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HVAC Technician at 72Degrees
Army Iraq vet with 20-plus years service quickly finds HVAC job two weeks after separation.
by Steven N. Czetli

What can we learn from a sergeant first class who was deployed to Iraq for ten months after a 20-year career in the Army during which he had also seen action in Honduras and Bosnia. James Sylvester went to Iraq as a quartermaster/cook until the Army discovered his cross-training as a sniper which was added to his tasks during a ten-month deployment. Two-Week-Transition219x292

He had put in his retirement papers prior to being sent to Iraq, so separation upon his return didn’t take long. What is singular in the case of Sgt. Sylvester, is that within two weeks of mustering out, he was gainfully employed in the HVAC industry, working for 72Degrees in his hometown of Sanford, N.C. where clients of the 14-man company were giving him rave reviews.

Success, despite the fact that Sgt. Sylvester’s training as a cook hardly prepared him for a heating and air conditioning job and 72Degrees was notorious for their picky hiring practices – only taking on about one in 25 applicants. None-the-less, Sylvester applied and was hired on the spot. In the subsequent three months, his work has earned him “rave reviews” from his employers’ clients.

What can transitioning vets learn from the 40-year-old father of five to make their separation from the service just as smooth? For one, Sylvester attended the Army’s ACAP program where he paid close enough attention to learn of military recruiter SGI Career Corps which just happened to know of an opening at HVAC supplier 72Degrees.

That’s where Sylvester’s amiable personality kicked in. 72Degrees President Eddie Blanchard, a notoriously tough interviewer said this about his first encounter with Sylvester: “I met with James and could not say enough good about his personality. Really, for me, the professionalism he brought to the table and the fact that he takes that attitude into everything he does, totally impressed me. He had a humble nature and a personality that a lot of people find soothing. We do courtesy calls on every service call to make sure that the client is satisfied. And of course, James has gotten positive reviews.

“If I had my way with hiring, from this point forward, based on the success I’ve had with James, I wouldn’t hire anybody who hadn’t been in the military. I just wish I could find more people like him that would be willing to come to our company.”

Talk to Sylvester for an hour and you will be totally charmed. He is intelligent, thorough, serious, and reliable; and it shows. In preparing for his job interview with Blanchard, he imagined himself at a promotion interview in the service where he had already learned to pay special attention to posture, give answers that were brief, crisp and accurate, and communicate a quiet confidence.

Of course, he originally found the opening by paying attention during the ACAP classes where he learned about SGI.

Says 72Degree dispatcher Christine Bergin, “I do the follow-up calls to customers and we are awfully glad to have James here. Customers just think he is very thorough, and very informative, an all around good man.”

With typical candor, Sylvester confessed to Blanchard recently that he had never considered heating and air conditioning because he didn’t see it as a lucrative business. “But after seeing it from the inside out and understanding the community service that we provide, and knowing he can be part of it by actually fixing these problems and preventing them from happening in the first place, he seems content,” Blanchard said
of a recent conversation he had had with Sylvester.

“Officials are still working out details, but he expects all soldiers eligible for the selective re-enlistment bonus will be covered under the new program.” The former Sgt. himself seems satisfied enough with his new career, though he had to take a pay cut from his E-7 Army rating to join 72Degrees. Still, his wife Sheila can keep her teaching job at nearby Fort Bragg, and the family of seven did not have to deal with the hassles of relocating.

Despite the divided opinions stateside on our presence in Iraq, Sylvester says we are doing a lot of good over there. Among our constructive actions he cited building homes and sewer systems and upgrading the schools. As to his own experience, he says Iraq was probably not the most anxiety provoking deployment of his career – which he reserves for Hondurus in 1988 and Bosnia in 1996. Still, Iraq was no vacation.

“Not all the Iraqi people are bad. But there are those that would like to put a bullet in your mouth,” he said “I was in a couple of IED (Implemented Explosive Device) attacks. ….where roadside bombs went off. And we had a couple more attacks on the base camp. Other times, people would shoot at you in your cars as you drove by. But the scariest things to me were the IED attacks. Bosnia wasn’t that bad, but Iraq was a different story because you had too many factions fighting.”

Does he miss the excitement?

Not as much as the travel and the opportunity to meet new people. But on the other hand, he said, “I do sleep better now.”


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