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Education Fuels Sergeant’s Career Shift
Long gone are the days of holding one steady job over a lifetime. Baby boomers born in the latter years of that era (1957–1964) have held an average of about 11 jobs, with nearly half of those coming before age 25, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Staff Sergeant Doris Wood of the Tennessee Army National Guard has had two careers—in graphic arts and in the military—and at age 58, she’s pursuing her third, with aspirations to work for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs as a social worker for aging Veterans. Having begun her second bachelor’s degree at Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN, two years ago, Wood says she has finally found her calling, thanks to benefits and life lessons she’s gained by being in the Guard.
“My ultimate goal is to be a social worker in the palliative care [in-house hospice] section of the VA, helping Soldiers and their families through struggles and getting their lives back on track,” she says.
Wanting to give back to her military family stems from learning Army Values, says Wood, a disabled Veteran, who is no stranger to personal struggles.
From age 3, Wood grew up in an orphanage in Cullman, AL. At age 22, she graduated with her first degree in graphic arts from David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University) in 1978. “I was not prepared for the world,” Wood says. “[I was] alone and out on my own after finishing college. I could not make ends meet in graphics jobs. I was experimenting with negative behaviors, [which was] leading me down a negative path and would no doubt cause others and myself future distress.”
At age 25, the U.S. military saved her life.
“I approached a crossroads,” Wood says. “I needed some form of discipline if I was to make anything of myself.” In 1982, she joined the Army Reserve, serving from 1982 to 1995. “It was the best decision I have ever made,” she says. “Little did I know that decision would make such a huge impact on my life today and on others that have benefited from this choice.”
After her contract ended in 1995, Wood chose not to re-enlist but regretted it soon thereafter. “I was seriously involved in my career as a graphic artist, which I resumed after returning from Basic Training,” Wood says. “The demands on my time were so overwhelming I felt I could not do both. I had always wanted to rejoin, but I did not know that I could, nor did I pursue the knowledge to find out if it was possible.”
Although an unlikely Guard candidate at age 52, Wood was eager to once again serve her country. In 2007, a retired National Guard member and friend opened the doors to her re-enlistment. “She made a few calls, hooked me up with a recruiter, and the rest is history. To my surprise and excitement, I passed all of the requirements,” Wood says. “I rejoined in 2007, and I deployed to Iraq in 2009.”
She deployed with the 267th Military Police Company, Tennessee Army National Guard, out of Dickson, TN, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“Our mission was to train the Iraqis to be police officers and take care of their own security,” she says. “I remember the sacrifices of being in Iraq; being there reminded me of how lucky and proud I was to live in such a beautiful and free country: America. To this day, I never take for granted my surroundings, my freedom and the people I encounter on a daily basis. I am so proud to have served the people and my country; I would do it repeatedly if needed.”
In 2011, Wood deployed again—this time to Kuwait—with the 230th Sustainment Brigade out of Chattanooga, TN, returning in 2012. There, she spent 10 months helping to oversee the transport of U.S. equipment and personnel across the border from various U.S. posts in Iraq before troop withdrawal. “Our mission was to close down the war in Iraq, close bases and send all of the Soldiers home. We made history there,” Wood said. “By the time we left, the Soldiers were out of Iraq.”
When she returned home, however, she soon found herself unemployed.
“Coming home, I found it was very difficult to find a job that would pay me to maintain my monthly financial obligations,” Wood says. So she turned to the Guard and to higher education for a new opportunity.
NEXT GOAL: MASTER'S
Now a human resources specialist (MOS 42A) assigned to the Joint Force Headquarters (JFHQ) in Nashville, Wood works in the U.S. Property and Fiscal Office (USPFO) division, processing the service readiness paperwork (insurance and pay stubs) for Soldiers upon deployment and redeployment. She is also qualified as a master resilience trainer. “I help other qualified trainers lead resilience training sessions, and I have traveled to Yellow Ribbon functions, training resilience to deploying and redeploying Soldiers and their families,” Wood says.
Wood says she is also active with Guard weekend drills and has completed ADOS (Active Duty orders) working for JFHQ when needed as support for the J9 Yellow Ribbon and family support section.
“The balance is good,” Wood says. “I fall under a leadership that supports my education by allowing me to make up drills when school gets in the way of weekend drills, or they accommodate my Annual Training around my school schedule. While transitioning back into my civilian life, being involved in school has been a supportive distraction. The goals I have set—to work with Veterans and the aging after completing my degrees—have given me a purpose and a focus.”
To lay the foundation for her dream job, Wood says she will pursue her master’s degree after receiving her bachelor's in social work (BSW) at Lipscomb.
“I want to help serve the Soldiers,” Wood says, who is currently interning as an outreach service representative at the Hendersonville Senior Citizens Center in Middle Tennessee, of which many regulars at the center are WWII Veterans. “Social work is too important to take any shortcuts. In order to help Veterans, I have to have a master’s, and that is important to me to help those with whom I share a common ground.”
Fortunately, paying for her college education was a challenge she didn’t have to endure alone this time. “As a disabled Vet, I receive the Vocational Rehabilitation educational and career benefits,” Wood says. “This great benefit has made it possible for me to get my education and give me hope for a career and a future in helping others.”
Although Wood did not qualify for Lipscomb’s Yellow Ribbon Program—service members need to qualify for 100 percent of the funding they are eligible for from the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and Wood qualified for only 80 percent—she says Lipscomb’s Veterans Services Office gave her options and supported her in finding out what military financial resources she did qualify for in order to obtain an education.
MAKING IT WORK
Wood’s return to the university has been fruitful. Lipscomb’s social work program director and chair, Professor Hazel Arthur, nominated her for a BSW Student of the Year award from the Middle Branch, National Association of Social Workers (NASW of Tennessee), which she accepted during an awards ceremony on March 19. On April 21, Wood will receive the Jeanne Bowman Award for her studies at Lipscomb University, given annually to a graduating senior who most exhibits perseverance and determination in pursuit of professional social work education. She was also recently inducted into Phi Alpha, a national social work honor society.
Other Soldiers should take advantage of the educational benefits that the Guard gives them, Wood says.
“I hope I am setting an example of what it means to take the benefits the military offers to put you back into the civilian workforce doing what you are good at and what you enjoy doing. My need to help others is now a reality,” Wood says. “If you have a dream and a focus, you can do anything. The military will support you and educate you to follow that dream.”
Wood will walk with her class at graduation on May 3. Her internship wraps up in August, when she will officially receive her diploma, graduating magna cum laude. In May 2015, Wood will start her Master of Social Work (MSW) program at the University of Tennessee's College of Social Work in Nashville.
“A lot of people don’t go into the unknown because of lack of knowledge,” Wood says. “It doesn’t matter at what age. [A higher education] makes a difference.”
Earn a Degree
To find out if you or your family members are eligible for free or reduced tuition rates in pursuit of a degree at Lipscomb University, visit Veterans Services.
Want to know more?
Get more information about the Post-9/11 GI Bill Yellow Ribbon Program and other resources for Veterans from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.