in a small town outside of San Diego, CA. When she gradu- ated from high school, she knew she didn’t want to stay in that small town. Going to college wasn’t an option. She just didn’t have the interest. She was feeling trapped and didn’t want to end up like many of her friends—a young mother lacking the ability to earn a good living. She decided to join the Army. She viewed this decision as an opportunity to ad- vance and to acquire skills and maturity that would benefit her later on—and that it did. “I graduated from high school in 2011 and joined the Army in 2012,” she said. “Aer boot camp, my first and only duty station was Fort Hood in Texas, and I was there for six years.” Melissa’s specialty in- volved working on radios and setting up communi- cation stations for her unit. She said, “When I did the testing for potential roles in the Army, they came up with a few options. One of them was a cook, but that came with Airborne, and I knew I didn’t want to be jumping out of planes. When I joined, I knew there was potential for deployment, and there was some hesitation and nervousness regarding that, but I really wasn’t scared. As soon as I got to Fort Hood, they said to be prepared to deploy. My unit had just deployed, but they kept me in rear detachment duty. I stayed in that role and pretty much did my job to help my unit that was deployed. When I wasn’t in the field setting up antennas, I was on a computer helping soldiers with any issues they were having with the Internet.” When it was time to transition, Melissa attended the mandatory transitioning briefings offered by the Army and learned about the VIP program. She knew she wanted a field where there would be nu- merous options for advancement. Even though she was a very petite woman, she felt she would be able to hold her own when it came to challenging, physi- cal work. “I like to be involved in things where I can really stand out,” she said. “And sure enough, I was the only female in my VIP class of 14.” Similar to most of her male counterparts, she had never welded before. “I loved it right away,” she said. “At first, I was a little scared about getting burned, but when I real- ized the jacket and gloves really work to protect you, I was all in. I took pictures of my welds from the very beginning, and it was amazing how they im- proved. My instructors were so supportive and gave me a lot of confidence by telling me that I was going to make it, and that some of the best welders were women.” Melissa and her husband transitioned out of the Army at the same time. ey have a two-year-old daughter. When Melissa was getting close to gradua- tion from the VIP program, she was tasked with se- lecting a local union in which to continue her apprenticeship program. ey opted to remain in Texas. Regarding that decision, Melissa said, “We own a home here, and what we’re paying in our mortgage here, we could never duplicate anywhere else, so Texas was where we wanted to stay.” Melissa’s husband started a job in corrections at a prison close to home, which he really loves. Plumbers and Pipe- fitters Local 286 in Austin became Melissa’s num- ber-one choice for placement. e excellent pay scale, Austin’s booming economy, and its proximity to Killeen, where they owned a home, were factors that secured the deal. She also really liked the fact that it was a “combination” local, meaning it was a plumbers and pipefitters local union. rough the local’s apprenticeship program, Melissa will receive her Master Plumbing License and Medical Gas Cer- tification, as well as other certifications and skillsets that are needed to become a plumbing and pipe- fitting journeyperson. e local’s goal is to make its members incredibly employable through its training and certification programs. “I definitely felt prepared when I le the pro- gram,” Melissa said. “We have so many friends from the Army who, since they’ve gotten out, are really struggling. at surprised us, because there were op- tions at the time of our transition. rough the VIP program, instead of going and reporting to the Army, I got paid to weld all day. How could that be a bad situation? We would tell our friends, ‘Go and try something new!’ Too many of them said no and just went back to school with their GI Bills, but re- ally had no direction. I didn’t want to go to school to begin with, so why would I want to go now, and then what do you do?” She added, “Just because you Melissa Martinez grew up CAREERops 12 AUnique Approach to aLifelong Through the local’s apprenticeship program, Melissa will receive her Master Plumbing License and Med- ical Gas Certifica- tion, as well as other certifications and skillsets that are needed to be- come a plumbing and pipefitting journeyperson.