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Fries to cybersecurity: Military gave Airman a new field

U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. William, a flight commander at the 118th Wing, Tennessee Air National Guard, poses for a photo on Jan. 13, 2019, at Berry Field Air National Guard Base, Nashville. William used the education and opportunities provided by the Guard to spark a career change from the fast food industry to the cybersecurity field.

U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. William, a flight commander at the 118th Wing, Tennessee Air National Guard, poses for a photo on Jan. 13, 2019, at Berry Field Air National Guard Base, Nashville. William used the education and opportunities provided by the Guard to spark a career change from the fast food industry to the cybersecurity field.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – For people who need a career change, the military is often a great choice for finding that new calling.

One Airman proved this concept to the fullest, using the Air National Guard as a springboard to leave the fast food industry and join the growing field of cybersecurity. 

"I had been an assistant manager for a number of years at a [fast food] drive-in,” said 2nd Lt. William, a flight commander at the 118th Wing of the Tennessee Air National Guard. "I realized that working in the food industry wasn’t really my calling. It didn’t give me a sense of purpose that being a part of an organization like the military could give you.”

The opportunity to advance his education in the military was a bonus to joining, said William, whose last name is being withheld for security reasons. He began looking at which branches to join, and soon received some guidance from someone inside the ANG.

"His parents said he was thinking about joining the Navy, and I was prior Navy,” said Master Sgt. Timothy Peck, a loadmaster instructor and flight safety NCO for the 164th Airlift Wing. "I told him come out to the Guard with me, I’ll show you around and introduce you to the recruiters. I basically talked him out of joining the active duty Navy.”

Peck convinced William to try to enlist as a loadmaster. However, when William spoke with the recruiter, he was given a very different opportunity.

"They had a bunch of loadmasters as they had got rid of some aircraft, so they were well over capacity,” said William. "[The recruiter] asked if I was interested in intelligence because there was a brand new [mission] standing up in Nashville.”

He decided to join the new mission set and became one of the first 15 people to join the new unit. Not long after joining the unit, he picked up activation orders supporting Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom and gained some very sought-after career experience. 

"Shortly after coming back, I was able to get recruited into a position as a contractor overseas,” said William. "There is where I got my hands into the cybersecurity field.”

While working as a government contractor in Afghanistan, he completed his bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership and management, and also several cybersecurity certifications, said William. He completed a few more certifications when he returned to the U.S., which in turn opened even more doors for him.

"Within a week after getting the certifications I had recruiters calling me about positions,” William said. "That eventually led into a full-time position with FedEx, which is where I am currently working as a senior cybersecurity analyst.”

The jobs in the cybersecurity field are lucrative, especially if you are willing to travel, said William. Many of the jobs offer six-figure salaries. 

William is very happy with his current role in the civilian world, but realizes it might not have worked out had it not been for the chances provided by military.

"The Guard not only gives you opportunities, but can provide you the education and launchpad to get the experience needed to get your foot in the door for a lot of these jobs in the civilian market,” William said. "Without the military training that I received and the experience I picked up on orders, none of this would have panned out for me.”

When looking back on his journey, William is pretty amazed on how things have changed in the decade since his days of working in fast food.

"Honestly, if you had asked me 10 years ago, right before I enlisted, where I thought I would see myself [today] this was not it at all,” said William. "All I knew at that time was I didn’t want to work in food service. The education and opportunities that opened up along the way helped to guide a lot of my decisions.”

"I think he could be a good inspiration for the new recruits to hear his testimony,” said Master Sgt. Kendall, a member of the 118th Wing who worked closely with William for many years. "It just shows them that hard work and dedication can build you to be good supervisor material, and to be someone to be looked up to.”

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