This past year of 2014 has been an incredible ride, but with the end of the holidays comes the start of a new year, and I welcome the fresh start that 2015 brings. New Year's Day is the perfect time to hit the reset button on certain areas of your life. For some people, the frustrations of the past year can be addressed with a reading list or a new gym pass, and that is great. I wish that were the case for many of my fellow veterans who ended the year feeling frustrated by unemployment or underemployment. Hundreds of thousands of service members transition from the military to the civilian workforce every year, but for many of them, the toughest fight they will ever face is figuring out what to do next. I know that was the case for me when I left the Marine Corps in early 2010.
I was in my early 20s when I transitioned and, like most veterans my age, was faced with a veteran unemployment rate that was above the national average, as well as an uncertain economy. Also like most veterans my age, I was challenged by my own indecision about the future. I had returned home with no particular job in mind, just a willingness to work. I spent a brief time testing weapons for the military, took a couple of college courses, but by August 2011 -- more than a year after my separation -- I had landed on a construction crew. It was a decent job, and I liked being active, but I knew that this too was temporary.
It was during this time that I first heard the White House was considering some form of recognition for my actions in Afghanistan. It was happening far away and out of my control, so I had decided not to pay too much attention to it. Two weeks later, I was pouring concrete when I got the news that I had been selected to receive the Medal of Honor.
The evening before the ceremony, I found myself telling the President of the United States that I still had no idea what to do with my life. The conversation that followed and the responsibilities that came with it started me on a new path. With the support of my family and friends, I pushed the reset button on my civilian career and worked hard to become a veterans' advocate and small business owner. I found new purpose in sharing my transition story with other veterans and encouraging businesses to go out and hire these talented men and women.
In the years that followed, I heard many admissions from young veterans who felt like they had hit a dead end. I know that feeling, but I also know that our nation's military men and women are some of the most qualified, determined and skilled individuals you will ever meet. I know that it is never too late to start again. For all of the frustrated veterans out there, perhaps 2015 is the year to take advantage of the benefits you've earned and go back to school or find an apprenticeship. Maybe the military has already given you the background you need to get the job you want, and it is time to put those skills down in a new resume. My message this New Year's is simple: Lessons learned in the past are only a place to begin. Be encouraged -- because with each New Year comes a new start.