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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

Ex-military mom faced a new battle on the job front

December 4, 2014
SJVC student Sonia Whipp meets First Lady Michelle Obama
Sonia met Michelle Obama, along with other female veterans, to talk about the First Lady’s “Joining Forces” campaign.

One thing was very clear to Sonia Whipp when she left the Army 4-1/2 years ago. “All that time and dedication I put into small arms and artillery repair wasn’t going to help me as a civilian,” she says. Those skills, so important to her successful military experience, were not exactly resume highlights back home.

This is a hard – and very common – truth for women, especially, thrown into a job market with narrow areas of expertise.

“Veterans often have to re-invent themselves after their military service,” says Lisa Roybal, Nurse Practitioner and Women Veterans Program Manager for Loma Linda VA Healthcare System. “Often their jobs in the military do not translate to the civilian sector.”

Sonia joined the Army in 2002, right out of high school. Women were still uncommon among the ranks, and attitudes were biased toward male-dominated service. “There were old timers that didn’t believe in women in the military, so we had to run farther, shoot better and carry more to bring recognition,” says Sonia. “I had to do more than what was expected, for them to give me credit for doing my job and knowing what I was talking about.”

Sonia was deployed three times; to Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq and rose to sergeant. She met husband, Jefferson, while both were serving their country. In 2008, Sonia and Jefferson were able to come home to have their daughter, Ariana. Jefferson was deployed 3 weeks later and Sonia returned to military service 3 months after he left. She returned for a few weeks just before Ariana’s first birthday.

Sonia’s mom, Lucia, raised Ariana those first months of her life. “She was my hero, big time,” says Sonia, who realized that a military career could not give her what she needed to enjoy a family. When Sonia became pregnant with her son, Josiah, two years later; she knew it was time to leave the Army.

Honorably discharged in March 2010, Sonia found a hard reality: The job market had little room for someone with her limited skills and education. But at 29 years old, she was determined to do everything she could to turn that reality around by using the GI Bill for veterans’ education.

Sonia enrolled in SJVC’s Pharmacy Technology program on the Ontario campus…and almost quit after the first month. “I was in class with 18-19 year olds, and I couldn’t learn as quickly as they could,” says Sonia. “And, I was eventually going to have to compete with them for a job. I was not sure if I was ready for it.”

An instructor helped her to overcome her fears and doubts, and Sonia went on to become an Honors student and a permanent fixture on the Dean’s List.

Another honor came her way in October when Sonia was invited to join four other female vets for a visit with Michelle Obama at the White House. Sponsored by Redbook magazine to promote hiring women military veterans across the nation, the meeting was a chance for real voices and stories to reach the public and consciousness of the nation. The White House “Joining Forces” campaign provides ways for the general population to help address employment issues for returning veterans.

“It was amazing because you just kind of feel forgotten after you become a vet,” says Sonia, who felt reassured after her meeting with the First Lady and hearing what her team is planning to do to make re-entry into civilian employment easier. “She believes no veteran should ever be homeless, hungry or unemployed,” says Sonia.

“Veterans bring several qualities from their military experience to the civilian workforce: Teamwork, leadership and commitment,” says Lisa Roybal. “Sonia is an example of a veteran who is looking to continue to be a valuable asset in the workforce.”

Sonia realizes that her own highest potential is through the education she has, literally, fought for. “We are told in the military not to ask for help,” she says. “But there is a real benefit from asking for the help that is out there.” Her Pharmacy Technology program degree will open doors to her future career.

Sonia’s greatest inspiration to keep pushing toward career success is her daughter, Ariana. “I want her to see that you can do it and can have great things for yourself, no matter where you are in life or what age you are,” says Sonia. “She doesn’t see it now, but when she gets older she will understand the big picture.”

Meanwhile, Sonia is out there doing her part to throw some hotter lights onto a changing picture of veterans in the classroom and on the job.

See Sonia’s story on Redbook.

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