Joaquin Diaz

Joaquin Diaz

From Kevlar helmet to hard hat: Watch their six

The Joaquin Diaz Found his Military Training was a Perfect Fit for a Career in Construction

It’s not just on Memorial Day and Veterans Day that so many remember the sacrifices of brave men and women inside and outside our country’s borders. 

For those who have served, and for the military families who have been impacted, their lives are forever changed. 

Tour-of-duty dynamics create a long-lasting perspective. Ask any among those who have served what challenges they’ve experienced, and one will often hear about re-entry to civilian life, where they return home and begin the challenging process of creating their future and finding work.

One local veteran has discovered the combat training and go-in-first and care-for-life skills he developed in the armed services created a natural fit for him in the building and construction industry.

“I went from a Kevlar combat-type helmet to a hard hat and traded in my personal combat protective gear for personal protective equipment on the construction job site,” said U.S. Marine Lance Corporal Joaquin Diaz, who now works in construction, directing Environment, Health and Safety (EHS) at Skanska USA Building in Portland. 

“Many of the skills I learned in the Marines are transferrable to the real world, and it starts with leadership,” Diaz said. “Leadership includes foresight and having the sense to evaluate things before they happen, thinking ahead and preparing for the worst- and best-case scenarios. We do this each day, whether it’s in preconstruction, safe equipment management, or managing changing work conditions.”  

He adds that communication and listening are key skill sets. 

“A leader needs to listen, confirm, and apply the message. I was trained to perform critical activities in fast-paced, high stress, and dynamic environments. Developing the ability to perform as a Marine or in construction enhances confidence and certainty in exercising good judgment and making critical decisions.”

When asked why he recommends veterans consider a career in the construction industry, he’s quick to reply, “If a veteran enjoys a dynamic environment with many units and teams dependent on each other for success, the skills learned in the military are transferrable to construction. A vet’s military training and mindset are immediately needed, desired and useable in all jobs in construction.”

Diaz, 43, also endured grief and sadness in his post-military career. His brother, Edwin Davila, also enlisted in the Marine Corps just out of high school as Diaz did. They both served in infantry units, with Davila serving in combat theater battalions, and both served three-year enlistments. But unlike Diaz, Davila struggled to re-enter civilian life. In 2018, Davila died at the age of 29, unable to overcome his post-traumatic stress after military service. Diaz wants to spread the message of caring for veterans and supporting them during and after their time in the forces.

“We learned to ‘watch their six,’ which means to keep an eye out and help each other, see the best in one another, and be there for support,” Diaz said. He adds these principles also specifically apply to the building trades. “That’s what I do each day in my EHS role, ‘watching their six’ with co-workers, clients, and the public.”

“We owe so much to those who actively serve and have served our country. Whether it’s in our value of cultivating diversity or in our work in local communities, support for veterans is critical,” said Tim Johnson, general manager and executive vice president of Skanska’s Portland office. “We work hard fostering many opportunities for veterans and seeking ways to boost job recruitment among those who have and are serving. Our company values of safety and care for life ensure veterans can bring their hard-won experience to help us build up and enhance our communities.”

Johnson notes Skanska employs more than 40 veterans locally and countless more on job sites who are unions and subcontractors. “Companies such as Skanska provide a connection to mental health services tailored to veterans, should a worker need it. We understand the dynamics of interdependency. As veterans have taught us, we cannot function effectively without the support of each member of a unit.” n