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Some combat veterans find new life as teachers in Texas

Longview News-Journal - 8/27/2017

HOUSTON - Peace has eluded retired Air Force Maj. Jeff Shelton for the better part of two decades.

Every time he parachuted into enemy territory, every time he held a dying friend in the back of a helicopter, every time he watched a child collapse from grave injuries, peace for Shelton seemed to slip farther and farther away.

He found his inner anguish only intensified when he retired from the military in December 2016 and finally had time to process all the wickedness he had seen in the world. It was almost too much for the 42-year-old to process, until he walked into his Junior ROTC classroom inside Lamar Consolidated High School later that month.

"I didn't take the time to deal with my past. I had a lot of friends commit suicide or die - some of them died with me in the back of a helicopter. I just never dealt with it," Shelton said. "So here, I found a lot of peace in helping (the students) transition into adulthood."

Shelton is among more than 3,000 veterans in Texas and more than 20,000 nationwide who traded bulletproof vests for textbooks to become teachers supported by the Troops to Teachers program.

The U.S. Department of Defense program helps recent veterans navigate teacher certification processes, military benefits and the other logistical headaches of switching careers, said Christene Nemetsky, project coordinator with the state's Education Service Center Region 13.

Nemetsky went through the program herself in the early 2000s before the Army major was recalled to active duty in 2004. She returned to serve as a school administrator in 2005.

"They're not afraid of the hard work, they're not afraid of dealing with whatever the kids throw at them," Nemetsky said of veterans in classrooms. "As an administrator, I saw a lot of teachers leave after a year - it's hard work 187 days a year. But (veterans) will do what it takes to do to give that child what they need."

Few teachers have military experiences matching Shelton's.

He spent four years with the Marine Corps before attending the U.S. Air Force Pararescue Indoctrination course in 1999, among the military's most rigorous and elite training programs. Shelton was embedded with prestigious units such as Navy SEAL teams.

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