NEW YORK - Gardea Christian spent three tours of duty as a U.S. Marine in Afghanistan - protecting other people.
"I dealt with security operations. So ensuring that Marines, sailors, civilians that we worked with, contractors, you know when we went out on missions that we all returned safely, that we operated safely and securely," said Christian.
After graduating from the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland in 2009, Christian was commissioned in the U.S. Marine Corps, where he served five years.
The 26-year-old was based out of Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina, when he returned from Afghanistan last March.
"For me I wanted to be sure that I could quickly go from the Marine Corps, being in the military to a civilian. Because that's one of the issues that a number of veterans do face is that transition from a military culture to a civilian culture," said Christian.
Christian wanted a job where he could keep protecting people and also hold on to that military culture, but he had difficulty.
"The military culture, the environment was family-focused, you know -- people focused on the individuals and team effort. And for a number of the jobs that I was looking at ... it wasn't so much people-focused, it was the bottom line," said Christian.
He was interested in moving to New York, and after meeting with several recruiting firms and attending job fairs across the country, he ended up finding Trident Group, a recruiting agency helping veterans find jobs specifically in New York.
Christian got connected with the group's co-founder Marc Lawson, also a young veteran.
"We find companies who are looking for a certain type of veteran, and then we find veterans that fit that mold. And basically we're like a match-making company," said Lawson.
The 30-year-old works with companies in the financial, retail, consulting, and engineering industries. All services are free to veterans, including two annual networking events the group hosts.
Lawson said that he works with the veterans to match them with something that fits their interest and will make them happy.
And for Christian that was crucial.
"A number of my friends that were in the service with me, that were in other branches, they were able to find jobs, but it wasn't necessarily a job they enjoy," said Christian.
Christian hadn't even thought of the possibility of retail until Lawson suggested Bloomingdale's, who happened to be looking for someone just like him.
"We really wanted to focus on bringing veterans into our organization in leadership roles that would help them transition out of the military and give us strong leaders on our sales floors, in our stores," said Melanie Napolitano, Bloomingdale's director of central support recruitment and development.
Christian was hired as a loss prevention manager.
There seems to be a big difference between watching out for enemies in a mountainous war zone and securing people and merchandise in a high-end department store.
But Christian sees a common thread.
"That's what we do here [at Bloomingdale's], we operate ensuring that safety is number one and then, you know, making sure that people are secure," said Christian.
The veteran also sees something in common in the culture.
"With Bloomingdale's it's a family atmosphere. We stress the fact that the customer is important that the associate is important. It's a people-focused, people-centered environment, people-centered culture. And that was big in the military, big in the Marine Corps" said Christian.
The majority of the veterans Trident Group helps are between 25 to 35 years old, said Lawson. He believes that being a fellow veteran in that same age range helps him make those successful job matches.
"We know a lot of the wants, needs, desires of the people we're placing. You know the type of atmosphere, the culture, and the work. We place a lot of people similar to ourselves who are looking for work. And we're able to help them and give them a lot of insight because we're in it daily," said Lawson.
Lawson said that finding that sense of mission, and the satisfaction that comes with it, is key to welcoming veterans back into civilian life - not just getting any old job. That's why his company takes a different approach.
"It's for veterans that want to do something big, who don't want to take the traditional route, and go back home and be a shift manager or warehouse manager," said Lawson.
For Christian, it was worth not sacrificing anything for want he wanted out of a job.
"Working with Trident Group ... they focus on the individual making sure that you're satisfied, so they put me in touch with Bloomingdales and I was like 'I can be happy here, I can enjoy myself here,'" he said.
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