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Angel Pla - Veteran

Digital Coach
“After 9/11, I knew I wanted to serve my country…After a few years as a reservist, I decided to go full-time’”.

Angel Pla doesn’t remember much about the friends he made growing up. Names and faces blur.  

“We grew up nomadic,” he says. “I was a Navy brat, my father a submariner.  We’d make friends, then move on”.

Making quick connections with people would prove an invaluable skill in Angel’s later career in retail. But that was decades away. What intrigued him in his teens was architecture.

“I loved the attention to detail!”

Full of optimism and ambition, he began community college. Eighteen months later, he was forced to leave.

“Money. My family was going through some hard times and I needed to chip in.”

Like so many STARs, college was financially out of Angel’s reach. Instead, he took a job alongside his dad at a manufacturing plant. He also joined the Coast Guard Reserves.

“After 9/11, I knew I wanted to serve my country. First I had to trim down a bit, I was overweight for boot camp! After a few years as a reservist, I decided to go full-time.”

Angel was assigned to the US Coast Guard Cutter Key Biscayne (WPB-1339) stationed in Key West. He felt at home in the service; having been raised in a disciplined, focused family, he found enormous purpose in being part of a tight-knit unit.

Nevertheless, his assignments during those two years at sea were dangerous and enormously stressful, involving regular contraband patrols.

“Three weeks out on the water, one week in. On one operation we were awake a straight thirty-six hours. At the time you’re all pumped up, part of the team. But after an op like that, everyone crashes”.

Angel crashed, too. Hard. Like so many service personnel before and since, the worst of times came during his transition from military to civilian life. He found himself searching for purpose.

“Before, I was serving my country. Now, I’m just, whatever. Insignificant.”

What Angel didn't realize is that he is one of the more than 70 million workers known as STARs - Skilled Through Alternative Routes, rather than a bachelor's degree. STARs develop valuable skills on-the-job, through community college, training programs, partial college completion, or, like Angel, military service.

During his Coast Guard years, Petty Officer Second Class Angel Pla III amassed astonishing skills. But none of them earned him even a call-back after interviewing for entry-level work. When he finally did get a call, he figured he’d left something in the interviewer’s office.  

He was right. He’d left a memorable impression that proved a turning point in his life. And nearly ten years and five promotions later, Angel cannot say enough about what his career with Walmart has meant to him.

“It’s a true second family, like the Coast Guard was,” he says, proud of his managerial position, his customer-relations skills, his ability to solve retail problems in-line or online.

Angel’s pretty open with his colleagues about the challenges he faced in the military - including service-related PTSD - but he’s positively playful about remaining boot-camp buff (“I’m 44 and throw freight like a 22 year old!”). Admittedly, like anyone who’s experienced trauma, he has tough days. But with his string of promotions, the respect of his coworkers and the full support of his employer, Angel’s set to cruise - and has everywhere to go.

Alternative Routes:

  • Military Service

Top 3 Skills:

  • Communications
  • Customer-service
  • Problem solving