During his seven-year stint in the US Navy, Charles Todd worked his way up to gun mount captain, scanning the horizon for threats, and honed his skills as a forklift operator in particularly dangerous situations—atop a rocking flight deck.
Aboard the USS Mount Baker, as helicopters delivered pallets of bombs, Todd’s job was to quickly pick up the pallets with the forklift, deliver them to a storage area and go back for more. Sometimes the ocean was so choppy that he slid precariously close to the edge as the salty water splashed up against his face.
The work was around the clock and could last for days. Todd would catch a few moments of sleep in the forklift as the helicopters refueled. “Everything is high speed,” he said. “There’s really no time to kind of be cautious. You just gotta go for it.”
As he transitioned back to the civilian world, Todd brought that same attitude—to just go for it, slowly building the life he always dreamed of as he pursued a decades-long career in the construction industry.
Today, Todd is an industry consultant for Bluebeam, helping customers get the most out of the company’s digital software tools purpose-built for the construction industry. And he does it remotely from a cabin on a hill in Tennessee. It’s been a long journey to get here, but the destination became possible for three reasons: Todd’s strong desire to better support his family, his faith and the self-confidence nurtured from his years in the Navy.
“The military gave me the mindset that I can do anything that I put my mind to,” Todd said. “Challenges are meant to be beaten.”
Todd joined the Navy in 1989 at age 17 and left for a six-month Mediterranean cruise just a week after boot camp. At that point, he’d barely left his hometown of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He was “terrified,” Todd remembers. But it wasn’t all high-intensity experiences. He also went to Egypt and saw the pyramids.
“I was on a camel with the pyramids behind me, and I told my buddies, ‘Just six months ago, I was in high school in Alabama, and I am now on a camel in Egypt,’” he remembers. “My life just flip-flopped quick.”
He would eventually be deployed to the Gulf War and then to a conflict around the Arctic Circle, which involved moving nuclear weapons, among other places.
“My time in the military … I feel like I grew up there,” Todd said. “I learned a lot—how to handle responsibility, how to make it through adversity. It’s such a different culture than being in the regular world. In the military, there’s no room for weakness.”
That grit would be required as he moved back to the civilian world. Like many former service members, the return wasn’t easy.
In the Navy, he’d led a team of seven or eight men. At home, Todd was stuck in low-paying jobs and long days as he plugged away at a degree in engineering graphics, drafting and design. But slowly, with each move, he began building a better life for his family—from draftsman to estimator to project management to construction technology training, sales and support.
Todd has always been intersted in construction. He’d taken a drafting class in high school and had intended to join the US Naval Construction Battalions, or Navy Seabees, building infrastructure for the Navy. A recruiter steered him in a different direction, but he eventually found his way back.
“To this day, I can drive to certain parts of the country, and I can show my kids and my wife and say, ‘Look, I helped design that building. I had a part in that being constructed,’” he said. “I can point to something that was just a thought, and I was part of that process. That’s just awesome to me.”
As the industry struggles with a labor shortage, Todd encourages construction companies to take a serious look at former service members. They’re dedicated, detail-oriented hard workers. “They’ll do whatever it takes to overcome those challenges,” he said. “They have that fortitude to push through.”
Todd is far from the extreme challenges he experienced in the Navy, facing combat or moving bombs with a forklift near the edge of a teetering ship. But he thrives in his work to support Bluebeam customers, taking every opportunity to learn and grow in the job just as he did in the Navy. And in his off time, he’s usually with his family. Todd and his wife have seven kids and 12 grandchildren between the two of them.
“It’s like a Forrest Gump life,” Todd said. “It’s been unexpected, and it’s been a blessing. Looking back at it now, I’m not making a million dollars a year, but I am a rich man. … I have a cabin on a hill on seven acres of land. I can walk out and see the mountains. My life is peaceful. .. It’s a life that I dreamed and prayed about many years ago, and I’m living in that.”