Perseverance and Flexibility,
Succeeding in the Civilian World
By Juan G. Ayala, Major General USMC (Retired)
Iwas born in El Paso, Texas and was the oldest of nine born to
hardworking, family-oriented immigrant parents. We moved from
Juarez, Mexico to El Paso around my 6th birthday. Speaking no English, I
failed the first grade and was enrolled in Head Start—which propelled me
to take advantage of the great opportunities offered by this country.
My father owned a family-run restaurant that became
our livelihood for the next three decades. Raised by parents
with a superhuman work ethic, and having a job beginning at
A Veteran's Perspective
the age of six, taught me everything I needed to know to achieve
success in my parent’s adopted country. Hard work, perseverance,
and treating people with respect served me well during my 36-year
career as a United States Marine.
I’ve always wanted to be a Marine. My father convinced me
not to enlist and offered to help me with college expenses.
Immediately after becoming a new student at the University of
Texas at El Paso, I found the Marine officer recruiters on campus.
After graduation in 1979 I was commissioned a Second Lieutenant
of Marines at our restaurant, Victor’s Café, where I had done
everything from peeling potatoes, waiting tables, cooking and
keeping the books.
I loved my Marine career. I travelled to just about every
continent, served four tours in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom
and earned two Masters Degrees. I successfully commanded
thousands of Marines. I was ready to do the same in another
career. My post-military goal was to work at something I truly
enjoyed, not to get rich.
I was told that as a retired General with my credentials, employers
would be knocking my door down. My effort would consist of
sending out my resume and deciding how much money I wanted
to make. I soon discovered this was all hooey.
Frustrated, I re-wrote my resume countless times, networked,
looked on line, joined associations, attended social events, and
forced myself to be patient. My resume landed in companies of
all sizes and government agencies. I did not receive a single
response. Supposedly, I was overqualified, and general officers
“don’t want to work”. I sensed that my age was a factor. I learned
that command of troops and combat actions were insignificant
unless translated into civilian-speak. There are even nuances in
how civilian employers see leadership qualities.
I recall being told that every meeting, social gathering, or chance
encounter was to be treated as a job interview. That advice paid
off. After a short encounter with a city employee, he unexpectedly
handed me a folder announcing an unadvertised job. I applied.
After weeks of waiting, I was asked to interview. My first interview
before a panel was daunting. My last interview had been over
40 years ago. Everyone on the panel was younger than me, and
not all were veterans. After a series of interviews, I did not receive a
call for another few weeks, trying my patience.
Eventually, I was offered the position and started work soon
thereafter. Going from almost four decades working in a military
culture to a civilian position took some getting used to. Texting is
the norm for communicating. Meetings rarely start or end on time.
No one stands up when a senior official enters a room, and most
surprising, no one seems to care when people are texting during
a meeting. Small issues appear to be huge problems (compared to
the life and death decisions that are made by military leaders).
However, despite my military mindset, what my counterparts
do works, as the City of San Antonio is one of the best run
cities in the nation. And, at the end of the day, I have resorted
to one of the most valuable of military skills—flexibility. And,
I joined the city; the city did not join me.
Juan G. Ayala retired as a Major General in the United States
Marine Corps after 36 years of service. He is currently the Director,
Office of Military and Veterans Affairs for the City of San Antonio.
He comes to the City of San Antonio with a proven record
of success in leading people and commanding large, complex
organizations. Prior to his retirement, Major General Ayala
commanded all 24 Marine Corps installations worldwide and
was selected to lead the Department of Defense’s 2015 Warrior
Games assisting the nation’s wounded, ill and injured warriors
in their recuperative efforts. He is the former Inspector
General of the Marine Corps, and his service includes 4
combat tours in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, to include
a year as the Senior Advisor of a Military Transition Team,
embedded with the 1st Iraqi Army Division.
Major General USMC (Retired) Juan G. Ayala addressing City Council
and the Mayor on the importance of the Marine Corps Birthday.
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30 www.latinastyle.com LATINAStyle Vol. 24, No. 5, 2018