Tom Salviejo life after military


Tom Salviejo

U.S. Marine Corps



Years of service:

Transition timeline:
Started planning one year out

Current job:
Master Police Officer/School Resource Officer with the City of Yuma, Arizona

Top transition tip:
“Education, education, education. If there’s [one thing that people] can’t take away from you in life, it’s your education.”

Life after
the military

Transition to a fulfilling career

By Julie Wilson

There was a time after Tom Salviejo retired from the United States Marine Corps when his hopes for a successful civilian life were quickly fading. While this former drill sergeant and leader of thousands commanded respect on base, he found that he didn’t carry the same weight in the outside world. “I came close to giving up,” he admits of his quest to find fulfilling work post-retirement.

Born to lead

Indeed, his military career was a tough act to follow. At the age of 16, with his mother’s consent, Salviejo joined the Marines to escape a rough upbringing in the Los Angeles area. A natural leader, he quickly rose through the ranks. “I was promoted pretty fast,” he says. In less than three years, he was already a sergeant. Over the course of 22 years, his responsibilities continued to increase, and eventually he was charged with supervising, training and disciplining thousands of Marines.

“I was the acting sergeant major for my base,” he says, of his last role prior to leaving the military.


Top transition tip:
“We have to be able to let people know that there is life after service in the military.”

Stability beckons

Eventually, the desire for a steady life for his wife and four children led Salviejo to seek retirement in 1998 when he was 39 years old. “I wanted to get out when I was still marketable and young,” he says, comparing himself to many of his colleagues who retired close to age 50 with few job prospects. He and his family decided to settle in Yuma, Arizona, where he had last been stationed.

The challenge for Salviejo was that he didn’t have any job experience outside of his two decades with the Marines. “I wasn’t a mechanic. I wasn’t a cook. I wasn’t a computer whiz,” he says. “I didn’t have any job expertise.”

To fill in the gaps in his skills, a year before his retirement date he began taking courses at the local college. After a long absence from the classroom, “I said, ‘Wow. This is pretty tough.’” During that time, he also began to realize that he wanted his next career to be completely different from what he had already done. He had to let go of his life as a Marine, something that had defined him for the past 22 years.

A call to protect and serve

Looking forward, Salviejo began applying for jobs in the Yuma area. Eventually he was offered positions with U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Yuma Police Department. While both jobs interested him, Salviejo chose the latter so he could work closer to where his kids went to school. “I wanted to be available if they needed me,” he says.

Though the transition wasn’t always smooth, Salviejo found that his leadership skills from his Marine Corps days served him well in the police department. “I learned to manage people in a style they responded to,” he says. “I like to treat people well and give them the benefit of the doubt. As a supervisor, I always believe in an open-door policy.”


Salviejo’s supervisors quickly took note of his effective approach and asked him to be the school resource officer at the local high school. “Because of my experience growing up as a kid with a ruthless crowd, I was able to understand the gang bangers,” he says. “I bonded with these kids. They would come talk to me.”

Through his work with the students, the crime rates at the school dropped. “In 2002, I was selected as the City of Yuma Employee of the Year out of 800 employees,” he says, with pride in his voice. He was the first police officer to earn this honor for work in the school resource program. “Working with people, helping people, gives me a sense of satisfaction,” he adds.

Back to school

With his new career going well, Salviejo decided to pursue another challenge: earning his college degree. At his wife’s prompting, he enrolled at University of Phoenix, taking advantage of GI Bill benefits. The first in his family to pursue higher education, “My goal for school was to set an example for my kids,” he says.

In 2007, he earned his Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice, an accomplishment that has boosted his career. “All education has done is make things better for me,” he asserts. He applied for—and became—a master police officer, a designation that comes with a 5-percent pay increase.

He also succeeded in setting that positive example for his children. “Three of them are college graduates,” he says.

Making a difference

Salviejo never has been content to just focus on himself and his family. Throughout his career, he has given back to those around him. Whether he’s raising funds for Special Olympics, helping revitalize local parks, leading canned-goods drives for the food bank or coaching his kids’ football teams, he is there with a helping hand whenever the need arises. He has been recognized for his volunteer work many times, most recently with the University of Phoenix Community Service Award at his local campus.

He now has the fulfilling life that seemed far out of his reach when he first retired, and he hopes others who are struggling with the transition to civilian life will, too.

“We have to be able to let people know that there is life after service in the military,” he says. “I know that it may seem far away, but the journey of a thousand miles still begins with a single step. They need to keep their eyes on the goal, and success will follow.” ★

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