Jim Willis

Ten years ago, as a recently retired Coast Guard officer, I was unemployed and searching for a job in the private sector. 9/11 changed my plans.

Like most Americans, I was angry. I had spent 30 years in the military and had trained all my life to serve the public and make a difference. I contacted the Coast Guard and accepted an assignment to Yemen as the maritime adviser to the U.S. ambassador. I spent 90 days in Yemen researching and writing a strategic plan for the Yemeni Coast Guard. Yemen followed my plan and established a Coast Guard to help counter the flow of guns and terrorists through its maritime borders.

Yemen is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, but it was, at the time, also a very dangerous place. I was the senior military person in-country and, therefore, a target. My job required me to visit every port to assess what assets Yemen would need to protect the coast. During my travels, I carried a machine gun, a guard usually rode in my car with a machine gun, and a car followed me with four more men with machine guns.

After the Yemen assignment, I was the 50th employee hired at the new Transportation Security Administration and helped develop training for the 60,000-plus workforce being hired in 2002. It was a great job, but still required me to commute from West Virginia to Washington.

Later that year, I found the perfect fit for my training background and my love of nature: my current job with the Fish and Wildlife Service in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

The impact of 9/11 on me was to get me back into public service, where I have stayed.

Willis retired from the Coast Guard as deputy director of Reserve and Training. He is now deputy director of the National Conservation Training Center, Fish and Wildlife Service, Shepherdstown, W.Va.