How veterans are finding new purpose after serving in the military

Shea Henning, owner of ATX Record Players, shows the work featured on his website on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017. (KXAN/Chris Davis)
Shea Henning, owner of ATX Record Players, shows the work featured on his website on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017. (KXAN/Chris Davis)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The transition back to civilian life can be a tough one for soldiers; shifting from a highly structured, goal-oriented routine to college or a job can take its toll.

But veterans advocates at St. Edward’s University in Austin — and vet students who went through programs there — say entrepreneurship can help make the transition easier. “Sometimes when you come out of the military you kind of lose your purpose,” Shea Henning said.

He started his business, ATX Record Players while he was still working on his master’s degree in business administration at St. Edward’s. Henning, who ended up at the school after serving in the Air Force, started with just one old record player console he found online.

“I redid it, I posted it back online to see, you know, does anyone else want to buy these?” he said. “And boom, it sold.”

Veteran Shea Henning shows off one of the record players he restored on Nov. 9, 2017 (KXAN Photo)
Veteran Shea Henning shows off one of the record players he restored on Nov. 9, 2017 (KXAN Photo)

Henning used the skills he developed growing up building hot rods to buy up more of the big, mid-century pieces of furniture, equip them with modern sound systems and resell them. Now, just a few months after graduating, Henning’s website is filled with photos of his sold restoration work and even a few pieces he designed himself.

Henning didn’t have much trouble readjusting to life outside the military. He told KXAN in an interview Thursday he landed an internship quickly and was able to turn that into a job. He knows not all vets have the same ease of transition, and focusing on starting or growing a business can jump-start a veteran’s drive.

“Entrepreneurship is all purpose,” he said, “and it re-sparks your soul back to having your own purpose, your own motivations.”

“It gives the veteran the ability to express what they’ve probably felt for a long time — to get out and have freedom and be creative,” said Chris Garcia, the veterans affairs coordinator at St. Edward’s. A veteran herself, Garcia said vet business owners combine the leadership they learn in the service with the opportunity to branch out.

A number of former and current veteran students have started businesses “that are doing quite well,” Garcia said.

Henning hopes his creativity and his drive will help grow his business into new market opportunities, like selling to interior designers around the state who are looking for big, bold pieces to sell to their clients.

His advice to other veterans who aren’t sure where to begin is to start with what’s close to the heart and what they’re passionate about. Henning, for example, appreciates the nostalgia of vinyl and the old record players that ushered in a new way of listening to music decades ago.

“It gives me a reason to get up and start working,” he said.

For vets who don’t have access to business schools or other programs to learn the basics of starting a business, The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has helpful resources to get started here.

Chris Davis is LIVE at St. Edward’s University on KXAN News Today with some ways veterans can make the transition from active duty.

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