Fixing to work: Skilled veteran looking for opportunity as equipment operator, mechanic

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PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Money is going out and nothing is coming in. That’s the cash-flow crisis for John Whitehead, who lost his job right around the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

“That’s what’s left of my life,” Whitehead said on a recent day as he pulled up the door to a storage unit near the apartment where he’s staying with a family member.

“I’m not used to being like that. I’m used to being able to control what’s going on around me,” he said.

He’s 65 and doesn’t want his past experience to be taken for granted. Whitehead has a very particular set of skills — skills he’s acquired over a very long career.

He’s been a small engine mechanic — “I’ve always been very good at that,” he said — as well as a crane operator loading product into the hulls of ships. He also has experience operating heavy equipment.

“Bulldozers, backhoes, front-end loaders, you name it, I can operate it,” he said.

Whitehead was also a boiler tech in the U.S. Navy in the latter years of Vietnam, but his life went off course when the pandemic began, and he lost his job as the mechanic at a go-kart center.

“During that time my life was falling apart. My mother died, my father died and my wife left me,” he said.

His last unemployment payment was late last year, and like so many Virginians, has had no luck trying to reach the Virginia Employment Commission.

“I tried for literally eight months. Eight months straight, every day, three, four, five times a day trying to call these people. Could never get a hold of anyone,” he said.

For now, Whitehead is getting around on a bicycle, trying to scrape up the money for a new clutch for his Honda 750 so he can commute to a job.

“This shouldn’t happen to anybody, let alone a veteran,” he said.

If you have an opportunity for Whitehead, or are having trouble with unemployment and are willing to work, contact us at reportit@wavy.com.

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