One thing that most veterans miss when they leave the military, especially after being deployed to a combat zone, is a sense of mission. The mission may be to watch out for your brother or sister next to you; it could be an assigned task to support the success of the larger mission; or it could be to help the civilians you encounter. I was fortunate enough to experience all three.

My job as a Civil Affairs Specialist involved working with civilians in the combat zone, trying to ensure they had what they needed so that the population didn’t become refugees, as well as infrastructure rebuilding. I remember pulling security while we walked through open-air markets in Iraq, with other team members gathering the prices of goods and asking if anything was becoming too scarce. Tracking this data could give advance warning about upcoming issues. Sometimes, we would buy cookies or junk food at the markets. It was nice having access to junk food, but it also helped to improve the Iraqi view of us when they saw us supporting the local economy.

It was the infrastructure rebuilding work that set me on my long and winding path to Parsons. While I did not know much about construction, I was helping to solicit bids on projects, tracking progress, and paying contractors. At 19 years old, I was working in construction, with more power and responsibility than many people experience in their entire lives. It was a strange existence.

When I left the service, I continued my search for mission and meaning. I completed a master’s degree and kept looking for jobs where I could make a difference. I was working with veterans, helping those who were homeless or at risk to find work, when my current boss, Dan Sloan (Vice President of Labor Relations at Parsons) pulled me aside at a Veterans Collaborative Meeting.

I did not realize Dan was asking me to apply for the job, I thought he was asking me to find someone, so the look on his face was priceless as I kept asking probing questions about the job. Dan sold the position well and I applied to help get HireLAX (unnamed at the time) off the ground as part of Dan’s Labor Relations Division of Parsons under the contract at LAWA (Los Angeles World Airports, aka LAX).

Since I started seven years ago, we have moved hundreds of people out of poverty and into the middle class through the HireLAX Apprenticeship Readiness Program and our partnerships with other similar programs. We have helped thousands more, who live near the airport or in Los Angeles, to kickstart their career at LAX by enforcing the local hire provisions, finally bringing LAWA to their goal of 30% local hires.

Christina with U.S. Congresswoman Maxine Waters

Working with the HireLAX program is an incredible experience. In eight weeks, we prepare community members for careers in construction. Most of our students have zero construction experience and have no connection to these incredible opportunities. We help them develop a sense of confidence that they can succeed in this career, teach them the culture, and then introduce them to the unions and contractors that perform work at LAX and other local projects.

One of my favorite parts of the job is walking onto a construction site, hearing someone call my name, and realizing it is one of our graduates. Many of them are now buying homes, taking their families on trips, having a chance at retirement, no longer afraid of what the next day will bring.

We have graduates who spent decades in prison who are now living amazing lives; people who grew up being told they were nothing now making more than their parents could dream; and women who were told that these high paying, excellent jobs were not for them now kicking butt on job sites. It is an incredible project to be involved in.

Parsons has allowed me to continue my work with veterans by remaining a member of the Los Angeles Veterans Collaborative. Currently, I co-chair the Career Advancement Subcommittee, working with other agencies and case managers to bring more veterans into this amazing field. I love remaining tied into all the goings-on of the veteran community and love being able to connect with my fellow veterans at job fairs and events.

Parsons worked hard to secure the Program Management contract for the Landside Access Modernization Program (LAMP) at LAX, which also brought me closer to more colleagues within the company. I have had the pleasure of meeting other truly passionate people who are doing their part to change the landscape of this community.

Many who work on the program recognize the impact they and the company have on our communities. I recognize that feeling may be unique to employees in the field, but please let me relay this back to our 17,000 colleagues around the world: The work we do changes communities. We put people to work. We change lives. We make communities safer and more efficient. Ask around – someone will be able to tell you about the impact you have had.

Parsons has given me the opportunity to continue the mission. I feel incredibly fortunate and grateful to be a part of a company that values making a difference.

About The Author

In her role as the local Hire Coordinator for Construction at LAX, Christina Watkins manages LAWA’s participation in the HireLAX Apprenticeship Readiness Program out of Los Angeles Southwest College; and facilitates new and local construction workers into ongoing LAX projects and other projects nearby, advancing opportunities for local residents, women, and minorities into good paying, union jobs. Christina enlisted into the U.S. Army Reserves at 17 and was in basic training over September 11th, 2001. She deployed to Iraq during the initial push into the country and again in 2006. She was introduced to construction during her time in the army where she served two tours in Iraq, earning a Bronze Star and Combat Action Badge. Christina has a Master of Arts Degree in Organizational Behavior from Alliant International University.

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