Tailwind from experience

A student of the Chinese Mandarin language, Jonathan Barry spent several years working for private companies overseas before returning to the U.S. and joining the Missouri National Guard.

A student of the Chinese Mandarin language, Jonathan Barry spent several years working for private companies overseas before returning to the U.S. and joining the Missouri National Guard.

A theme often emerging when veterans discuss their military experience is how the skills developed during their time in service have helped them to be successful in later career endeavors.

But local resident Jon Barry took a slightly different approach in his pursuit of his career path — first acquiring professional experience working overseas prior to joining the military.

The 1997 Jefferson City High School graduate initially wanted to join the Navy, but an injury prevented his enlistment. Instead, he chose to pursue a college education.

“College seemed like the right thing to do considering the circumstances,” Barry said. “I decided to attend CMSU (now University of Central Missouri) while working on the family farm on the weekends.”

Prior to graduating with his bachelor’s degree in 2002, he completed a six-month internship with a commercial printing company in the Netherlands. Impressed with his abilities, the company offered him a job.

“The company couldn’t secure a work visa for me,” Barry said. “So I was going to go to work for a branch of the same company in Boston, but before I could start they were bought by another company and sold off in pieces.”

It was after 9/11 and Barry realized the economy was less than inspiring for an unseasoned job seeker. To separate himself from college graduates with similar qualifications, he would need to acquire a unique skill.

The most effective means to accomplish this, he believed, was to learn another language: Mandarin Chinese.

He was hired by a British-based language company and moved to Taipei, Taiwan, in 2002, where he spent the next year teaching English classes and attending a local school to learn Mandarin in his freetime.

The following year he returned to Jefferson City, but soon realized he had “learned just enough Mandarin to get myself in trouble, but not enough to use in a professional capacity,” he laughed.

He returned to China — this time to Beijing — and was accepted at the Beijing Language and Culture University. For the next six months, he studied Mandarin while working part time in a marketing capacity for a dietary supplement company.

In late 2004, he returned to Jefferson City and began seeking employment that would be suited to his overseas experience. Not finding any prospects, he returned to China and went to work for a vodka distribution company in Shanghai using his marketing background.

Later hired by German electronics company located in Shanghai, Barry was transferred to Singapore where he remained for the next three years.

He soon reached a point where he was ready for a change and in late 2009, decided he was ready to come back to the United States to be closer to his family.

After volunteering as a business consultant, Barry thought it was time to re-engage his desire to pursue a military career. In April 2011, he enlisted in the Missouri National Guard.

The enticement, Barry recalls, was the opportunity offered by the Guard to serve others “in a tangible way such as through state emergency duty that supports local communities.”

In a period of less than two years, he completed his basic training, officer candidate school and basic officer course, and is now commissioned as a second lieutenant.

This past February, he applied for and was hired as the director of the state’s Show-Me Heroes program, an initiative created by Gov. Jay Nixon in 2010 to help connect veterans with employment opportunities.

Bringing with him a tailwind of international and professional business experience, Barry is confident his background will be of great benefit in both assisting veteran job seekers and as a junior military officer.

“I’ve been in the position where I’ve been looking for employment and know how difficult the job market can be,” Barry said. “This, along with my professional experience has given me a unique perspective that will assist me in helping others find employment while also making me a better officer.”

Jeremy Amick is the public affairs officer for the Silver Star Families of America.

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