Richmond veteran credits nonprofit for successful post-service transition: 'They embraced me'

Posted at 3:18 PM, Nov 10, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-13 12:23:04-05

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- JB’s smooth voice is heard over Van Halen’s “Jump,” taking listeners back to the 1980s and 1990s.

Being a disc jockey was a childhood dream job for this Gen X-er, more than 30 years in the making.

A dream now come true.

“It is absolutely amazing and fun to just do radio and that experience alone, engaging with people and making them smile, I love it. I absolutely love it," said Jose Velazquez who broadcasts for Eagle Radio from his home in Chesterfield County, Virginia.

But starting a career in radio and television was out of reach for Velazquez when he was growing up.

“I lived in the projects and life was pretty tough," he said. "I really wanted to get into radio and television and there was just no way to get there from where I lived.”

His family was stuck in a cycle of poverty in Boston.

“So where I lived was low-income housing, government-supported housing. We didn't have a lot of money. My mother worked low-paying factory jobs, which is where I lived. And so it was an environment of hopelessness" he said. “When I was in the projects as a young teen, I always thought to myself, I don't want to be a statistic. I just don't want to be a statistic. I want to do something special. And I dreamed of something outside of the projects.”

An environment Velazquez was determined to rise above.

“I really wanted an opportunity to step outside of where I grew up and it was very difficult," he said. "I didn't know how to get into college and the army came around and said, 'Hey, we have an opportunity for you.'”

Velazquez said yes.

“I was a platoon sergeant. I was a squad leader. I was a first sergeant. I was a Sergeant Major," he said.

The Army was his path out of the projects, where he would eventually find his purpose.

“I love serving and I love leading soldiers. And when that happened, I couldn't leave. I loved the Army. One enlistment turned into two enlistments, turned into five enlistments," he said.

That love led to three decades of service, where he wore many hats, from a psychological operations officer to a paratrooper.

“It was an important job and I took it seriously," he said. "I really loved being an American Paratrooper which in my opinion is the greatest organization and honor to have.”

Eventually, Velazquez became a Public Affairs Officer at the Pentagon, tasked with telling the Army’s story to fellow Americans.

“It was incredibly important because we were deployed in a war zone and we were working toward making the world a safer place. And so sometimes we wanted to make sure that the American people understood our mission clearly," he said.

Close to 20 countries touchedwith 400 hundred military coins gifted for missions well done.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a collection of coins this enormous. Talk a little bit about what these coins mean to you," CBS 6 reporter Genienne Samuels asked.

“What they mean to me is moments where someone cared enough about me to share this coin with me to give me a coin and say, ‘Hey, Jose, you did a good job.’ Ultimately, that's what these coins mean. And so every one of them has a story behind it," Velazquez said.

"It has a person behind it who was kind enough to give me a coin and tell me I was doing a good job. I'm incredibly appreciative of every one of them because they were a moment in time during my career where someone thought highly of me. And so they mean a lot to me.”

A career of selfless service, but ahead of Velazquez, another battle was brewing.

“When you spend 30 years in the military, you become your uniform. And at some point, you lose your sense of yourself and you give yourself totally to the Army,” he said.

His next mission was heading to the front lines of civilian life.

“I was so terrified of being a civilian. I know it sounds silly, but after 30 years of having the protection of the US Army, I didn't know what civilian life was like," he said. “What was most terrifying to me was I just didn't know how to move forward. I didn't know how to get to where I wanted to be from where I was. I didn't know where the uniform stopped and I began or vice versa. And so I needed some help.”

That helping hand was discovered while scrolling on LinkedIn.

“ I was lucky enough to come across this lady named Annie Brock," he said.

Annie Brock is the CEO and President of Leader Transition Institute.

Brock shared with GeNienne that she had just met Velazquez just over three years ago.

“He was full of that military mindset and he was a very senior person," she said.

Velazquez reached out to the Leader Transition Institute to help him with his transition.

The nonprofit helps all service members, veterans, and their spouses, from any branch of the military, begin or improve their transition through a four-day workshop, perfectly named: “Changing Focus - Moving from We to Me."

“As soon as you join the military, you're responsible for the person who's next to you and you want to be a good team member for that person who's in front of you, behind you, and on both sides of you. That is drilled into you from the very first moment you join the military. You never think of yourself as an individual," Brock said.

The free workshop takes a different approach to the transition process.

They understand getting a job is important, however, the main focus is more introspective.

A series of exercises and lectures takes participants through self-discovery exercises. Exercises are focused on trying to determine who each person is outside of the uniform; what makes them happy; what they really want to do and become with the rest of their lives.

“We aren't focused on, What is your job going to be. We give them the freedom to think about, Who am I? Who do I want to be? How do I want to do this rest of my life? Because the average service member, like Jose. He is going to live longer as a civilian than he was in the military. He needs to fill that life. People need to fill that life and build that life and create something that they really enjoy and live the life that they choose rather than the one that the world chooses for them,” Brock said.

The Changing Focus Workshop helped Velazquez’s “me” mindset gradually emerge.

“What I have seen over three years is I have seen Sergeant Major Velazquez transition into Jose Velazquez, and it's really cool."

Brock started her Army career as one of the first women assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division.

She was jumping out of planes on her way to becoming a Medevac helicopter pilot, so she is no stranger to the needs of service members.

She founded the nonprofit and created this program because of her own experiences during her military-to-civilian life transitional period.

“How did you come up with the idea to start the Leader Transition Institute?" GeNienne asked.

“From my own struggle, and I remember that my father had struggled a little bit in his transition as I look back on it," Brock said. "I did a lot of personal growth in all the years between when I left active duty to when I started the program. I started working with the veteran community here in 2007. I saw my husband's friends as they retired from the military and people in the local community that were struggling. And I was at a personal development weekend and challenged to create something that would be significant for the future. And significance always involves other people, not oneself. And so I developed the idea for the program from that.”

Brock said the transition can be difficult because military life is all some people know.

“The big challenge is that the average person who comes in the military comes in when they're or if they come right out of high school or 22, coming right out of college, and very few people have ever been an adult in the civilian sector. And all of a sudden, they're expected to be an adult in the civilian sector. That's scary,” Brock said.

This was a fear that Brock had and she was determined to help others.

The same fear that Velazquez fought during his last year in the military and ultimately beat.

“It's incredibly powerful. A lot of programs teach you how to get a job, and that's important. Look, we all got to make money, but they don't teach you how to figure out who you are outside the uniform,” Velazquez said.

Now outside of his uniform, Jose is a disc jockey, LinkedIn influencer, entrepreneur (founder of Velazquez Media Consulting, LLC), and now the Director of Communications for the very nonprofit that helped him transition from “we” to “me.”

“When I left the projects, the military brought me in. They embraced me and they became my family. When I left the service, LTI, and the veterans who've already transitioned, they embraced me and took me into their family. And so at this point, I'm on the other side of the uniform, and it's my job to embrace others as they're going through that transition. And I love it.”

The free four-day workshops are open to those in all branches of service, active duty, veterans who have already transitioned, and their spouses.

For more information on the Leader Transition Institute and the “Changing Focus: From We to Me” workshop, click here.

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