Ramon Morales joined the Army when he was 17 because he wanted to be a mechanic and knew he could get a free education that way.
He worked in the Army as a full-time diesel mechanic, including during a deployment to Iraq in 2006 and 2007. The Illinois National Guardsman, with the rank of sergeant, expects he'll soon leave the military after 16 years of service because of health issues, so he set out to launch a new career as a mechanic in the private sector.
"I've never tried any other career," the Midlothian resident said. "It's kind of my calling. So I started looking around about operating a shop."
Morales went to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which referred him to the Small Business Administration. He learned about franchising opportunities and eventually decided to reopen a Mr. Transmission/Milex franchise on Indianapolis Boulevard in Highland.
Customers have come there after learning he was a veteran, and he thinks his service to his country has prepared him well.
"Being in the military teaches you how to manage your time and stay dedicated," Morales said. "The leadership you learn from becoming a (non-commissioned officer) is vital."
Backing troops at home
Quite a few veterans return home and find starting their own franchise is a good option when it comes to finding a job, said Lorri Feldt, the regional director of the Northwest Indiana Small Business Development Center.
"We've worked with about 30 veteran startup and business owners in the past year in Northwest Indiana," she said. "All of the SBDC business counseling and other resources are available to them and our team works hard to assist them with business plans, building their markets, accessing financing and growing their businesses."
The Small Business Administration can help veteran entrepreneurs secure loans and guide them through the opportunity to become certified veteran-owned, so they can sell to state and federal government agencies that are required to do a certain amount of business with veteran-owned firms.
"Veterans have the high level of discipline that's needed to get through military training, and that's the personality makeup you need as an entrepreneur," Feldt said. "They're extremely motivated and might have learned something in the military that helps in the business arena, for instance something about logistics or transportation that could ultimately be used for delivering products and services."
The SBA can guide veterans on registering their businesses, procuring licenses, preparing their business taxes, and following any laws and regulations. The agency can give advice on estimating startup costs, getting financing and marketing. Veterans can connect with mentors and learn how to contract with the government.