Chris Mercado joined the U.S. Air Force a few months after graduating from high school. It was a life-changing decision for the then 18-year-old who grew up in Queens, a borough of New York City.
Mercado said some of his friends were going down the wrong path. "I decided to go a different way,” he said.
“My father, my uncle, my grandfather. They all served in the military. They helped guide me to a recruiter in the Air Force.”
Mercado, an IT project manager for the Houston Airports technology division, would spend the next 23 years in the Air Force. After six deployments and being stationed throughout the U.S. and Europe, Mercado said he was ready put down some roots.
“I knew this was a point where I could accept leaving the Air Force,” he said.
Mercado said he developed a unique set of IT skills while serving in the Air Force. He also earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering technology, an MBA, project management professional certification, and said he was eventually promoted to chief master sergeant, the highest senior non-commissioned officer rank in the U.S. Air Force.
Despite his successful military career, Mercado said he found it difficult to network and translate his military skills into ones that would land him a civilian job after retiring from the Air Force.
It’s a pitfall HAS addresses through its partnership with Edge4Vets, a program that helps veterans translate their military strengths into skillsets that can help them embark on successful civilian careers.
Setting the stage for success
“Rather than just a job…we are giving them a career path,” said Harry Singh, an executive staff analyst for HAS' workforce innovation and development division who helps to oversee the program.
Singh said the program offers an online workshop series that helps veterans build a PLAN4SUCCESS with the help of HAS’ human resources hiring managers and program mentors, who help them understand how to translate their military skills into resumes and mission statements.
The online workshop series is sponsored by the Human Resiliency Institute at Fordham University through a partnership with Airports Council International-North America.
Mercado said before signing up for Edge4Vets he went to job fairs, submitted his resume online, and did online job searches. It was frustrating experience.
“No one would really give much feedback,” Mercado said of the job recruiters. “It was like maybe one minute or so with them and they just took your resume and that was it … never heard back and the same with submitting resumes online. Maybe a few weeks or a few months later you would actually get an automated reply that you didn't meet the criteria.”
Finding a way to connect
Don Kostecki found himself in the same position after serving in the Air Force for five years and then leaving to pursue a civilian career in aviation.
Kostecki, now a senior airport services representative for terminal operations at Bush Intercontinental Airport, worked as a pilot before moving to Houston to work as a training instructor. Like many others, he was laid off at the height of the pandemic in 2020.
It was during this job search that Kostecki said his wife told him about Edge4Vets. He enrolled in the program and took the workshop seminar in October 2021.
While Kostecki had been working a civilian job, he had not thought in terms of how to translate his military aviation skills to fit into a civilian job landscape.
“What the course has you do is reflect upon the skills and values that you had developed in the military, and it kind of helps you translate that into what does this mean for a civilian employer,” he said.
The program proved fruitful for both Mercado and Kostecki when they both landed jobs with HAS.
Kostecki said the contact and friends he’s made through the program created a support system that has helped him to succeed.
“The human connection there has been invaluable,” Kostecki said of Singh, mentors and executive staff.
Mercado, who now serves as a program mentor, said he believes the program is a huge benefit to veterans and helps support it any way he can.
“I let the veterans that are in the program understand that I've been through there and tell them how it works ... and they're not alone like I felt like I was alone before I actually got into the into the program itself too.”
To learn more about the program log on to https://edge4vets.org/index.html.