A Soldier’s Story: An Interview with Army Specialist Jorel Covin on Family, Finances and Service

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Like many of today’s veteran’s, Army Specialist and aspiring entrepreneur Jorel Covin saw the military as an opportunity and route of escape from inner city pressures and a pursuit for a better life. Similar to many of today’s youth, Covin was raised without his biological father, bullied and wanted to earn quick money. Within six days after graduating from high school he arrived at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island welcomed by an impeccably groomed drill instructor shouting the infamous phrase, “Get on my yellow footprints!” This was the beginning of a military career that yielded many great experiences; however when faced with establishing a better life for his family this father quickly realized some assignments came without orders.

MTS: Tell me a little about yourself.

SC: I’m a Specialist in the Army Reserves and my wife of ten years is Active Duty Army. We have three beautiful children: thirteen, nine and seven.

MTS: Why the military?

SC: I mainly wanted to get rich quick. I wanted the clothes, new car, high credit limits, girls and everything else that would make me look and feel like a baller. I was also bullied as a kid and wanted to prove something to myself and my bullies. I wanted to leave my small town and see the world. I thought it was an easy ride to pay for school and travel.

MTS: Tell me about life prior to the military.

SC: My mother worked very hard to support my brother, sister and I. Although she divorced my dad when I was about 5 years old, I was well taken care of. I had good grades in high school, but didn’t reach my full potential because I wanted to be cool and hang out. My hometown is small and I just wanted to get away. I didn’t have a clear plan or vision. I saw the military as a free ride to simply get away and experience something different.

MTS: Tell me about your military career.

SC: I did two years in the Corps, one year in the guard, and currently serving in the IRR (Individual Ready Reserve).

MTS: What were some of the most important lessons you learned in the Corps?

SCWell, the military is black or white; either you like it or you don’t. I learned a lot of important things, especially resilience and a “suck it up and drive on” kind of mentality. The military taught me how to roll with the punches and get the job done. This helped me because when things didn’t go my way after I got out, I had to learn to be flexible and roll with it. I learned some things in the military, but I also had a great mom that taught me. The military is partly responsible for this, but my mama had already instilled values in me.

MTS: What was the adjustment like after being released from your initial term with the Marines?

SC: It was kind of tough. As I said when I enlisted I didn’t have goals, a plan or anything and that didn’t change for me. It was tough trying to find a job because I was competing with other veterans that had more qualifications and higher rank than me. I went back to the same neighborhood, saw some of the same people and worked the same job I had before I left. It was at a country club.  I didn’t really know how to manage my money so I didn’t have anything and had to start over. It was really tough.

MTS: What were your expectations about life during and after the military?

SC: Well, I thought I was going to have a lot of money for college, have a job after getting out, but realized that wasn’t the case. Although the military teaches you a lot of skills; the military is not going to hold your hand. You have to take the initiative to ask questions, find out about programs that help you and learn how to grow up so you can survive in the civilian world. The success of the soldier falls on the service member. I didn’t start with a plan so I got nowhere. I needed help and I had to adapt and overcome.

MTS: Would you say the military prepared you for life after duty?

SC: Well, like I said you have to take initiative. In some ways it did and in others it didn’t, but my success isn’t the military’s responsibility. It’s mine, so I had to make some choices in my life. I’ve made some mistakes and some good decisions, but I’ve grown and learned.

MTS: What are some of the other things you have learned?

SC: The military’s pay isn’t enough for my family and I. With higher rank comes higher pay.  For a single person it’s cool, but I have a family. I have to work another job. The truth is you don’t join the military to get rich. If you think you will; you’re going to have a rude awakening. I mean it’s good security because you know how much you’re getting paid and when you’re getting paid. You have good health benefits and insurance. That’s something we all need and we have it as service members.

MTS: What are some of your future aspirations?

SC: I want to help the youth and other veterans have hope and let them know about the resources that are out there. Just because I’ve made some mistakes doesn’t mean they have to; I want to help them in life. I also want to start a Christian promotions company to spread some positive messages in the world. My wife wants to start a women’s shelter to help them [women] deal with the real struggles they go through. I’m also leaning towards becoming a teacher by taking advantage of the Troops to Teachers program.

MTS: From the things you’ve told me it sounds like there are a couple of themes resurfacing. Some of them are: taking personal responsibility, the importance of planning and power of making quality decisions. Does this sound about right?

SC: Yes, that’s about right. People have to understand just because you join the military doesn’t mean you don’t have to plan and work on your future. I mean it’s not for everyone because only about one percent of the US population serve.  If you’re young and considering the military then ship off tomorrow! Learn to plan and use the benefits you will get like the networking skills, world travel and interactions with different types of people. Be smart and use it to your advantage.

MTS: What advice would you give someone on being successful?

SCWhen you can’t see the finish line, just work the path you’re on. Don’t be afraid to leave home because it will be right here when you get back. Have a relationship with God and keep Him first. Keep your record clean because you will need to have a good reputation. It will open up doors for you later. Know that it’s never too late. My wife was twenty-seven and a high school drop out with three kids when she changed her life. She got a GED while I was deployed, took the ASVAB three times, took remedial classes and loaded 15 college hours in a single semester at one point just to enlist. All of this while raising a family. If she can do it, then you can as well. We got to a point where we got sick and tired of living under. We got tired of depending on the system for assistance and realized it was keeping us under. It was just enough to make it, but not enough to be satisfied; we got tired of that. I was a grown man and wanted to take personal responsibility. At first it was hard but we made a covenant between each other and God and moved in faith. My leadership built up my wife’s leadership and now I am a support for her as she prepares to deploy for her first tour in Afghanistan. Just don’t give up and work what’s in front of you. You’re not ready to reach two thousand if you can’t reach two.

Jorel’s story is similar to that of many veterans. While there are many benefits that derive from service, there are some inescapable life lessons crucial in your success. The military can accelerate, and even amplify some of these lessons, but it doesn’t replace them. Jorel and his wife are an incredible example of the power of planning, taking personal responsibility and persistence. I encourage you in whatever your life’s course to learn from these lessons and be a proactive agent in your success! For more info on veteran programs and assistance, please contact your local Veterans Affairs Office.

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