John Forsberg, mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) manager with Clark Construction Group, is ready for any and every challenge a construction project could possibly present.
He has the technical skills to solve them, along with an unwavering ability to work with any team or person to tackle whatever a project can throw his way.
That’s because, before his construction career began in earnest in the early 2000s, Forsberg spent five years as a member of the United States Navy, where preparedness and problem-solving were paramount.
From his specialty working with electronics and advanced data systems on ships, to his physically demanding roles as a rescue swimmer as part of two deployments to the Persian Gulf during the apex of U.S. military operations in Iraq, Forsberg brings to his construction career a series of unique experiences that have shaped him into a leader in his field.
“The main thing I learned in the military is working in a team environment,” said Forsberg, who is based in San Diego. “Nobody is building a project on their own, and what was nice about my military experience is you’re able to come out of it and jump into a team—you already know how to operate with a team.”
Foundations in construction
Forsberg had a taste of what working in the construction industry would be like before joining the military. At 20 years old, he spent some time working in a fabrication shop building ductwork. One day while making a delivery, he stopped at a Navy recruitment office, inspired at the possibility of joining the service thanks to family history.
“I think I always had an understanding that I was going to go into the military at some point,” said Forsberg, whose stepdad also served in the Navy. “When I realized college wasn’t in my immediate future, rather than knocking sheet metal together, I would go into the military and see how it treated me.”
The Navy ended up treating Forsberg quite well. From 1998 to 2003, he served during one of the most critical periods in U.S. history. Just about three years into his service, the September 11, 2001, attacks escalated the U.S. into military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the latter of which is concluding at the time of this writing.
Forsberg decided to pursue an electronics specialty in the Navy, which sent him first to training in the Great Lakes region just outside of Chicago and then for a short period in Virginia. He then traveled to San Diego, his home, to work on a ship. There, because the on-ship technology didn’t require much upkeep from his electronics training, Forsberg took on other jobs, including one as the ship’s rescue swimmer.
“I’d get to go out and do rescue operations and any sort of boat operations that would go out that would get me off the ship and into a small boat,” Forsberg said, “which seemed a little more exciting than just hanging out in the electronics workshop.”
Forsberg’s experience as a rescue swimmer would lead him to some of the most memorable experiences of his time in the service. This included two deployments to the Persian Gulf during Operation Iraqi Freedom, the mission that ultimately overthrew the authoritarian government of dictator Saddam Hussein.
“That kind of opened by eyes to the whole world,” Forsberg said. “That was a good experience.”
Aside from his time in the Middle East, Forsberg’s experience in the Navy also included several port visits while on ships, including Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore. “It was a good adventure,” Forsberg said of the port visits. “I think that’s what any young guy going into the military was looking for. I made some really great friends—people I’m still friends with today.”
A great career
When he re-entered civilian life in 2003, Forsberg had no plans on returning to construction. Instead, he attended San Diego City College, earning an associate degree in political science and government. He then went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts in social sciences from San Diego State University, graduating in 2008. “I think the military definitely helps people get out and focus a little bit more, as far as getting the schoolwork done,” Forsberg said. “I was a much better student after the military.”
While earning his degree, Forsberg initially wanted to become a teacher, figuring he could teach history and coach water polo at a high school near his home in San Diego. But the job market for teachers in 2008-2009 in California was anything but promising, with layoffs plaguing the area as the broader economy sputtered into the Great Recession.
So Forsberg went back to where he started: sheet metal.
He joined a local union apprenticeship, and from 2008-2013 Forsberg was firmly entrenched in a promising construction career, leading him to roles that eventually led to his role with Clark, working on the management side. “I realized this is the route I needed to be on. It’s not a backup,” Forsberg recalled. “This is a great career, being a sheet metal worker, which gave me so many options.”
Working with people
Forsberg said his time in the military put him on the path to where he is today. Above all, his experience in the Navy equipped him with the mindset that no project is too challenging and no problem can’t be solved. It also taught him the importance of being able to work closely with people, both literally and figuratively.
The military also gave Forsberg the mental skills to thrive in construction.
“The mental aspect is there too,” Forsberg said. “During my time in the military, I went through bootcamp and other tough situations while deployed. These events helped prepare me to take on the challenging tasks that come my way today. I would say that most people who come from a military background like a good challenge.” “And going into a trade or into construction,” Forsberg continued, “every day you’re going to run into something that you’re going to have to pivot and rethink it and find a solution. I think that’s something that veterans have a good ability to do.”