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Swearing in, retiring at MEPS – full cycle of service

Fort Bliss
Wednesday, July 30, 2014 - 9:17pm

More than 29 years ago, a well-timed phone call made by an Army recruiter started Tyrone Harris, human resources assistant at the El Paso, Texas, Military Entrance Processing Station, on his military journey.

The high school student from Elkhart, Indiana, was not sure what the future held, but he knew he was ready to find out.

“I just knew I didn’t want to stay home and be dependent on my parents,” recalled Harris. “That was the number one reason I joined the Army, to get out and venture on my own. I enlisted into the Army in November of 1984.”

After Harris raised his right hand and swore into the Army at the Chicago Military Entry Processing Station, he was shipped off to Fort Bliss, Texas, in August 1985, for basic training and advanced individual training. He became a PATRIOT launching station enhanced operator/maintainer.

“I was only going to do four years and get out, but after a while I was like ‘this isn’t bad,’” said Harris, a retired sergeant first class. “I made my specialist rank after three years and was given the option to re-enlist and said ‘sure, why not?’”

Harris’ first duty station was in Germany. He bounced back and forth between Germany and Fort Bliss for the majority of his 23-year career with one tour in South Korea, one in Saudi Arabia and four years as a recruiter in Michigan. During one of his tours in Germany, Harris met his wife who was also an air defense Soldier.

In the true essence of a career coming full circle, Harris’ last assignment was right where it began, at Fort Bliss. He spent his last four years with Air Defense Artillery Branch working with human resources appointing personnel to assignments.

Like any military career, there comes a time for an end. The end of Harris’ career came in December 2008.
“I went to (the Army Career and Alumni Program),” said Harris describing some of his preparations for retirement.

“They sat me down and I went through all of the classes as far as getting on the computer and knowing which websites to go to and how to fill out a resume.”

ACAP is a program that provides transition and job assistance services to Soldiers preparing to leave the military. ACAP offers separation briefings, counseling and referrals about programs designed to help Soldiers transition and readjust. Job assistance workshops are also available.

Although he was sufficiently prepared to retire from the Army, Harris admits the transition from Soldier to civilian did not go as smoothly as he expected.

“The first job I had after I retired was (at) FedEx,” said Harris. “I applied online and went in for the interview. When I arrived on the scene there was a long line of people. Probably about 100 people lined up for the same job I was looking at.”

With tips he learned from ACAP, Harris was able to be one of two people hired that day. He worked with FedEx for approximately four months, loading and unloading cargo airplanes. He was sure he did not want to keep wreaking havoc on his back, so he never gave up his search for a better job.

“I went to USAJOBS, like they told us over at the ACAP center, and I found a job working here at the MEPS,” said Harris. “I thought I could do that because it was interviewing people and I used to interview people while I did four years recruiting duty up in Michigan.”

About a month later Harris received a call asking if he still wanted the job. He accepted the offer and has been working at the El Paso MEPS for approximately 5 years.

MEPS processes individuals who qualify for military service. At the facility, applicants take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, get a medical examination and talk to the service liaisons to decide which job would be the best for them. They are fingerprinted and a background check is initiated. When all the processing is complete, a commissioned officer swears them in and they are shipped off to training.

“When they make it down to my end, I do the final interview to make sure they haven’t lied about drug use or law violations and I ask the basic questions to make sure they are qualified for military service,” said Harris.

Even though Harris was highly qualified and able to do the job, there was another side of transitioning into a civilian Harris was not quite prepared for.

“When I first retired, I still had the Army in me. I was kind of hard core, I put people in line. (My co-workers here) would say ‘hey, you can’t yell at the applicants, they aren’t in yet,’” laughs Harris. “The hardest transition was probably working around so many civilians. I was so used to being in uniform, walking in a certain way and talking in a certain way. I still had it in me.”

Even with many of the difficulties Harris has faced during his transitioning period, many of the traits he developed from more than 20 years of military service assist him in his day-to-day operations. His time being a recruiter allows him to talk to applicants easily. The discipline he learned has helped him obtain his bachelor’s degree while working at the MEPS.

Harris has first-hand knowledge about how difficult and terrifying leaving the military can be. The wisdom he has about the process comes from the path he has traveled.

“There is life after the military. Things might be bad at first, but do your research and find out what is on the market,” advises Harris. “Take advantage of education that offered once you retire. You don’t have to necessarily go into the job market right away, you can actually catch up on some school.”

After more than 23 years of service in the Army, Harris still serves. He may miss many things about being a Soldier, but he definitely appreciates one aspect of being retired.

“In the military I had to get up at a certain time and I was always on call. Now I can sleep in,” he said. “It feels good to sleep in.” 

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