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When I was 17 years old, I had little-to-no plans for my future besides graduating high school. I always had a strong desire to serve my country and considered myself a patriot at heart. I knew I had to do something that would not only provide me with income, but would also provide me with real-life experience and skills that would drive my future. The choice was simple: I decided to enlist in the United States Marine Corps.

I served as a Marine from 2000–2005 gaining a wide variety of skills from mechanical inclination to leadership as an airframe hydraulic mechanic for CH-46E helicopters. When I left the Corps, I had college on my mind and started at a community college before attending a traditional four-year university. Once again, I wanted to get the best bang for my buck and so I majored in construction management with hopes of joining the workforce as a field engineer.

After graduating in 2011, I got my dream job working for a large construction company in Texas. I enjoyed the construction field, but something was missing. I worked with a lot young college graduates with little real-life or work experience. And I desired for the comradery I had with my fellow Marines. Although I worked with some very capable individuals, my future was not developing the way I had hoped, so I decided to make a change.

One Sunday evening I applied to an oil service company without a whole lot of expectations. By that Friday, I was contacted for a phone interview and eventually landed the job as a field specialist working in the Gulf of Mexico. This is a standard entry-level position for most oil service companies. The first year of employment is very demanding, and in my opinion this is when you decide if you like the industry or not. The recruiters were very upfront about the challenges I would face if I took the job, and all the recruiters had started in the same position before working their way up.

I have been in the oil and gas service industry now for over a year and the things I have learned about the business have kept me engaged and excited about my future. The key thing that I most enjoy is the fact that it is a veteran-friendly environment. The employers in the oil and gas industry make it a point to seek out and hire military veterans for our specialized skill sets. They see the technical training, leadership skills, and problem-solving abilities we developed in the military as indispensable skills rarely taught in a classroom.

There are a lot of benefits that the oil and gas industry provide to veterans. But, if you are like me and did not grow up around the industry, you may not be aware of the opportunities this industry offers. Some of the largest oil companies in the world have fast-track programs specifically designed for service members. These programs can place an individual in a variety of fields that will get you started in the industry and no oil and gas experience is needed. You already have the basic job skills these employers are looking for; they provide the job-specific training.

I have met countless individuals who started their careers in the oil and gas industry in this exact way. Many told me they met recruiters at job fairs specifically targeting military veterans and were practically hired on the spot. Had I been aware of these opportunities I may have found my career path much faster. Additionally, while I don’t regret getting my college degree, I have found that most positions in the oil and gas industry require experience and training, rather than a college education.

This is a small industry that needs new life as current employees are reaching the retirement age. The financial rewards are high and the health care and retirement benefits are comparable to any other major corporation. If you’re a transitioning service member trying to decide what your future outside the military looks like, then I recommend the oil and gas industry. The lifestyle can be demanding at times, but no more demanding than deployments and the rigors endured during a tour of duty.
Joseph Calouche is a former Marine currently working offshore in the Gulf of Mexico for the world’s largest oil service company.