Making the Transition

Prevatte met Henry Cooper at a job fair this year. Cooper, 43, retired from the U.S. Navy in June after 24 years of service. Cooper, who is married and has four children ages 7-17, said the transition was “full of anxiety.”

He left his first job fair so discouraged that he did not want to attend another. But the prospect of retiring without a job weighed on him.

“I give credit to my wife, she made me go,” he says. “It was a 40-mile drive to get to the job fair in Virginia Beach. I told her ‘That’s too far to drive just to be disappointed.’”

Three days later, Cooper had a job offer from Lockheed Martin. He joined Electronic Systems as a technical instructor at the Coast Guard’s Training Center in Yorktown, Va., where he trained employees there on marine science technology, pollution control and Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards.

He changed jobs in the fall and now travels the country to teaching at Coast Guard stations about setting up and managing an incident command post to respond to any size incident from major natural disasters such as storm Sandy and Hurricane Katrina, to oil spills and car accidents.

Cooper is settling in to his job as a civilian.

“The worst part is everyone calls me ‘sir’,” he jokes. He was Chief Petty Officer Cooper on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Of the job search process, Cooper says he learned that employers are attracted to more than job titles on a resume.

“The skills that you’ve learned in the military are needed more than you think…You’ve been trained to do things different than other people have,” he says. “The mindset that you served with – honor, courage and commitment – is a sought after skill.”

Thomas says his military experience – beyond the leadership and professional skills – ingrained in him something valuable to Lockheed Martin: The military’s language.

“That’s our customer and we all have to know what the customer’s language is. It’s a nice transition of skills to a company that not only understands it but embraces it because they want to know the language of their customer,” Thomas says.

Thomas oversees a versatile team of 19 employees working on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter’s Electro-Optical Targeting Sensor, a targeting system that performs “as if you could see under the car as a driver,” he says.

“I wanted to be a pilot as a kid so just being a part of the build process is pretty neat,” says Thomas, who could not become a pilot because of his eyesight. “I swore service to the nation for a lifetime. Working here is a continuation of that for me.”

In Ocala, Thomas and his team give F-35 pilots their eyes. Thomas says he would like to one day see the F-35 fly, just like he saw those aircraft go by his window in Atlanta. He would watch the pilots – his colleagues – navigate the airplane into the sky. He could wave as they passed. Right there in front of him.

Veterans Contribute  |  Creating the Team  |  Leadership by Example

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Henry Cooper


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Henry Cooper