From Warrior to Welder: One Veteran’s Path to a Career in Welding

Ernesto Gomez grew up in Detroit. In 1988 he joined the U.S. Army thinking that nothing of lasting consequence would occur during his time in the military. Imagine his surprise when he found himself standing guard as the Berlin Wall fell in 1990. And as if the crumbling of the Soviet Union weren’t epic enough, he was called into the First Gulf War the following year. Gomez may have gotten more than he bargained for, but he met the challenge and served his country with honor for four years. What then?

Like most veterans, he returned home and got down to the process of returning to civilian life. As we reported in our recent post, Negative Stereotypes Hamper Veterans’ Employment Opportunities that’s not always easy for veterans to do. Fortunately, Ernesto found help from the United Auto Workers (UAW) and the Ford Motor Company.

The two organizations are working together to provide welding training to military veterans at the UAW-Ford Technical Training Center in Lincoln Park, Michigan. Gomez was one of the first eight veterans chosen to participate in the program.

Some of the eight initial veterans had suffered a disability in the service. Others, like Ernesto, were facing financial crisis. Regardless of the reason, they were all struggling to secure jobs. Although Ernesto went into the program with no prior welding experience, he found that the skills he acquired in the military allowed him to easily transition into the trade.

“My fellow veterans and I were able to apply the determination, discipline and attention to detail that we learned in the Armed Forces when we were offered the opportunity by the UAW and Ford to learn, and earn our certificates in, welding,” Ernesto said.

The first class of the Veterans Welding Program, including administrators, instructors, and students. Ernesto is kneeling second from the right.  (1st Row) Chris Crump, Rocky Di Iacovo, Steve Coak, Nathan Kuharsky, Gene Szymaniak, Noble Smith, Charles Hill, Mike Kerr (2nd Row) Matt Zentz, Charles Carlin, Mike Rynicki, Ernesto Gomez, John McCollum
The first class of the Veterans Welding Program, including administrators, instructors, and students. Ernesto is kneeling second from the right.
(1st Row) Chris Crump, Rocky Di Iacovo, Steve Coak, Nathan Kuharsky, Gene Szymaniak, Noble Smith, Charles Hill, Mike Kerr
(2nd Row) Matt Zentz, Charles Carlin, Mike Rynicki, Ernesto Gomez, John McCollum

“All eight of us who completed the six- week program were tested and awarded a UAW-Ford Welding Course Certificate in GMAW (MIG), GTAW (TIG), Plasma Cutting, Oxy-Fuel Cutting, Oxy-Fuel Welding, and SMAW – 1G, 2G, 3G, 4G Welding.”

“And as extra support we were all offered the opportunity to complete the American Welding Society (AWS) certification test for any of the ‘G’, 1-4 positions. I tested and passed the 3G welding certification test in SMAW through an outside testing source called The National Testing and Research Laboratory, Inc. And I was also registered with the American Welding Society.”

Ernesto was impressed by the course. “Everything was so professionally well planned and properly equipped. They spared no expense when it came to our education and also provided us with all the equipment a welder requires to exercise his trade.” The veterans were taught safety and blueprint reading along with welding proficiency in the classroom.

“Both in the classroom and on the floor the staff was incredibly patient and treated every Veteran with the utmost respect. Every day felt to me as if we were with family because of all the love and respect everyone at the training center, from the instructors, to the office personnel, and even the security guard, showed us,” Ernesto said. “It was an incredible learning experience and not one veteran wanted the course to end. “

“Initially I didn’t know that I would love being a welder. I actually was in the process of earning a degree in Process Technology when this fantastic opportunity was offered to me. It definitely has impacted my life in such a positive way, because now I know what I want to do for a career.”

“I like the satisfaction and am extremely prideful when I help the team create something out of metal which serves a purpose. I hope to eventually become a Welder Journeyman. I want to work with a company which will help me earn my journeyman’s card in the welding skills trade and help me develop those skills with the final result of becoming a Master Welder; which I understand is a process that takes time. “

As of the date of this article was published, Ernesto is well on his way to doing just that. He and a few other vet graduates from the Ford-UAW/Wounded Warriors welding program are working at the Ford Woodhaven Stamping Plant Motor Company. They expect to join the skilled trades department as soon as they begin to accept new welders and then start working on their journeyman’s card.

Yet, Ernesto recommends the Veteran Welding Program even to those who aren’t sure about a career in welding.  “To any Veteran who is considering undertaking the Veteran Welding Program, I would tell them that it will impact them in the most positive way, even if they don’t pursue it past the classroom. Plus they are going to absolutely love it. They should be prepared to give the instructors their best on a daily basis because the staff is giving you their best every second of the day.”

“To employers, I urge them to hire vets every chance they get, because it is patriotic. It’s also smart and you’re giving a great person who has served the country they love the opportunity to impress you daily with their commitment to do great work. I’m sure that the employers won’t regret it.”

The course is six weeks long. If you’d like more information about enrolling, visit the Wounded Warriors Veterans Welding Training Program web page.

Join us next week when we take an even closer look at the efforts of UAW-Ford’s outreach and training program, including the work they do with Wounded Warriors Family Support to reach out to disabled veterans. Until then, we invite you to visit our website at American Welding Online, where you can find online courses, virtual conferences, and other digital tools to help you further your welding career.

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