Veteran Serves Strong in Community, Family through Meaningful Employment, Education Opportunities

Army Soldier for life

“I want all the certifications I can get,” said Navy Veteran Javier Velasquez, at a refractory course through the IUBAC at IMI. (Photo credit: U.S. Army Soldier for Life)

Lt. Col. Wenceslao Angulo, Strategic Communications Director, U.S. Army Soldier for Life

“I can remember everything I’ve ever worked on, even my very first job,” said Javier Velasquez, a Chicago native and father of two. “We drive through the city and I point out all the buildings I worked on. I’m proud of what I do.”

Velasquez is not what he describes as “an indoor office type of guy,” one reason why he likes working in construction. A Navy veteran, Velasquez also likes the field because the deadlines and constant movement remind him of being in the service.

“I joined to serve the country,” said Velasquez, who went straight from high school into the Navy. He was stationed overseas for four of his five years of service, working as a military police officer in places like Iceland and Guam. “Transition is hard,” he said. “I didn’t know how to write a resume. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. It’s like starting from scratch.”

After bouncing from job to job and a final period of unemployment, Velasquez attended a local career fair. There he first learned about Helmets to Hardhats, an organization that connects veterans to meaningful career opportunities in construction. Helmets to Hardhats works with veterans from all branches of the military, regardless of their technical experience or background. The organization is also exploring ways to connect with service members prior to separation to ensure they are career ready with skills to succeed as civilians.

The U.S. Army’s Soldier for Life program works with Helmets to Hardhats and other military and veteran service organizations to help ensure a smooth takeoff for transitioning soldiers. If service members find meaningful employment as civilians, they are more inclined to take advantage of education and health resources and opportunities as well. Education, employment and healthcare are integral to a veteran’s successful reintegration into civilian society. Connecting with opportunities and resources in these three key areas lead to a happy, productive, and fulfilling life, and enable veterans to continue to service as contributing members and leaders in their communities.

“Helmets to Hardhats helped me translate the skills I learned in the military to the civilian world,” said Velasquez. After taking an exam, Velasquez qualified for a Helmets to Hardhats apprenticeship. The nine-week-long classroom and hands-on skill building taught him the basics of construction. He’s been in the field ever since.

Helmets to Hardhats works with the organizations like the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers (IUBAC) and the International Masonry Institute (IMI) to connect veterans with the support and resources they need to continue to grow in construction. Velasquez, a member of IUBAC, recently attended a week-long course at IMI to become certified in refractory. This specialization will allow him to work with the “fire brick” that lines furnaces in big buildings and factories. The entire course, including room and board, was fully funded by IUBAC. “I want all the certifications I can get,” said Velasquez, of his goal of pursuing education and credentialing opportunities in his field. “They make me more valuable and will lead to more job opportunities.”

As a member of the Navy Reserve, Velasquez plans to continue to serve his country. He wants to serve
strong in his family, too. “I’m trying to be a good example to my kids,” said Velasquez. “They say they want to do what I do. I tell them to stay in school so they can be the engineer that tells me what to do.”

It took Velasquez three years after transitioning out of the Navy to find his passion. His advice for all service members, whether they are new recruits or preparing to transition: “try to figure out what you want to do before you get out.”

To learn more about Soldier for Life, visit