Chimsadka Uk, as told to Jeffrey Jack, Program Manager
My name is Chimsakda “Chuck” Uk. I’m a Marine Corps combat veteran and a proud member of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) family. In the Marines we had a saying, “If you do what is easy, your life will be hard. But if you do what is hard, your life will be easy.” Hard is what we did in the Marines. However, if you had told me 10 years ago that after my discharge from the Marine Corps I would one day become a federal employee, I wouldn’t have thought it easy. Why, you ask? Well, the reason is deadly serious. Like many combat veterans, I never thought I would survive my Afghanistan deployment in 2010–11 — much less have the opportunity this great country has afforded me in completing both my bachelor’s and master’s in business administration. Add to that the chance of landing my dream career with CBP and I would have called you crazy but, again, doing what was hard made my life easy.
After leaving the Marines, I tried to navigate the civilian world with no guidance and full of confusion — a sad reality that is a growing concern among my brothers and sisters in the veteran community. Being a recently separated Marine combat veteran and finding and actually landing a job felt impossible. “I’m sorry, but you do not qualify for the position” or “Thank you for applying, but we have decided to move forward with other candidates” was the usual response to my job applications. I became resigned to the fact that this would be my new normal. But with grit, perseverance and faith, I kept going long enough to find out about the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Non-Paid Work Experience (NPWE) internship program partnership with CBP that would eventually give me the opportunity to prove myself in a federal setting.
I first learned about NPWE while enrolled in the VA’s Veterans Readiness and Employment (VR&E) program. VR&E is a benefits program that provides 48 months of educational assistance and job placement to veterans with 20% or more military service–connected disability conditions, like me. During a routine meeting with my VA counselor, we were discussing next steps after completing my degree program, when my counselor referenced an email he’d received from Jeff Jack, CBP’s national Veterans Employment Program manager (VEPM), stating that CBP was hiring. The email asked veterans to please reach out to Mr. Jack and informed me that I could use the NPWE internship program to enter the federal government after completing my training through VR&E.
I did not hesitate to establish communication with Mr. Jack and I also looped in my VA counselor to the discussion. Mr. Jack connected me with the Office of Facilities and Assets Management (OFAM) in Laguna Niguel, California, for an interview and shortly thereafter, I was accepted into a NPWE internship in that office. I began my internship with OFAM in June 2019. I was very eager to understand my duties and acquire new skills so that I could become an asset for the department. I felt empowered to be able to do so in a federal setting instead of being stuck on the outside looking in for so many years post–military service. What a godsend! I was determined to show up and show out, which is exactly what I did, thanks to this opportunity.
After completing nine months of learning various duties, constant networking and doing what was hard, OFAM approached me with the “easy” and officially hired me as a management and program analyst (GS-11). It’s been a long and hard journey from thinking I’d never make it out of the mountains of Afghanistan to completing an MBA and joining the CBP family in my dream job. Without the help of many compassionate individuals, like my VA counselor and my OFAM mentor, and a strong veteran advocate in Mr. Jack, I’d still be out there like many of my brothers and sisters from all military branches who are just as qualified and as eager as I am to prove that they belong.
The warrior ethos engrained in combat veterans is, “Leave no man behind.” That is why I’ve told you my story today, in the hopes that you too will reach out to Mr. Jack and learn how you can leverage this amazing NPWE internship program to continue the fight to protect our homeland while at the same time realizing your own career aspirations — for you and your family. I believe the NPWE program is a great resource for veterans and other CBP divisions. With the guidance, vision and advocacy of Mr. Jack, we can bring other veterans home to the CBP family.
At CBP, we encourage our hiring managers and veterans to take advantage of NPWE, a unique pathway to joining the agency, that has yielded a 99% successful hire rate of participants since its rollout at the outset of fiscal year 2014. Applicants have been hired in a variety of positions in a range of GS-series and grades, including entry specialist, paralegal specialist, management and program analyst, IT specialist, CBP technician, intelligence, congressional liaison specialist, mission support specialist, etc. Please email Jeff Jack at email@example.com CBP’s national VEPM, for more information on how to participate in this program.
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