Weathering the storm: An ASU veteran’s career success story

Beckett Aguirre '15 B.A. has used his ASU education and his military experiences to help fellow vets at Honor House.

(Editor’s note: Sun Devil alumnus Beckett Aguirre is a Phoenix native who served in the Marine Corps as a combat veteran of Operation Desert Shield/Storm. He has held positions in several fields since leaving the military, including working as assistant director for the Alhambra School District AOK Program and a realtor for HomeSmart. He now serves as the veterans transition specialist for Honor House.)

I am a Phoenix native and the sixth out of seven children. My mother, Maria Del Carmen Aguirre, was a single parent and raised us by herself while working and providing for us. She is the strongest person I have ever met.  

I knew at a young age that the U.S. Marine Corps offered the challenge I wanted, and I joined at age 17 when I was a senior at Alhambra High School. My mother co-signed for me because I was a minor.

I spent eight years – 1987 to 1995 – in the Marine Corps. During that time, I was stationed overseas twice, with the second time being a deployment to Operation Desert Shield/Storm during the first Gulf War. My unit arrived there seven days after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. We were so early that we were in the desert as a shoestring line of defense to keep Hussein’s forces from invading Saudi Arabia. We were outnumbered 100 to 1, but those are odds Marines live for!

 During my deployment, I worked in the infantry firing anti-tank missiles.  My unit was there for the entire conflict, from Aug. 14, 1990, through the end of fighting on March 23, 1991.  We were a front-line unit, so we saw the brunt of the ground war; it was a difficult thing to go through.

 When I returned home, I realized that I did not feel the same way as when I left. Combat had changed my perspective and I struggled to fit into my old life. I went through the next 15 years trying to "fit in" but truly could not. I eventually mentioned it to my primary doctor around 2010 at the VA and she started me on a road to recovery. I finally talked about my dark demons with a counselor at the Phoenix VA who happened to be a Vietnam Era veteran. After a lot of soul searching, I applied for benefits through the VA and was diagnosed as a disabled veteran, with a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, along with several other ailments that fall under the classification of Gulf War Syndrome.   

Education played a crucial role in my recovery. I had enrolled at Phoenix College a few months after getting out of the Marine Corps, and for ten years, I went to school on and off at night. I accumulated 54 credits, but had not achieved completion of an associate’s degree. But once I was acknowledged as a disabled veteran, I learned that I now qualified for something called Vocational Rehabilitation through the VA.  Once I was approved for the program (which took about a year), I enrolled in 12 credits for the spring semester 2013 at Glendale Community College (GCC) in order to finish my associate’s degree and hit the ground running!  

At the end of 2013, I became dual enrolled at ASU’s West campus as I continued to take classes at GCC to finish my associate’s degree. This was a dream come true for me, since I am from Phoenix and ASU has been a part of the lives of my siblings and I since we were children. I ended up getting my associate’s degree from GCC in the summer of 2014 and followed that with my bachelor’s degree in integrative studies from ASU in the summer of 2015.  I am extremely proud to say that I am the FIRST and ONLY person in my family to graduate from ASU!  

I am a very spiritual person, and my faith also played a role in my career success. While I was attending a combat trauma group meeting at my church, Pure Heart Christian Fellowship, around September 2015, I met some other veterans who had gone through a program called Honor House. I learned it was a program designed to help veterans who have experienced trauma through their military service. I had just left a position working with the VA in their benefits department while I was finishing my college degree. I still had a real estate license that I had acquired in 2005, but business was slow, so I was looking for something more dependable to add to my real estate career. In February 2016, I found out through members of my combat trauma group that Honor House was looking for a veteran transition specialist. 

As I considered whether to apply for the position, the opening seemed like an answer to my prayers. I had just graduated so I felt as if I was more qualified to apply for positions like this now. Also, I had been praying for some time that God would open a door for me that would include serving in some type of spiritual capacity doing that work in a way that served veterans. Honor House is a faith-based organization that serves veterans, so it seemed like an answer to my prayers!  

 I sent my resume to the Honor House board of directors. Even though they were looking for someone with a recreational therapy degree (which I didn’t have) to work part time (when I needed a full-time position), I got hired! They met with me, had me follow up with a second interview with some of their alumni veterans, and they decided to offer me the position at the pay I asked for in a full-time position.  

 As things have turned out, my job, which I began on March 1 of this year, truly has been a perfect fit for me. I have worked with dozens of wounded veterans, and have been blessed to bring some light into their lives. Several of them have even told me that my work has saved some of them from taking their own lives. In the future, I may advance my education by entering a master’s degree in counseling program!

 I give God, Honor House and my fellow Veterans the credit for what has happened, and consider myself only the vessel and navigator who brings our resources to my fellow vets. I would also like to thank ASU for my education, which helped me get to where I wanted to be, as well as all of the amazing professors and staff who helped me to achieve my degree.

 

~ Beckett Aguirre ’15 B.A. is a graduate of the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences on ASU’s West campus.