Veterans in the Workforce featured

Veterans in the Workforce

Internship program helps ex-military members get back on solid ground

MIDDLETOWN – In her role as a supply specialist in the Army, Johanna Bravo said there was always structure to everything she did. Details like when deliveries were made were planned down to the minute in Iraq, where Bravo served from 2006-2007. That included time behind the wheel driving heavy-duty, armored supply trucks with thick bulletproof glass and under armed guard.

Or in Guantanamo Bay from 2009 to early 2011, where she helped transform a “black hole” supply depot into a state-ofthe- art operation, work that earned her wide recognition in the Army. No matter where she was and what chaos was around her while in uniform, Bravo, now 44, said there was always a certain order to things. But when she got out of the Army in 2014 on a medical retirement, Bravo said she quickly came to realize it was a whole new world as a civilian.

Now, thanks to a new internship at PURVIS Systems in Middletown through the Southeastern New England Defense Industry Alliance, Bravo said work and life outside the military are making a lot more sense these days. “When you get out, it’s difficult for most soldiers,” Bravo said, standing by several hard-shell containers waiting to get shipped to Hawaii. “You’re so used to having everything programmed and structured and then it’s not like that at all. It’s an adjustment for a lot of soldiers and this program has helped me make that switch.”

Raised and still living in Providence, Bravo said she always knew she wanted to be in the Army. As a young girl, she watched G.I. Joe cartoons and could identify with the character Lady Jaye. Bravo decided when she enlisted in the Army in 2005 to specialize in supply logistics because the work sounded interesting. She said the more she learned on the job, the more obvious it became to her how important the work was.

“People show up and just expect their stuff to be there, but it’s never that easy,” Bravo said. “There’s so much work that goes on behind the scenes to pull everything off. That’s where I worked – and thrived.” Bravo said her departure from the military wasn’t because she wanted to leave but because she suffered injuries, which have since healed. At the time, she was unsure what she would do after her lengthy injury rehab, and she applied for the SENEDIA internship on a whim.

Within days she was paired with PURVIS, which is located in in the Aquidneck Corporate Park and specializes in defense and fire systems. From day one of the 80-hour program, Bravo said she felt welcome on the team, and that her input mattered to her colleagues and supervisors.

Working on updating the PURVIS supply system, Bravo said she has been involved in a number of projects to showcase her skills and help out where needed. Deborah Proffitt, vice president of Department of Defense operations at PURVIS, said Bravo has been an excellent addition through the internship. According to details of the program, eligible veterans receive a $1,500 stipend from SENEDIA. They also are given access to resume and interview assistance, a job fair and other supports. Bravo is the first veteran to go through the program. The effort was funded through a Real Jobs RI grant SENEDIA received early this year through the state Department of Labor and Training to help veterans explore potential careers through internships. “It’s been great and she’s done an outstanding job with everything she’s done,” Proffitt said. “She’s brought a unique skill set here and it’s been a perfect match.”

As for what ex-military employees typically bring to the job, Proffitt said there’s usually a noticeable difference. “They approach the work a little differently and there’s a drive that you might not always see as much otherwise,” Proffitt said. “When you’re working with someone who had been in the military, you usually can tell, even if you don’t ask.” Lee Silvestre and Molly Donohue Magee of SENEDIA said the program has worked well for both the veterans and participating companies. “Our veterans have served selflessly for our country,” said Silvestre, the SENEDIA veterans internship program manager. “It is our privilege to help those veterans looking for meaningful employment to explore career options through internships with Rhode Island companies who can truly benefit from their training and experiences.”

“Veterans have a unique set of skills, experiences and leadership abilities that enable them to be value-added employees in the civilian sector,” said Magee, SENEDIA executive director. “SENEDIA is honored to manage this Veterans Internship Program and we very much appreciate our partnership with Real Jobs RI, which is allowing us to do so. The Defense cluster certainly values the breadth and depth of experience and leadership skills that veterans bring, and we know that their value extends across all clusters and sectors.”

Asked for advice she’d give a veteran trying to transition to life as an everyday citizen, Bravo had one word: “patience.” “When you’re in the military, everything has to be done right now,” Bravo said. “In the corporate world, it’s not always like that. I was just talking to one of my military buddies because he was frustrated with how things were going and I told him he had to relax. It wasn’t the military and you’ve got to get comfortable with the job and the people you work with. It’s a different world.”

As for the future, Bravo said earlier this week she wasn’t sure where things would take her once the internship ends. By the end of the week, that all changed after she was offered a full-time position in logistics with PURVIS – a position she accepted.

“This means a lot to me and I feel useful and accomplished again,” Bravo said. “Getting out of the military left a great void in my life and working for them now is a dream come true. I love our military: once a soldier always a soldier. This veteran internship has open doors that I never dreamed of, thanks to SENEIDA and PURVIS.”

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