Daniel Wilson

Daniel was 17 when he went into the military. While growing up in Oklahoma he was “that kid” in highschool. A football player always looking for a fight, and it was what it was. But the propensity to go from 0-100 real quick was there.

It was 2007, and the war in Iraq was hot. Teenage Daniel, being full of testosterone, was like, “yeah, alright, let’s go for it.” While he was trying to decide who to join, Daniel had already talked to the Navy and the Marine Corps., and ended up joining the Army. The recruiter he had didn’t sugar coat anything, and Daniel went into the infantry.

We then asked Daniel if he had any military family. He said his grandfather was drafted to Korea, and because of that his grandfather was never a fan of the military. He was working in the oil field when he was drafted, which left him with a pay cut that had a big impact on their family. Daniel’s uncle was drafted as well, but to Vietnam.

His uncle got his draft card and knew he was pretty high up on the list, so instead of being told what field he was going into, he decided to go in and sign up for what he wanted. The recruiter said, “Well, we see that your dad flies helicopters, would you be interested in that?” He said yes, and flew helicopters for the First Cavalry Division in Vietnam. And then Daniel had a brother in law that, when he was young, had just gone through selection and was a Communications guy in the 7th group at fort Bragg. Daniel thought that was super cool, which made it a fairly significant driving force behind him joining the army.

While being a member of the Oklahoma National Guard Daniel served 4 years in Sand Springs Armory, which is in Alpha Company, and is also the 1st battalion of the 279th Infantry Regiment. After those four years he was promoted to Battalion Detachment in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and was there until he retired. That’s where he picked up his stripes, and became an NCO. He said he was Mortars, and when you’re at the line company level the only guns they have are 60’s and 81’s, but when you’re in the battalion at the level he was you get into 81’s and 120’s. He said there’s a lot more people involved than at the company level. There’s between 2 and 4 people at the company level, but at the battalion level there can be around 40 people. When he got out Daniel was an E5 (Sergeant).

Currently Daniel is working for two companies, WP Connects, and VETES (Victory, Engagement, Training, and Employment Services), where he provides IT training to soldiers. He said he really enjoys working with other military members, but he particularly enjoys working with the younger members. He’s really passionate about helping them build a career for themselves as early as possible, that way when they leave the military they’re set up for success.

Daniel was 27 when he got out of the military, and spent a while kicking the ball around trying to find a job that suited him (exactly what he’s trying to help other people avoid). He said he was married already when he got out (he got married the first time at 18), and got married again at 23. He joked that if you haven’t been divorced at least once he doesn’t consider you a veteran. Obviously that isn’t inherently true, but a lot of people in the military agree that it’s pretty true. The military alone is hard to traverse, and trying to add in a relationship while you’re that young can be really hard.

“That’s probably the hardest part for most people, is finding a good mentor to really take them under their wing and show them the path forward. ‘Hey, this is how I did it, you can do it a different way, but these are the steps that I’ve set out, if you follow in my tracks there’s success.’”

Daniel said he had good leadership after he transferred up to battalion, and his wife really understood that. She joined shortly after they got married, and is currently an active duty captain in the Air Force (about to be promoted to major). His wife was working in a hospital when they got married, and all the older nurses there said the one thing they wish they had done was join the military. She tried to join the Navy, but at 6’ 3” they told her she was too tall, and the Air Force told her the same thing. She wanted to do flight medicine, and was currently doing inpatient mental health with children and adolescents, and thought, why not carry that into the Air Force? Then Daniel’s wife went back to school to get her doctorate, and now she’s a mental health nurse practitioner in the Air Force.

His wife had a path forward, and that allowed him a little bit of freedom to really explore where he was going. Daniel said they got stationed up in Anchorage, Alaska, and he thought, “You know what? I’m gonna do something that I really enjoy.” And that was shooting archery. Daniel said he picked up a sponsorship through the local shop in Anchorage and shot for them, got his level 2 USA archery certification, and over Christmas started teaching lessons.

It was about a year later that Daniel’s wife got the notification she got into the doctoral program. Daniel was going to school at the time he was giving archery lessons, working on his bachelors in history, and he thought he’d follow in his dad’s footsteps and go on to law school. However when his wife got her acceptance letter, he gave up his schooling. There was no way they could pay for both of them to be in doctoral programs.

He finished up his degree in history and they moved to DC in May of 2019, right before the pandemic. During the pandemic his wife was home all the time doing school, so he decided to find something home based as well to give him something to do (and not just sit around going stir crazy). They moved some things around to make Daniel a little office in their apartment, and he started diving into the tech side of the world, finding himself a niched little home.

He got started by working with some of his friends who started businesses. They didn’t have the time or mental bandwidth to put into the tech side of a business, so Daniel would step in and manage all of that. It started with very simple site hosting, and as he went he started to see more of the details. It’s a lot easier now to build a website than it was, and that’s largely what led Daniel to learn WordPress. Because it was open source, there were a lot more tools and resources to help him work through individual problems.

Another question we asked was if there were any skills Daniel learned from the military that he carried with him through the years. He said the things he learned in the military really didn’t transfer over to the civilian world, and quite often military members who get out are used to the structure and the rigidity of the system, and aren’t prepared for how fluid the civilian world is.

Daniel said when he started looking for real full time employment, for all that there are laws to prevent you from being fired for being military, an employer knows that if they’re hiring someone in the military (especially national guard) there are going to be designated times when they’re down an employee. Especially during the summer, when they’re slammed busy. They can’t fire you for being in the military, but they can stay away from those candidates. Some advice Daniel always tells people is to let an employer find out you’re in the national guard after they hire you. That way they can’t fire you unless they want a federal lawsuit on their hands.

That being said, there is a structure and a drive in the military that the job itself may be tough, or not the best paying job (and most of the time if you’re enlisted it’s not), but they’re willing to endure a lot of pressure so long as they get the correct praise. “Thanks for getting it done. It looks great, let’s see how it performs, carry on.”

One of the biggest values is teamwork, and knowing that even if you can’t succeed, someone is going to have your back. Once you make that connection, soldiers will go above and beyond to take care of each other. Daniel knows not every soldier is as motivated and dedicated as he is, but a lot of them are. And the employers that are able to find the few that are exceptional, and mold them and teach them to be the thing that they want, they’ll never find a better employee.

The one skill he said he picked up was the perseverance of difficult tasks. I pointed out it seemed like Daniel also picked up the value of teamwork, communication, and good leadership, and he said those are more things he already had that helped him succeed. He said a lot of the people who were in the infantry had similar personalities, and it’s more that if you weren’t good at those things, you didn’t stick around very long. They understood that they were the best of the best, and worked together to make sure that nobody got hurt. As far as communication, he thinks that’s more something he picked up as a kid. He was one of four kids, and with everything going on, if you didn’t communicate, you were left at the house.

I asked Daniel if there were any resources he would recommend for anyone transitioning back to civilian life, or anything he did to help transition. He said because he was in the National Guard his transition wasn’t as staggering as active duty. He had one deployment from 2008 to 2009, and then another from 2011 to 2012. His deployments were really his only consistent paycheck from the military, so when he wasn’t deployed he was still working civilian jobs.

He said the biggest resource for transitioning back he’d recommend is going to be finding someone who was at or above the rank that you are when you exit. Reach out to them, ask what path they went down, and follow that as best you can. He said to go to the VA before you exit, and not let yourself fall into the trap of not knowing what you’re gonna do when you’re out. Have a path you can follow, and get it started early.

And, if you know you’re only going in for four years to get the GI Bill for school, keep up to date on some courses while you’re waiting so you don’t forget everything, and then struggle when you get to where you want to be. College specifically, it’s designed to be free reign and make you develop your own structure, which is the exact opposite of the military. And if you fail your courses you have to pay out of pocket, because they aren’t going to cover any classes that you fail.

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