Marine vet’s PTSD didn’t keep her from pursuing aircraft mechanic dream career
“When I was very little, I loved aviation and wanted to be a pilot,” says Megan Cardoza. “But I got glasses when I was five or six years old and heard I couldn’t wear glasses and be a pilot.” So she set that dream aside and went into the Marine Corps after graduating high school.
“Friends who came back from boot camp inspired me to go in that direction,” says Megan. “I always loved a challenge and put everything I’ve got into it.” She signed up for eight years: Five years of active duty and three years in inactive reserves.
“The military is a 24/7 job; you’re in uniform even on weekends,” she says. Megan honed her MOS (Military Operation Skills) that included training as an air traffic controller, plumbing, electrical and concrete work. As a combat engineer, she did build-up of FOB (forward operating bases), which are safe areas that house service personnel overseas.
“They said I was smart enough to teach, so I stayed on the East Coast and trained 300 Marines who got to go overseas,” says Megan. “The people I trained had a very high return rate.”
The last three years of Megan’s military commitment were considered post-service and were geared toward reentry to civilian life. “Those years helped me get back to the life I had prior to the military service.” It was a life that had not always been kind.
The mistreatment began when Megan was a teenager. “Abuse is not just physical,” she says. “Teachers and others I looked up to were abusive because of who I am, because of my sexual orientation. I was yelled at in public and told I would never accomplish anything in life.” Verbal and emotional abuses can cut as deeply as a physical wound.
As accomplished as Megan was in the Marine Corps, it too harbored a bias that she struggled against. There were incidents at the hands of a few fellow Marines and, later, an abusive fiancé. Legal protections and consequences were undertaken. The physical, mental and emotional abuses she endured threatened a return to normalcy.
Megan had a lot of healing to process and good faith in her fellow humans to attempt to restore. Part of that process would include a careful choice of the next phase of her life. She wanted to commit herself to an education and career path that would support a higher vision for her life.
Recently discharged from her military obligation, Megan went with her little brother David to explore his interest in SJVC’s Aviation Maintenance Technology program. Mid-way through their tour of the campus, Megan realized that David was probably not seeing his future unfold…but she was, absolutely. “I thought, ‘this is too great of an opportunity to pass up,’ so I asked our admission’s person if she could answer my questions.” Seats were traded and the focus transferred. “I asked when the next class started; she said in a couple of weeks, and I told her I would have the paperwork ready.” That’s how a Marine gets it done.
The Aviation Maintenance Technology program was a good fit for Megan. “I liked the way that the instructors had all worked in the field (aviation), had lots of different experiences and they spoke my language,” says Megan. “We all just got it. We worked hard to be where we wanted to be, and no one there wanted to play childish games. It was a great environment.” There were several other military veterans in the Aviation Maintenance Technology program.
There were also struggles. “The hardest thing about it was my outside, personal life,” says Megan. “I was going through a lot in terms of relationships, family. The one time I felt the most solid in my life was when I was at school because I was there to better myself. It was my escape from my every day.”
She carried both the memories and the physical reminders of past abuse. “I was beaten by pipes, had knives shoved against my throat and back. I have scars on my shoulder blades where I was burned at someone else’s hand. It has taken me awhile to get back here and feel secure in each of those areas.”
Normal must construct a new standard and positive experiences have to layer over the fractured parts. She began the long process of recovery.
“I went to therapy and did a lot on my end to help me get through it,” she says. “It takes time and it’s scary and not easy, especially when you are a strong, proud person. SJVC helped me shape it into the positivity that I could do this and leave the past in the past.”
There were times at school when Megan could draw a full, free breath. “One time I got to fix the fuel hydraulic line on the 172 Cessna and then a couple of hours later it was running. The best part was when I got to sit in the aircraft and move it around the tarmac.” Pure joy.
Megan completed her Aviation Maintenance Technology program with a 3.88 GPA and is in the process of taking final tests to earn appropriate certifications to fuel her career direction. “Megan has several job options on the table and will do a terrific job for the lucky employer that she chooses to work for,” says Sue Montgomery, Director of Research and Development for SJVC.
Megan hopes to set an example for all who struggle with PTSD or repercussions from abuse. “The one thing I’ve always wanted to be is there for somebody,” she says. She wants her experience, her recovery and her words to help others.
“Be brave enough to ask for help,” says Megan. “Find one trustworthy person you can sit down with. Look into their eyes and tell them everything. Sometimes it’s a stranger who cares. Allow somebody in and you will find the rest of the way to getting better.”
There are resources in most every community. “I highly suggest the VA (Veterans Administration) for veterans. They helped me to reassemble my life.”
Megan is on her way. “Within the next year or two, I see myself being married and having an amazing job. I know the low points I feel I will be able to handle, and it won’t take me over.”
Her message of help and healing will find the right eyes and ears.
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