Every time you buy something online, you kick off a highly intricate process to get the stuff you want from outposts all over the world delivered right to your door step. At some point, that smiling cardboard box probably spent time inside a giant metal shipping container on a cargo jet. These containers are designed to keep boxes safe on the inside, but they are subject to a lot of bangs and bumps on the outside.
When these giant containers need repair, they’re probably going to end up at a unique business in Northern Kentucky. On a sprawling campus near the Cincinnati Northern Kentucky International Airport, 1st Choice Aerospace gets the containers – and many other jetliner components – ready to get back in the air.
The business was started by Chris Yeazel, an Air Force and National Guard veteran of nearly 22 years. From humble beginnings, the company has experienced significant growth as online retail has grown in popularity. And for Yeazel, it’s become a way of giving back to fellow veterans and helping them succeed in their civilian lives.
Yeazel had been working for another company in aircraft maintenance in 2006 when he says his faith intervened and told him to change direction. “I was driving home from work one day and I literally felt like God told me, ‘I’ve equipped you over all these years with all these different tools, it’s time to do something on your own,’” he recalls.
The very low unemployment rate in Greater Cincinnati has created a workforce supply and demand challenge for businesses like 1st Choice Aerospace. There are often more jobs available than there are workers to fill them. Yeazel turned to local nonprofits that serve veterans to provide second-chance employment opportunities to help vets get back on their feet.
Yeazel found a great match with Easterseals Military and Veteran Services, which helps veterans breakthrough their challenges with homelessness, unemployment, and disabling injuries by providing them with educational and employment support to get them ready for the workforce.
“I think when you are giving people a second chance, you have to be ready for some failures. But I think generally we’ve had a lot of success,” Yeazel said. “People have come and they’ve gone and they’ve moved onto better things. It’s not a lifetime job here, we understand that. It’s an opportunity to give a chance in the door, get some discipline set up in your life.”
Yeazel goes on to explain how his company is a good fit for veterans because the work is similar to what they experienced in the military. It tends to be repetitive with a sense of discipline, and there is a supportive environment with veterans in command. He says that it can be tough for the veterans to admit that they need help because they do not want to seem weak, even though they are struggling with a loss of purpose after leaving the military.
“For me that was one of the hardest things. You get out and thrown back into society when you spent years training how to do things and building muscle memory. Then you get out. Now there are a lot better programs in place to help with that,” he says.
Today many veterans are benefitting from their employment at 1st Choice Aerospace, fixing everything from cargo containers to captain’s chairs for major shipping companies. One such veteran is Josh Proctor, a repair tech who started back in February 2019 through Easterseals Military and Veteran Services. Proctor says he loves his job and fellow employees because “every day is a new challenge” and he enjoys “doing something new every day.” He does not have much experience in this line of work, as his background is in Criminal Justice and Corrections, and he is “still learning a lot of new stuff every day.”
When asked how important this job is to him, Proctor says, “Very important. I mean it’s how I make my living. It’s really good because I see a lot of people here are kind of getting a second chance at life. Like for me I had some chemical dependency issues and I got clean, I got a good job, it just kind of keeps me focused and gives me something to do. I make a very good wage, I work with some really good people. A lot of people here are coming from the same background, trying to get a second start at life.”
Through this experience, Proctor feels like he has gained faith, a new way of life, and new skills. For Yeazel, one of the greatest rewards is being able to show others that success takes many forms and many pathways. “It’s been cool to be part of an organization that cares about veterans,” Yeazel explains. “It’s just a matter of caring for people.”