BOOTS ON THE GROUND: From Navy to carpentry, Meador finds career in construction

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MEASURING UP

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Jacob Meador got his first taste of construction in situations where doing a good job could literally mean the difference between life and death.

Meador was a member of U.S. Naval Construction Battalions, more commonly known as the Navy Seabees. During that time, he did two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.

His job was to parachute into places and build landing strips and bases for the troops. More than once, he found himself in a “hot spot.”

“It was fast paced, and you had to do it with a gun at your back,” Meador said. “So it was a little stressful.”

By the time his five years were up, Meador decided he wanted to return home and start a family. He gave up the military life but eventually made his way back to construction.

Although Meador was born in New Orleans, he was a military child who was moved around quite a bit in his early years. His teens were largely spent in Superior, a city he now considers home.

Meador said that, after his service in the Navy, he tried his hand at several jobs before returning to construction. For a time he even worked as a salesman for a Chrysler dealer.

“I ate macaroni and cheese for 6 months because I was horrible at selling cars,” he said. “I didn’t make a lot of money.”

Next, inspired by the memory of a beloved teacher, he enrolled in a Troops to Teachers program. But the classroom didn’t suit him either. Students’ lack of respect for teachers was a bit hard for a former serviceman to take.

“The world had changed,” Meador said. “Children aren’t what they were when I was growing up.”

Soon enough Meador, now with three kids, was back in construction. He quickly found work that he liked and could do well.

But, for years, the pay remained frustratingly low. Then a friend persuaded him to join the local carpenters union.

As soon as he took that step, Meador said, his pay increased and he began receiving benefits like health insurance and a 401K plan. Now Meador is completing an apprenticeship through Local 361 of North Central States Council of Carpenters.

Despite his experience, and although he has never been paid less than wages on the journeyman scale, he was told by the carpenters that he needed to learn to do things the union way. Meador said he has been an eager student.

“They go by OSHA rules, and it’s great to work for them, both for me and my family,” he said. “I love the safety training. They are teaching apprentices to be skilled journeyman and not just go out there and do a bunch of hammer-heading and ram-rodding.”

Over the years, Meadors said, he has found himself working on everything from footings, to trim and finishing to large apartment complexes and renovations of 200-year-old historical buildings.

In the short term, Meadors — now 37 — is looking forward to completing his apprenticeship this fall following two more classes. Looking farther out, he could see himself eventually doing political work for the union, especially after his kids are out of school.

“I’ve already traveled many times for campaigns and help with get-out-the-vote campaigns,” he said. “I helped run a fellow carpenter for city council. My dream job is to be a political director for the carpenters union.” •

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