Jeff Jardine

Veterans working to get other vets back to work

Roger Gehring spent 20 years as a Navy SEAL, doing covert ops stuff like you see in the movies.

“I’m good at assassinating things,” the 50-year-old Modesto resident said.

Of course, he knew coming out of the service in 2006 that there wouldn’t be much of a market for his skillset in the civilian – and particularly the civil – world. He wanted simply to return to a regular job and a regular life, and quickly learned that two decades in a world where decisions were made for him left him ill-prepared for life after the military.

“I was institutionalized,” Gehring said. “The military doesn’t help you with the intricacies of going back into the society where we came from.”

He’s found that job now, as did Jack Griffith, an Army combat engineer who survived an improvised explosive device that did what it was intended to do in Afghanistan in 2009 – and several others who came out of the military and struggled for years to find employment. They are among the instructors at the Academy for Professional Development, which offers training opportunities for veterans and civilians alike at a facility on Woodrow Avenue in north Modesto.

“I’m qualified for things I can’t do and overqualified for other things,” said Griffith, who deals with post-traumatic stress disorder. No matter, he said. Veterans bring acquired skills they can impart to others, including valuable knowledge when it comes to security and recognizing potential problems.

“You have veterans with situational awareness,” said Griffith, 34. “I can sit here and read your body (language) and know whether you’re being truthful with me.”

Indeed, they now are veterans on a team that works toward getting other veterans – as well as civilians – working again through training at the re-energized academy. The academy, along with its companion company called The Spec Group, is a private postsecondary school offering training in security including executive protection, security, medical response through EMT training, CPR and cardiac courses, fire and services.

The academy includes instructors with military, law enforcement, security, medical, and firefighting backgrounds.

Vets and civilians can train to become emergency medical technicians. Or they can train to protect CEOs and other corporate executives. They will rearrange one of their training rooms to mirror the layout of your home or business so you can develop a protection plan against intruders. They offer weapons instruction. They’ll train those who want to join the military, preparing them both physically and mentally to enlist, including weapons and hand-to-hand combat courses from Gehring and others.

The academy also offers CPR and other cardiac courses, fire instruction and other public safety instruction.

A re-energized company? Jerame Ayers started the academy in 2011 after spending four years in the Army, mostly in Germany, followed by several more working for the State Department (including when the 9/11 attacks occurred) and then for the Department of Energy at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. When that contract ended in 2009, he – like so many other veterans with specialized skills – struggled to find a new career in the private sector. He worked for some Silicon Valley executives as a bodyguard, and saw the need to create training opportunities for other veterans as well. So he started the Academy for Professional Development in 2011, obtained the various certifications he needed, hired staff and opened shop. The school soon had 40 students in training.

But a couple of years ago, the state changed the rules by requiring postsecondary education certification for such schools. Frustrating? You bet – not only to Ayers and his business but also for other veterans who received extensive training in the military only to find out that none of it counts in California. EMTs, for example, must pass state certifications before they can work. It took about two years and $1 million to get the business back up and running, which it did as of the first of this year.

Ayers designed the courses to be affordable, with certification available for a few thousand dollars depending upon the field.

“It’s for people who don’t want to come out of a four-year college with $60,000 in debt,” he said.

Veterans can get much of their tuition paid through Veterans Affairs and state grants, along with scholarships from the school.

What it offers most is opportunity for veterans to use positively the skills they earned in the service, being reschooled in most cases by those who have been there as well, Gehring and Griffith among them.

“Me and Jack – we speak the same language,” Gehring said. “We’re comrades.”

About the school

The Academy for Professional Development is located at 144 Woodrow Ave. in Modesto. Contact the school at 209-300-7822 or visit