to do instead of going directly to college. In the last couple of years weve had a couple of students not go directly to college.

They were admitted to schools but they chose to take - one young man went to Argentina for the first semester and then the second semester, the year after he graduated went to New Zealand. Weve got another kid in England right now. And I think I was able to sort of plant that idea, the notion of a gap year. I had a four year gap year, I guess. And thats not necessarily advisable for everyone, but taking some time off before going to college made me certainly a much better college student, and I think we can have this conversation with families and parents, and Im an example of how that can work out very, very well, I think.

MARTIN: But do you ever just want to well, Im just thinking of a in my high school we had a famous football and lacrosse coach who - we just assumed was a Marine.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: And wasnt. And the thing he was famous for was that, you know what, if you dont follow my instructions the first time, were going to go to Plan B. And we were always wondering, what was Plan B? And I finally had - years later I had the opportunity to ask him, what was Plan B? He said, I dont know, I didnt have one, Id figure something out. And here is the funny thing - he wasnt a Marine. We just assumed that he was. And so I have to wonder whether you ever, either as a coach or as a counselor, do you ever, you know, fall and, you know, you know they say Marines have a bias for action.

Mr. BRADLEY: Right.

MARTIN: Do you ever draw upon that training

Mr. BRADLEY: Right.

MARTIN: in what youre doing now?

Mr. BRADLEY: Well, certainly as a coach, I often am reminded of my boot camp experience. Specifically, I had some phenomenal drill instructors, and I personally had a very positive experience at boot camp. It was - I had been an athlete all my life and I responded very well to that environment. I dont know if my boot camp instructors would say any more. But I will step out of myself a little bit sometimes and see the drill instructor coming out.

Obviously we - I think we coach very constructively, I hope. But Ive got to be careful because it is fairly known on campus that Im a Marine. Im also about six foot six and over 300 pounds. So Im already pretty intimidating to begin with.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRADLEY: And students seem to respond to me without a whole lot of the threats.

MARTIN: I bet. I bet. And now were going to go to Dave Clements from Rochester, Minnesota. He now works at the Mayo Clinic. Hes a former petty officer first class in the Navy, and now he is a cardiovascular perfusionist. And I hope hes going to tell us what that is. Dave, thank you for joining us.

Mr. DAVE CLEMENTS (Cardiovascular Perfusionist): Thank you. Cardiovascular perfusionist, I work in the cardiac operating room here at the Mayo Clinic. Cardiovascular perfusionist operates the heart/lung machine. So anybody who needs open heart surgery, where we have to stop the heart so that the surgeon can work on the heart or whatever, thats my job. I take over the functions of the lungs and the heart and keep the body alive while the surgeon does his work.

MARTIN: Thats pretty important.

Mr. CLEMENTS: (Unintelligible)

MARTIN: Yeah, I would think so. Now, how did you go from being a nuclear reactor operator to being a cardiovascular perfusionist? And are the two related?

Mr. CLEMENTS: Probably not related at all. You know, as an engineer in my military - they dont relate. I got out of the military and did some research for the government for a few years, doing engineering stuff within the Bay Area of California. And around 2000 when the tech jobs started drying up, I started looking for something else. I had some friends who were in medicine, paramedics, EMTs, that sort of thing.

Went to school to do that kind of work and then one thing led to another, moved back to New York where I was from. EMT led to nursing and nursing got me involved in this field.

MARTIN: And did, can I ask? I asked Mr. Bradley this. And why did you join the Navy to begin with?

Mr. CLEMENTS: I joined the Navy right out of high school. The program that I joined obviously was very technical. I had a great education. And I was always a techie guy. I liked the math and the sciences sort of thing. So I got into the engineering field. It seemed to be the best education opportunity at the time. That was back in the mid-80s. So thats what got me into that.

MARTIN: Now, Gavin Bradley was telling us that his students arent shocked to find out - in fact its kind of known - that he was a Mariner. Does your military background ever come up in the work that you do now?

Mr. CLEMENTS: Not so much. Theres other people in medicine, obviously, that have military experience - doctors, anesthesiologists and such. And occasionally it will come up. But its not a function that readily translates into what I do now.

MARTIN: I must say, Im also intrigued by your background as a nurse. Because I think as a nuclear reactor operator, we have a certain image of the kind of precision cold - you know, cold rational thinking, emotional discipline -that would go into that work. But as a nurse, we think of, you know, empathy, compassion. Was it hard for you to get in touch with your warmer side when you went into nursing?

Mr. CLEMENTS: Probably. Thats one of the things my nursing instructors, you know, had to beat into me. But you know, theres a lot of things you can do in nursing. Obviously my first job in nursing was in the neonatal intensive care unit. So I got pretty in touch with my warmer side there. But I found my way to the technical fields, working in ICUs and emergency departments and such like that. So the technology thing has always been the draw to me.

MARTIN: Okay. Now, I wanted to ask each of you in the minute that we have left, Gavin Bradley, Ill go to you first. And I want to say, as I should have said at the outset, I want to thank you for your service. I want to thank both of you for your service. How would you like the country to recognize your service at this time? As you know, were still engaged in two wars overseas. So Gavin Bradley, how would you like us to acknowledge your service? You say you dont talk about it very much anymore.

Mr. BRADLEY: You know, its interesting. I was in the Marine Corps from 1986 to 1990 and that was that period when the movie Platoon came out and there was a real, you know, kind of return to honoring veterans. And that was, I guess -the Vietnam War period had kind of come full circle. There was a lot of healing. Ive always felt very supported and recognized. I dont know that, you know, most of us dont do it for the recognition. I just had a great four years, a very good experience. And its nice that we, you know, that people will come by and recognize me. And today Ill probably have a few people come through. Ive already had one or two this morning. And the Marine Corps birthday was yesterday and thats actually a bigger day for

MARTIN: Okay. Well, well, thank you for your service anyway, whether you want the recognition or not. Dave Clements, just very briefly

Mr. CLEMENTS: Briefly - you know, military was a great experience for me. I got out in 1995. For me, I didnt have any trouble transitioning into a civilian life.

MARTIN: Okay.

Mr. CLEMENTS The only message I would have, you know, theres

MARTIN: Okay - Im so sorry, Dave Clements, I have to let you go. This is Michel Martin. Youre listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. To all our veterans out there, we thank you.

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