Ashley Bell never thought she’d enlist in the military, even though her father was in the U.S. Army, her uncle in the Marines, and a few cousins in the Navy. But in high school, she heard about the ASVAB, a qualifying exam that reveals areas of strength and ability in science, math, and language. Ashley decided to take the exam.
“The real reason I decided to enlist was to get out of school early every day,” she laughs. When Ashley scored well on the exam, she was invited to apply for the U.S. Air Force. “I forgot to tell my parents I had joined. They found out from a phone call one morning. I slept through a workout, and they called the house.”
Initially, Ashley thought she wanted to pursue a career in nursing, but when she joined the Air Force, they saw potential in her as a field systems mechanic. Initially, her duty station was Las Vegas, where she fixed airframe fuel lines. “It was something I enjoyed,” Ashley says. “It was fun getting to know the systems and working on that stuff day in and day out.”
After three-and-a-half years, however, Ashley wasn’t feeling the same. She disagreed with her chain of command, and when they did a downsizing, she volunteered to leave. She planned to work part-time until she found a career, but she ultimately became a stay-at-home military spouse and mother to one daughter, now five years old.
In 2020, when the pandemic hit, Ashley and her husband transitioned out of the military. She had moved back home to California, and he was supposed to join her but never did. “It was a bad divorce,” shares Ashley, who became housing insecure.
While driving by a JVS SoCal office one day, Ashley decided to stop and investigate. She learned about JVS SoCal services for Veterans, like the Veteran Peer Access Network (VPAN), a program that connected Ashley with a Peer Support Specialist and helped her access community resources for food, emergency housing, and clothing.
“JVS SoCal helped me get the necessities I needed to interview for jobs,” says Ashley. “It was nice to have them on my side.”
In addition to JVS SoCal’s VPAN team providing living essentials, they introduced Ashley to the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Program (VA HUD-VASH) and potential employers. She stayed at a hotel while preparing for interviews, participating in a resume writing class, and learning to present herself professionally and confidently.
She was then given a schedule of job fairs where military veterans like her could be introduced to companies. “I remember going to a job fair and seeing a Northrop Grumman table,” she says. “I got familiar with them and gave them my email. The next thing I knew, I had an interview.”
Ashley was hired by Northrop Grumman, a JVS SoCal corporate partner. “They got the process moving fast because they knew I needed a job and housing,” she says. Since May, she has worked as a mechanic out of Lancaster doing framework for F-35 combat aircraft.
“I love this job because it gives me hope that things will get better as far as getting my own place and getting my daughter and I back on our feet again,” says Ashley, who is awaiting permanent housing made possible through VA HUD-VASH. She also shares her story and tells other Veterans about JVS’ programs and connections.
“It’s been a long two years, but we’ve finally made it, and I’m looking forward to my income providing a house and a few nice things for my daughter and me,” she says.
Stories like Ashley’s can only be possible with the generous support of JVS SoCal donors and partners. Please consider contributing and joining our mission of empowering individuals to achieve dignity and economic independence through sustainable employment.