Looking for a way to serve while getting training for a future career, Marilyn Whitfield enlisted in the Army after graduating from high school in 1978. She completed basic training at Fort McClellan in Anniston, Alabama. Then, she was “on the desk” for Advanced Individual Training (AIT) at Fort Lee in Virginia.
Whitfield was assigned as a Prescribed Load List (PLL) clerk, an equipment records parts specialist stationed with the ASA 372d, a radio research company supporting the 25th Infantry Division. The company was inactivated in Vietnam on March 6, 1971. It was reactivated on July 1, 1974 at Helemano Military Reservation, Hawaii.
“The PLL clerk position meant that I was in charge of supplies for the motor pool and also top-secret supplies,” Whitfield said.
After serving one year and being discharged, Whitfield was not able to use any of the training that she had received in the military and apply it to her career plans.
“I wasn’t able to get any additional vocational training after the Army,” she said.
After serving, Whitfield first enrolled in tailoring courses at Ivy Tech.
“My concentration wasn’t what it should have been, and I didn’t finish that course,” she said. “I took a couple other courses and I couldn’t finish those either.”
Whitfield didn’t know it at the time, but she was experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“I didn’t know I was walking around in this world with PTSD,” she said.
With encouragement from family, friends, and other veterans, she was finally able to get the help she needed to get her life back on track and continue to make a difference by giving back.
“Many years later, I went to a Goodwill Industries of Michiana Stand Down, a veterans outreach program,” she said. “They do it mainly for the homeless, but any veteran can go there and receive help. It was there that one of the veterans asked me a number of questions and told me that I was eligible for benefits.”
“I cried and cried, but I ended up being eligible for a whole lot of mental health services that have been good for me,” Whitfield said.
Goodwill’s annual Stand Down program provides information about discounts, helps veterans enroll in VA health care, and assists them in finding housing. To those in need, they also provide free meals and take-homes, like safety kits and clothing.
“I hadn’t worked for about 28 years, going back to my diagnosis, but I felt like I wanted to do something else to contribute,” Whitfield said. “I am part of a senior citizen program through Goodwill for adults ages 55 and up. There, I answer the phone. I also work part-time in a day homeless shelter. The job gets me out of the house and around adults with a chance to socialize and interact. It’s wonderful to be doing something to give back to the community.”
Goodwill services are part of the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP), a national employment and training program funded by the U.S. Department of Labor. SCSEP is a community service and work-based training program for older workers. The program provides subsidized, service-based training for low-income persons 55 or older who are unemployed. Through a mix of training and support services, this program is helping older job seekers overcome obstacles, build confidence, and get what they need to compete in today’s job market.
In addition, through Goodwill Works, adults and seniors have an opportunity to take employee development courses and get work experience. This service is open to anyone seeking personal development into the workforce.
“I told them that I also would like to learn more about the computer,” Whitfield said. “I am doing about five hours of training per week. I like it because I get to learn about computers and programming while typing more.”
In her spare time, Whitfield said she likes to read. She is also happy to be surrounded by her family.
“I was born in Michigan City, Indiana, but after living in Minnesota for 28 years, I came back to be closer to family,” she said. “I have lived in Michigan City for the past 23 years. I have three children and five grandchildren. My sisters live in the area too, one in Michigan City and two just 30 minutes away in Michigan.”