During the Gulf War, Jeff Futrell was a parachute-rigger, with a motto, “we’re the last one to let you down.”
After his eight years in the Navy ended in 1998, and following a civilian career as a military contractor and later working in safety private industry, he returned to the business of veterans safety and security through the Veterans Administration.
Futrell, 43, took over as the Craven County Veterans Services Director in May.
The Martin County native is part of an expanding office presence for the county, both in personnel and facilities.
“My predecessor was a veterans’ service officer. My position here is a veterans’ director,” he said. “I am going to be hiring more service officers. My job is actually going to be more public outreach, getting out there to the different veterans programs going on, and spreading the word that we are here in the county and we are here to do what we can for the veterans in this county.”
He said the job entails not just helping vets with benefits and programs, but serving as a link to other resources.
“I can do that warm handoff to someone who can get them into housing tonight,” he said. “Or somebody who can make sure he has health care coverage. I want to find out what the different needs of the veterans are by getting out there to the different organizations and events.”
The local veterans services will also have a new home beginning Dec. 1, moving from its current location on Neuse Boulevard to 2401 Dr. M.L. King Jr. Blvd.
Futrell’s original career plan was to be a game warden because of his love of the outdoors, hunting and fishing.
“I knew I couldn’t go to game warden school until I was 21, so after high school I joined the military,” he said. “I figured the military would give me some of the background and the skill sets.”
After four years stationed in Virgina, he applied to game warden school, but was a few weeks late submitting his application. He couldn’t reapply for another year. By this time, he had a family and he re-enlisted for another four years.
After his second tour, he gave up plans to be a game warden, although he still is an avid hunter and fisherman.
An interest in naval aviation originally led to his decision on which branch to join.
His work involved survival gear. Riggings and inspections could take an hour for single parachutes or as much as two days for equipment such as high-speed ejection seats.
“We did some pre-mediated parachutes for people like the Navy Seals, cargo drops and things like that,” he said. “But the majority I did was for fixed-wing aircraft, anything from Super Hornets to survival equipment for helicopters.”
His first duty stop was Naval Station Oceana in Virginia and his second four years were spent in Maryland, just outside Washington.
“In Maryland, it was a test base and we tested all the aircraft that Navy-Marine Corps has in inventory, before anything was put out to the fleet,” he said. “So, I got a wide variety of knowledge of different types of airplanes and equipment.”
His civilian career after 1998 included contract work in Maryland, then relocating back to Eastern North Carolina in quality control for Price Logging in Jamesville and later in a similar job for Grady White Boats in Greenville.
He got back into the military affairs business in 2006 as the veterans and safety director in Northampton County. He followed that with a state job covering 54 counties as a service and regional training officer.
“As the veterans’ director in Northampton, I realized the importance of the veterans position,” he said. “As a veteran and even after I got out, I did not realize there was someone in my hometown or my county that helps with VA benefits. I thought the VA was a big hospital in Durham and a big federal bureaucracy in D.C. I didn’t realize it was around the block from me, literally.”
That is part of the message he was to share locally.
“The biggest challenge is that we are here to help you with your benefit,” he said. “Let us sit down and talk and see what you are and aren’t eligible for, even if you are already receiving benefits.”
For information, visit the Veterans Services office at 2818 Neuse Blvd. or call 636-6611.
Charlie Hall can be reached at 252-635-5667 or 252-259-7585, firstname.lastname@example.org , on Twitter @CharlieHallNBSJ