TAMPA - After enlisting when he was only 19, Joe De La Vina says the Navy made him who he is today.
“The ups and downs, traveling, leaving your family, teaching you what the importance of life is."
De La Vina’s 15 years of service created 15 years of stories – half of which belong to his wife, Melissa.
“I spent a lot of time by myself. I made several moves along while my husband was deployed. I spent most of my pregnancy alone."
When Joe's military term ended, the couple decided to make up for lost time and go into business together, opening Shorti's Deli in Carrollwood.
They had each other again -- but they also had a lot of questions.
“Just the uncertainty of being in the military for so long, knowing how everything's going to be. Then, waking up, not knowing," Joe said.
Deborah Gano works as a vocational rehab specialist for the VA. One of the programs she helps teach made Shorti's Deli a success.
"Many of them are afraid to make that step," Gano said.
The transition assistance program gives veterans a wide range of civilian life tips -- from resume building, to small business tactics -- even arranging interviews.
"To know that while I'm transitioning from active duty to civilian, I have a place I can go to," Gano explained. "They served our country."
Joe still wears camo, but now it's only a USF baseball cap. It's even possible to eat at Shorti's and never even know the owner spent half his life in the military.
That is, until you look past the signs for mixed berry cheesecake and baklava to his American flags and medals.
"At 19, not knowing what I was going to do with my life, not even knowing what tomorrow would bring, it's the best decision I could've made, even at 19 years old," he smiled.
To learn more about the program, you can call the James Haley VA Vocational Rehab Center at 813-972-2000, extension 6100, or visit their website at http://www.tampa.va.gov/services/
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