By Adam Hunter
“You have this idea that ‘Hey, I’m a veteran.’ You think it’s just like a green card, like a VIP card, like you deserve to hire me, like it’s a privilege for you to hire me. You know I fought for this country and hey, here’s my VIP card, hire me… And it didn’t work out like that.”
The words of Army veteran Shelton Kelley echoed throughout the El Paso Chihuahuas’ ballpark moments before he tossed the ceremonial first pitch of the San Diego Padres minor-league baseball AAA affiliate’s June 14th matchup with the Tacoma Rainiers. To celebrate the U.S. Army’s 242nd Birthday, the Chihuahuas honored Kelley on field with his colleague from Prudential’s El Paso technology center, Army wife Patty Perez, and former infantryman Scott Anderson—all who arrived in the West Texas border city by way of Fort Bliss and faced the unique challenges that military families know all too well.
Those challenges—and how Prudential’s partnership with the Workforce Opportunity Service program in El Paso has helped overcome them—were broadcast to fans on the Jumbotron in the premiere of "The El Paso Story: Journey from military career to civilian career," a video directed by award-winning filmmaker and journalist Shawn Efran. The film is part of a project with TriBeCa Films to highlight the trials and triumphs of soldiers returning to the homefront.
Kelley’s military occupational specialty was a “92 Golf”—in civilian terms, a cook. Deployed to Kirkuk, Iraq, in 2009, he fed 1,500 to 2,000 soldiers in the field each day and patrolled the city’s notoriously dangerous checkpoints. After separating from the service, however, he struggled to translate that experience to the civilian workforce.
“The only jobs that were calling back were cooking jobs, McDonald’s,” Kelley said. “Movies always paint veterans as just these gung-ho, shell-shocked type of people. I think a lot of employers have that perception.”
Kelley discovered Prudential’s program, which offers mentorship and training for careers in information technology, after his wife, an Army captain, was stationed at Fort Bliss. Three years later, Kelley is a manager in charge of process management for computer coding projects.
“I never thought for a moment that I would see myself doing something this technical,” Kelley said. “To put that trust and that faith in veterans, to send them to school and work with the all them all the way through, there’s no way to repay that.”
Scott Anderson, currently enrolled in Prudential’s program, called it “a saving grace.”
“They’re teaching us jobs that can eventually make six-figure salaries,” Anderson said. “There’s very few programs like that for veterans.”
Prudential jobs in El Paso also support military spouses like Patty Perez, who had moved four times in 13 years for her husband’s Army career. She found most employers wouldn’t offer her full-time permanent employment. “It’s really hard for us, the Army wives,” Perez said. “They don’t want to spend money to train you because they know that you’re leaving in three years.”
Now she’s an executive assistant for PGIM Real Estate, a job that allows her to collaborate with colleagues remotely and work from home.
“Prudential works with military life,” Perez said. “I don’t need to quit my job when my husband receives orders. The job will go with me.”
To date, Prudential has hired 180 employees in El Paso, about half of which are veterans or military spouses. In December, Prudential plans to move into a new facility, allowing the company to expand its El Paso workforce over the next two years.
There is a wealth of human capital in the surrounding El Paso area. According to The Borderplex Alliance, a privately-funded economic development group, the region hosts the largest bi-lingual workforce in the western hemisphere and encompasses the highest border college student population. Fort Bliss, home to 30,000 soldiers, adds more than 6,000 veterans per year into the job market.
“Our investment in El Paso starts with our commitment to its people, especially those who have given so much to our country,” said Barbara Koster, senior vice president and chief information officer, and the executive sponsor of Prudential’s Veterans Initiatives. “We believe that partnerships like this are both good for business and for the communities they serve.”
The Army birthday celebration was part of Prudential’s sponsorship with the El Paso Chihuahuas. Prudential is a presenting partner of the team’s “Military Mondays” and “Thank You Thursdays,” honoring the men and women of the armed forces.
Following Kelley’s first pitch, the Chihuahuas went on to beat the Rainiers 9 - 6. Winning, it seems, is contagious.
Watch Shawn Efran’s four-minute video about Prudential’s efforts to provide meaningful careers to military veterans and military spouses at Prudential.com/Veterans. For more information about Prudential’s work in El Paso, please contact Alicia Alston.