How military service prepared these veterans for their careers in transportation

Did you know that Metro has over 540 veterans in its ranks? That’s no coincidence -– there’s a very special skillset you hone when serving in the military, and many of those skills –– resiliency, teamwork, working under pressure, a sense of shared purpose –– translate seamlessly into the transportation sector. Inspired in part by Veteran’s Day, which was observed last weekend, let’s meet a few of our Metro vets and learn what makes their post-civilian careers so rewarding.

Robert Pelayo, Railway Fleet Maintenance Supervisor in Division 14

Pelayo, a first generation Angeleno, was born in northeast LA. His father left Jalisco, Mexico, and came to the United States on a work visa. With that document, his father was able to go to university, get his degree, buy a house, open a business, and become a permanent resident. “I feel like this country allowed him to achieve all that. I think I joined the Marines because I wanted to give something in return,” Pelayo says. “Also, I have always felt inclined to protect others, so people have the freedom to achieve their dreams.”

In 1990, Pelayo joined the Marines. He was 18 years old. “At that time there was no conflict. Suddenly, the Gulf War began, and people started to get deployed.” By the time he finished his training, however, the conflict was over.

Two years later came an opportunity to serve, when Pelayo was deployed to help diffuse the violence on the streets of Los Angeles during the ‘92 Uprising. He also went to Kuwait in 1994 and the following year, was part of an operation to evacuate United Nations personnel from Somalia. During that time, Pelayo was an infantry leader and trained other sailors. He used to review logistics and prepared the team for their missions.

When Pelayo retired from the military in 1997, he went to school to become a mechanic. “I liked knowing that I could use my hands and knowledge to put all the pieces together and fix a vehicle.” In 2014, he started working for a company that built light rail, starting in the assembly line and then becoming a supervisor. “I learned everything I could about trains for eight years … During that time, we made the trains that today are part of Line E.”

Today, as Railway Fleet Maintenance Supervisor in Division 14, Pelayo ensures that the trains are in safe and operational condition for the public. “Every day trains are inspected and if something happens, we bring them in to the yard, fix them and put them back in service,” he explains.

Pelayo’s time in the Marines, he believes, was critical to helping him succeed in his career. In the Marines, he learned about discipline, how to follow procedures, make decisions on short notice and work as a team. “In the 90s I was the only Latino on my team in the Marines. It didn’t matter because we all had to work together. Metro is the same. It is a diverse group, but we work as a team. I’m proud to be able to work for the public.”

David Reyes, Train Operator in Division 24

Reyes, the youngest of three brothers, was 18 years old when he enlisted in the Air Force. This was back in 1977. “I had just graduated high school and wasn’t sure what career to pursue,” he says. “Also, I knew other kids older than me who were already going in the wrong direction… I just wanted to stand on my own feet and be away from trouble.”

When he started his training, it wasn’t easy for him to accept orders from others, Reyes confesses. “At that age, no one likes to be told what to do or what time to eat,” he says. Little by little, Reyes got used to the discipline and discovered what he wanted to do: become an Air Force firefighter. He went from being on the tailboard –– riding on the back of the truck –– to learning how to drive the truck. He later became the leader of his team … and then the leader of his unit. He retired with the rank of sergeant in 1981.

Shortly after reentering civilian life, Reyes discovered an open call for bus drivers in Culver City. “I thought if I already knew how to drive a fire truck, I could do this too and I got first place,” Reyes recalls. The Southern California Rapid Transit District (SCRTD), Metro’s predecessor, trained him for his first civilian post as a bus operator. Today, Reyes knows his way around Los Angeles like the back of his hand. He has worked as a bus operator for 19 years.

When his father died, however, Reyes decided to pursue a new challenge. He decided to become a rail operator. “To do it, I was going to have to learn everything from scratch,” he says. “…Focusing on those classes helped me overcome my grief.” Today, he has been driving trains on the A Line for 20 years.

“Being in the Air Force helped me learn how to follow instructions and be responsible at work,” says Reyes, who is proud to be a Metro rail operator. “I’m in charge of making sure our passengers get to the places they need to go.” The job is also a great conversation starter. “I feel like there are a lot of careers, but very few people can say they drive a train in Los Angeles.”

Nancy Felix – Senior Director of Special Projects

Felix was born and raised in south-central Los Angeles. She was the only girl of four siblings. At age 18 she enlisted in the Army, where she served for 23 years.

“I wanted to learn about finances. I think I was attracted to it because I always liked numbers and I was interested in knowing how the government paid for things or made contracts,” says Felix. During her service, she was also deployed for one year to Kosovo and two years to Iraq.

“My family is Mexican-American and being away from them was a challenge. Another challenge was being in a predominantly male institution,” says Felix. However, she credits her experience for teaching her perseverance and dedication.

During her time off-duty, Felix earned a minor in economics and a degree in business with emphasis on management. After retiring from military service, she landed a job at Metro in 2012, working in contracts and procurement. Seven years later, she transitioned to the Department of Systems, Security and Law Enforcement (SSLE). Today, Felix is Metro’s Senior Director of Special Projects. “I assist in the strategic deployment of resources related to Traffic Safety Officers (TSO) in our system,” she says.

Felix says that arriving at Metro was like coming full circle. When Felix was little, she used to ride the RTD bus around the city with her mother. When she started working at Metro, Felix invited her mother to ride the train with her, which brought back memories of her childhood. (We even made a video about it, which you can watch HERE.) “[My mom] is very proud of me,” Felix says. “Today, as a woman, Latina and Army veteran, I would like to tell young women seeking careers in fields dominated by men, that while it can be difficult, with integrity and dedication, you can get to the place you want.”

Interested in what you can bring to the transportation industry with a military background? Let us know! And keep up with our jobs page –– here -– for new opportunities.