Meet Trish Ross
Retired Colonel, US Air Force
Chief Operating Officer, VECTR Center-Georgia Veterans Education Career Transition Resource Center
WoVeN Peer Leader, Warner Robins, GA
Tell us about your military background.
I come from a legacy of military service. My grandfather served in WWII and my dad is a Vietnam Veteran from the Air Force. For most of my life I idolized my dad. He’s always been my hero. He and my mom taught me the value of serving others and serving my country. I’ve always been persistent and was determined that I would pay for college on my own, so I decided to follow in my father’s footsteps and serve in the Air Force. I applied and was awarded a ROTC scholarship. I thought I would join for the minimal time possible, get my benefits and see the world. I didn’t think I would make a career of it. In fact, an instructor in my field training told me I’d never make it in the Air Force because I was a woman and was too nice, that I needed to be tougher and more like a guy or I never would be successful. But I learned in 25 years of serving I didn’t need to change who I was and that I loved it! I had the opportunity to change career fields, but I loved the mission and loved the people and I wasn’t ready to get out. I found a passion.
I joined the Air Force after receiving my bachelor’s degree in Math from the University of Tampa and then received a master’s in systems engineering management at St. Mary’s University while I was serving as a Lieutenant. I started as an Analyst in the Air Force Personnel Center, but I broadened my position and cross-trained and ended up in Human Resources, which enabled me to lead and get command opportunities. I really enjoyed the people and the challenges. I learned to keep moving and keep persisting, and I found people who believed in me and helped me to progress as an officer. I never took a job to get promoted though. I often took jobs in areas where I had no experience because I thought they would broaden me. I was stationed in Germany and Italy, and then worked for the Air Force Inspector General in a position that had me traveling all over the country and the world to include Central America and the Middle East. I was also chosen to be a senior fellow with the RAND Corporation. I retired in 2014 as full Colonel, and served as the Vice Commander of the 78th Air Base Wing at Robins Air Force Base.
What was the most rewarding aspect of your service?
Part of the Human Resources field involves crisis action and accountability, and working one-on-one with people. Higher up in leadership you have more responsibility, but you often lose sight of the individual. What I most valued about what I did was working one-on-one helping individuals. Even when they are at the worst possible time of their life, you can help them through whatever that is and see that there are possibilities on the other side. That’s one of the reasons I do what I do now, to give people that hope.
What inspired you to become involved working with Veterans?
I knew that I wanted to be involved in education and training to help fellow Veterans. I worked in education and training for the Air Force at the Pentagon and learned a lot from that experience. I also knew that I wanted to help Veterans transition. I saw in my own life that my father did not transition well. When he got out of military, he struggled to find his place and to find a job. He had military experience but no one wanted to hire someone with his talents. I saw the struggle within him and how hard that was for him. He eventually found his calling in volunteering, and worked for many years for several large volunteer organizations. My husband transitioned out of the military 5 years before I did, and it took him 1 ½ years to find a job. It was only after he obtained his project management certification that he found a good position. This showed me that we’re doing our military members a disservice by not educating them about the employment transition. In fact, they may need to go back to get a credential or a certification to convert their military training into something a civilian employer wants. I’m passionate about what I do because I saw firsthand how it affected the main men in my life, and I want to help others in similar situations.
What was one of the challenges you faced in your transition from military to civilian life?
I was very fortunate to have individuals around me that helped me with the transition, so I was not as challenged as many others in that situation. They say transition is all about networking, getting to know people outside of the installation. Being the Vice Commander, I attended a lot of functions and got to know many of the leaders within the state. I knew of positions available and was having informal interviews even before I retired. Because of the job I got, I was able to be a part of creating the VECTR center. I wouldn’t have had that opportunity at the time if I didn’t have a boss who believed I could do what I’m doing now.
How did you become involved in WoVeN?
I’m in the process of working toward my doctorate and I started researching women Veterans. Through this, I’m becoming more aware of the issues that women Veterans face and I realize the struggles that women Veterans have. But I’m learning about not only the challenges, but about how resilient they are. They are entering higher education at higher rates than male Veterans and are persisting and graduating at higher rates. Wanting to serve the women in this population is another passion of mine that I didn’t see before. I learned about WoVeN through the VA women Veterans site. I didn’t have any preconceived expectations, but hoped to get to know other women Veterans better, because as a woman Veteran myself I don’t have a lot in common with civilian women who haven’t served. I wanted to meet more women who may or may not be like me but who had some of the same experiences. I wanted to make friends and see if what I was learning and doing at VECTR could potentially help any of them. We were a very diverse group of 11 women, but found out that we had so much in common. The group recognized that we all face the same challenges and had many of the same things happen to us in our military careers, just because we were women. It was enlightening and incredibly bonding for all of us.
Tell us about the mission of your organization.
The VECTR Center (Georgia Veterans Education Career Transition Resource Center) is a one-stop shop for military Veterans and families in Georgia. We provide resources for education, training, employment, workforce development, and connection to community resources. Education and training is a key component to help Veterans enter the workforce more quickly to provide a life and sustain their families. We also help connect Veterans to wraparound services, such as VA benefits, mental health counseling, and connections to stabilized housing. We serve all of Georgia’s Veterans who need help and are always looking to expand and grow. We have been open less than 2 years but it has been a successful model—we have helped over 17,000 individuals! Other states are coming to us to replicate this model. I hope they do develop this in other states, because there is definitely a need.
What advice do you have for women who are transitioning out of the military?
I would say start talking to other women who have transitioned successfully well before you get out, at least 6 months before. Make those connections early. The civilian environment is a different world. You no longer have rank or position to define you. You might have an identity crisis as to who you are, and wonder how to relate to people who you have nothing in common with. Talking to women who have successfully navigated this transition can help. It can also help to figure out who you are and who you want to be once you are no longer in the military. Be prepared for making adjustments in a new job in the civilian world. You need to have people you can talk to about your struggles, because those who haven’t served and haven’t had some of those struggles might not understand.
What would you like to tell women who are thinking of joining WoVeN?
Absolutely join, don’t give it a second thought! You will develop friends for life. That sisterhood you probably have missed since the military, you will find outside the military. There are so many of us that you would never know.