I know, I know, it’s been way too long. I love sharing all of your stories and experiences so much that it makes it easy for me to get a little lazy about writing my own blog posts every now and then!
But it’s past time for an update. The last few months have been a whirlwind of big decisions here in the Garber household. As the wind and rain of December in Sicily rolled around, I was leaning very strongly towards getting off of active duty in the Army. I thought I would probably transfer to the Reserves and piece together some other part-time work while figuring out what came next.
Applying for a Job at the CDC
Then I saw this advertisement on USAJobs for a Veterinary Medical Officer with the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention in Tbilisi, Georgia. The position was based in the CDC’s Global Disease Detection Branch, and it sounded perfect for me. It would involve frequent travel to the other countries of the Caucasus and coordination with veterinary and public health authorities in the region on zoonotic disease outbreaks.
So I thought, what the heck, might as well apply and see what happens. I really didn’t think I wanted to go straight into another full-time job, but this seemed just appealing enough to make it worthwhile. I spent way too long preparing my application and resume on USAJobs, making sure that I carefully crafted them with the goal of honestly presenting myself while meeting all the requirements of the position.
I submitted the application in mid-December and heard within days that I had met the automatic screening criteria. Yay! Little did I know, this was just the beginning of what would turn into a much longer process. I waited about three weeks before receiving a personal e-mail saying that my application had been received at the CDC and was being reviewed.
Then after another three weeks, at the end of January, I got an e-mail saying that I had been selected for an interview! Woohoo! At this point, as you’ll soon learn, I had already committed to something else. I thought it would be worthwhile, however, to continue on with the interview if only for the learning opportunity. And who knows, maybe if I actually got the job there would still be a way to make it happen.
The interview happened a few weeks later. It was a conference call with both the administrative coordinator and eight, yes EIGHT, high-profile veterinarians and other leaders from the CDC. I wasn’t really expecting it to be so formal. Each interviewer asked one question (which I had not been given beforehand), and I spent about five minutes answering each of them. As I was talking, all of the interviewers were rating my responses using some type of system which would help with the final selection of the most qualified applicant.
The whole interview lasted about an hour, and I hung up feeling pretty ambivalent about my chances. I knew that the main areas I was lacking were my lack of academic publications and my boots-on-the-ground epidemiology experience. Sure, I have my MPH and MS degrees, and even the ACVPM credential, but most of my work in the Army has been clinical medicine rather than public health.
I had heard from some veterinary friends at the CDC that it was almost impossible to get this type of position without having done the Epidemic Intelligence Service first. And I can see why this is—it makes sense for the CDC to choose someone from within their own ranks, who has a known quantity of training and skills especially in epidemiology. I know I could have done well in the position, but there definitely would have been more of a learning curve for me than for some others.
So that was that. In early March I got an e-mail saying that the panel had selected someone else. Of course I was disappointed, but I’m glad for the learning experience and even more glad that I wasn’t really depending on this opportunity for gainful employment.
AVMA Fellowship Program
The only other full-time position that I was really considering outside of the Army was the AVMA Fellowship Program. As a fellow, I would have gotten to live in D.C. (near my family) while serving as a scientific adviser to a member of Congress. The fellowship pays about $80,000, so this combined with my Reserve pay and benefits would have been more than enough. I’ve always loved learning about policy and government, so it would have been a really valuable year for me in a lot of ways.
When decision time came, however, I realized that I might be an even more qualified applicant a couple of years from now. I had already committed to the new job before this application was due, so I didn’t even take the trouble to apply.
I was so excited to learn this week that two fourth year student acquaintances and future uncommon veterinarians, Elise Ackley and Chase Crawford were both chosen for the fellowship. Congrats to you both!
What I’m Actually Going to be Doing
Okay, I know I’ve drawn this out long enough! Here’s what happened.
After much debate and discussion, I had decided way back in August that I wasn’t going to apply for a Special Operations position in the Army. This was a possibility that had fascinated me ever since I first learned about the Veterinary Corps, so it was a very difficult decision to make. At the time, it seemed like the right decision for me and my family.
Then in October, long after the application deadline, I got an e-mail letting me know that there might be a new position opening up, and “Are you sure you still aren’t interested?” That was a total surprise. I thought that my “no” had really meant “no,” so I was not expecting to get this message.
As it turns out, the new position was with the Naval Special Warfare Command (SEALs). I knew that the organization had been advocating to get a veterinarian at their headquarters for a number of years, and I had always thought that this would be my ultimate dream job as an Army vet.
So when I got that e-mail, I couldn’t say no. Gotta at least give myself the opportunity to compete for such a unique opportunity to serve, right?
Well about two months later, I got another message, saying something along the lines of, “The position is a go, and you’re our guy!”
Wow. That really rocked my world. I was very close at that point to turning in my official request to resign from active duty.
I only had a couple of weeks to make a final decision. It was one of the hardest choices I’ve had to make in my life, for a lot of reasons. Becca and I had really been looking forward to moving back to D.C. to take advantage of the fact that both sets of parents and most of our siblings would be in the area for a limited time. I was also excited to have more time to pursue my writing and other entrepreneurial projects.
But I knew I would always regret it if I turned this down. I’d honestly been dreaming of this job for almost ten years, and now it was staring at me in the face.
So I said yes! We’ll be moving from Sicily in July to start my new assignment in San Diego, California.
Because I’ll be the first veterinarian in the position, I know there will be a lot of learning on both sides. I’m excited to use my education and training to serve this community of elite warriors in their diverse global mission.
The SEALs have recently begun using a lot more military working dogs, so that will be one primary focus. I’m hoping that I’ll also get to be involved in the clinical care of some of the marine mammals just across the bay from Coronado.
But mostly, I’m just excited for the opportunity to be a part of this team devoted so wholeheartedly to protecting and defending my country. I won’t be quite at the tip of the spear, but I’ll be about as close as we can get as military veterinarians.
Have you made any big career decisions this year?
I would love to hear about them in the comments below!