All Alex Nataline could think about were his buddies back at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City. “Sometimes it would just bring me to tears to talk to them or to talk to my mentor,” Nataline recalled, “I just felt completely, completely lost.”
Within a few short months, his life had gone from one extreme to another, Nataline said. He went from being an E4 senior airman in the U.S. Air Force to waiting on tables after being denied admission into the University of North Florida.
Little did he know amid this uncertain period of life that help would come from The Villages.
Life as a crew chief
After graduation in 2011 from The Villages High School, Nataline decided college wasn’t for him.
“All my friends went into college,” Nataline said. “My mom wanted me to go to college, and even my dad wanted me to go to college. But I wanted to do something else.”
The idea of enlisting in the military appealed to Nataline’s sense of duty.
“I think the draw of responsibility has always been the biggest attraction to me,” he said. “And, I just love the feeling that knowing what I’m doing is for something greater.”
Nataline began training to become a crew chief once boot camp ended. It was his job to know everything about AWACS, the airborne warning and control system aircraft.
“We launch a jet, we recover a jet, we troubleshoot, we do inspections, we see if anything’s wrong,” Nataline explained.
“Our thing is a jack of all trades, master of none. We don’t really specialize in everything, but we need to know the whole jet so we can troubleshoot and see what’s going on.”
As Natline adjusted to military life, he developed a camaraderie with his fellow airmen.
“No matter how much it sucked and how hot it was or how long we were working we were all doing it together,” Nataline said. “We would all complain together, and we would all be happy together.”
Adjusting to life
When word came last fall that budget cuts would result in airmen losing their jobs, Nataline volunteered to leave the Air Force. He moved back to Florida, but struggled to adjust to civilian life.
“I didn’t know what to do, “ Nataline said. “I thought I wanted to start school right away. I moved up to Jacksonville, but I got denied from UNF while I was up there.”
He grew angry and reclusive. His family watched as Nataline struggled but didn’t know how to help.
“It seemed that everything he was trying to do, whether it was school or employment, every time he hit a roadblock, it was really knocking him down, “ said Nataline’s mom, Bernadette Nataline. “I kept saying, ‘There’s something wrong. It’s just not my son.’ I’m just a regular mom who had no idea what to do.”
That’s when Bernadette learned about Combat Veteran to Careers, a local nonprofit group dedicated to helping combat veterans make the adjustment to civilian life.
“When I found out what it is they do, it was like, ‘You need my son, and my son needs you,’” Bernadette said.
Although he had doubts about the program, Alex Nataline agreed to meet with David Booth, the nonprofit group’s president and chief executive officer.
“I figured it was just some program that wasn’t going to do anything for me, but I talked to my grandpa, I talked to my dad, and they all said to talk to David Booth and hear him out,” Nataline said, “Our meeting was at 11 o’clock. I didn’t get out of there until 3:30 because I told David everything that had happened. I told him more in three or four hours than I had ever told anyone.”
Nataline applied to join the CVC program and, within four weeks of being accepted, was living in his own apartment and going on job interviews. The change in Natline was one that his family quickly noticed.
“In the last few month, my son has come back,” Bernadette said. “He’s Alex again. I see a confidence, I see a passion.”
Although he hasn’t landed a job yet, Nataline is content to help others by working for CVC.
“Instead of me getting back into the military, I can make a difference here by helping other veterans,” he said.