Veteran helping other military members find jobs after their service: 'You are not alone'

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- Thousands of veterans who leave the armed forces every year face an uncertain future. Washington state is working to help them take the next step and transition into civilian life.

The governor announced November is Hire-A-Veteran month, and the state is working to provide as many opportunities for the men and women who served in the armed forces to make a smooth transition into the civilian workforce.

On Joint Base Lewis-McChord is the first nationally certified, one-stop career center on a military base.

"We're a team, we're going to get you to where you need to be," said Ta Mouton, a career counselor at JBLM.

Mouton is helping Staff Sgt. Chris Watkins prepare for what comes after the Army. Watkins served for nearly two decades, but next year is the end of his term of service.  He will enter the civilian workforce, with Mouton's assistance.

For Mouton, this work is more than just a job, it's a passion because just a few months ago, she sat in their place.

"It was scary," she said.

More than 20 years ago, Mouton joined the Army. She says it gave her the chance to leave her small Louisiana hometown and see the world.

As a single mom, it also gave her the chance to support her family, even though it wasn't always easy.

"I always had to leave my son behind," she said.

Mouton says her service required to be away from her son, Deandre, for a while.

"My son was with my mom for the first three years of his life. I didn't see him, so I didn't see him walk, talk, do anything," she said.

It's something she says wore on her emotionally.

"I thought, like, 'Wow, I'm the worst parent ever,"' she said. "It was that catch 22, because I'm doing this to help him, and then I'm kind of hurting him."

When her daughter Jasmine was born, Mouton says she had to make a change for her family.  However, that meant leaving a position and career she knew for over two decades for something entirely unknown.

"I was blinded by the civilian sector,' said Mouton.

She had the experience and the know-how, but things we take for granted seemed foreign to her.

"Not knowing what job I was going to do, not knowing how to speak the language, not knowing how to dress the part," she said.

Thanks to WorkSource, she found her way. Now, she is helping other members of the armed forces do the same: transition services like resume building, dressing for success, and translating military know-how and experience into civilian job skill sets.

"When you've served 28 years in the military, you get a feel for people and working with them. And I enjoy hiring vets," said Patrick Hughes.

Hughes is the CEO of the Hughes Group based in Tacoma. His business is a member of YesVets, a state program that recognizes businesses that employ veterans. Hughes says as a veteran himself it's an honor for him to be a part of it.

"I would say about 75 percent of my people are veterans," he said.

Thanks to these services provided to vets, Mouton has found a new life that allows her to spend much more time with her family and still be a huge part of the armed forces.

"I want everyone to know you are not alone. There are several of us who have walked the same walk you walk, we've talked the same talk that you've done. And there is help," said Mouton.

Transitioning out of the military is a challenge, one she says takes a lot of work. But she says she's happy to help people like Watkins figure out what comes next.