By Dana Delgado
Nothing that Liberty Hill resident Roy Pereira faced in the U.S. Army could have prepared him for the nightmare he would experience when he left.
When the military short-circuited his plans of “making it a career,” the serviceman, who had trained as a combat engineer and a heavy demolition expert, was in shellshock. His deployments to Iraq involved perilous route clearance duty where he was called upon to detonate and disarm explosives. His unexpected and uncharted route out of the Army presented a whole new definition of peril and survival that he had never known before.
“When I found out I was getting released, it was really scary,” said Pereira.
His skills from his military occupational specialty were hardly transferable to the civilian work world and those he had were unrecognized by businesses because they had never been officially certified and therefore not creditable.
Per military protocol, Pereira’s final military pay would be delayed and issued 30-60 days after his release. Although the Iraq veteran participated in the military’s out processing program, Pereira felt ill-informed of resources and ill-prepared to sustain his family with dwindling finances following his release.
He recalls many self-serving organizations that came out of the woodwork with false promises. He found job fairs to be misleading and misguiding.
“There were programs that made some big promises,” he said, “but they wouldn’t deliver. They were just ready to rip you off. Other organizations wanted your educational money. And at job fairs, you had to pay for interviews that didn’t produce any results.”
He would soon learn that the state’s telephone-only system that supports the Unemployment Insurance Compensation would not efficiently or effectively meet his dire needs — a challenge that remains unsolved with an appeal pending. Credit cards and loans would sustain them for a while. Near penniless, the Liberty Hill couple says they sold all their belongings including their furniture and clothing.
“The house is empty,” Pereira said. “It’s completely empty. We had to sell everything.”
At stake were the health and welfare of his wife, Evelyn, and their two special needs children. Pereira himself was suffering from hearing loss and what would later be diagnosed as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Also in jeopardy was their Liberty Hill home.
With all doors to opportunities seemingly closed and the walls of debt closing in on them, the Pereiras intensified their search on the internet including linking with others on LinkedIn for that something or someone that would be their lifeline.
As luck would have it, the couple connected with Len Swanson, a Vietnam veteran who had grown weary of the plight of veterans returning to civilian life and had founded a non-profit organization, Global Energy Technologies Institute (GETI). The organization promised to provide career assessment, counseling and job placement services in the energy, construction, and facility trades industries at no cost to the service member.
“I started working three weeks later in the Houston area, thanks to Len Swanson and his GETI careers,” Pereira said. “Unfortunately, I was subsequently laid off from Bay LTD on Dec. 20, 2013.”
Other doors have opened, however, and the prospects that once seemed impossible are being realized. The Pereiras have now become a part of the GETI team as advocates for the organization. The organization has now become GETI Alliance and is on the verge of becoming a major player in providing a seamless and comprehensive transition for service members leaving the military.
Pereira is not unlike many servicemen and women who seek a better life for themselves and their families by joining the armed forces.
The good-natured man had made his way to the east coast from his homeland in Portugal. He would meet Evelyn while the two worked for a New Jersey bus company.
The amiable young woman that would capture his heart was busily consumed with her work driving the route that would take her to the World Trade Center. He was a jokester, flirty and ready in a New York minute to garner her attention, she said. Once when she needed repairs done at her home, Pereira vowed that he was a jack of all trades and could handle the job.
He saw opportunity. She saw that much needed repairs would get done. After making three visits to assess the work, there was an air of electricity but not necessarily between the two of them. Those sparks were coming from his attempt at some electrical work while she repeatedly asked if it wasn’t better to disconnect the power.
With both hands on some wires while standing atop a ladder, Pereira fell from his perch. A disaster had been averted, but it would spark their relationship. They began dating shortly thereafter and were married after only a few months.
Several months after getting married, the ever-kidding native of Portugal went to see some military recruiters in Massachusetts as “a joke,” thinking all along that he was ineligible since he only “had a green card” (work permit).
After talking to them all, he found out he did qualify and decided a military career wasn’t such a bad idea.
“After all, there was a guaranteed job,” he said.
In October 2000, nearly a year after getting married and about 12 months before Sept. 11, 2001, Pereira enlisted in the U.S. Army.