Military keeps median age lower than rest of state

FORT WALTON BEACH — Nicole Yount could be one of the reasons the median age in this area will hover in the late 30s or early 40s rather than skewing older as is the case in much of the rest of Florida.

Like many young people, Yount, now 29, came to Fort Walton Beach as a member of the military — in her case, as an Air Force airman at Hurlburt Field. And also like at least some number of those young people, now that her six-year military commitment has wound down, she's staying put as she transitions into civilian life.

"I wanted to stay here," she said, sitting on the sofa in her home on a quiet street between Beal Parkway and Hurlburt Road.

"I own my house," she added, "so just the hassle of transitioning, mixed with thinking about selling or renting, it was just too much, so I really wanted to stay here and get myself situated before exploring other options."

Yount's track from civilian life into the military, and now from military life back into the civilian workforce, seems fairly typical for a young person beginning to make their way in the world. At 19, she was a college student in Ohio, with grants fully funding her education. But, she says, she wasn't sure then exactly what she wanted to do with a college education, and felt guilty using money that could go to someone more certain and focused about their future.

"So I took a break from school, and I worked full-time," she said. Soon, military service looked like a real option. "There's just so many benefits of joining and opportunities that it comes with," Yount noted. "You can go to school, you get college credits for your training for your job, there's just so many opportunities to grow and to put on a resume and to help yourself after you get out." "

About a year in, Yount said, she realized the Air Force wasn't likely her full path in life. "I made the decision that maybe this isn't quite what I want to do for the next 20 years," she said. "I used the opportunities that I had, and took advantage of what you can, and then moved on."

Yount, working in supply at Hurlburt Field, did, in fact, take advantage of opportunities, and left the Air Force last month at the rank of staff sergeant. "It was definitely interesting transitioning into that, becoming an NCO, and learning those things and getting that training that you get when you become an NCO," she said.

But before she left the Air Force, Yount went to CareerSource Okaloosa Walton, a local nonprofit organization that links employers and potential employees, providing specific services for people just transitioning out of the military and older veterans looking to return to the workforce. In fact, veterans get "priority of service" at CareerSource Okaloosa Walton as a matter of federal law, and because some of the federal Department of Labor funds that find their way to CareerSource require that priority.

Through CareerSource, widely publicized at Hurlburt Field as a tool for transitioning into the civilian workforce, Yount got involved with the Department of Defense's SkillBridge program, which provides internships to transitioning military personnel while they're on active duty.

For a time, Yount said, "I was really getting two paychecks. I was getting my paycheck for my contractor job, and getting my paycheck from being active-duty. That's kind of a nice way to transition, because you can save a lot of money in case something were to happen ... ."

Since February, when she was formally separated from the Air Force, Yount has been working with Global Asset Technologies, a private contractor at Hurlburt Field, doing document-related supply work. It's a little different from what she did in the Air Force, but she goes to work in the same building.

Work now, Yount said, is a lot like her time in the Air Force, with one important difference. "You'll see all of your friends, and people who still wear the uniform," she said. But the hours that she and other contractor employees work aren't subject to briefings, exercises and other military activities. "You get your free time back," she said. "As soon as the clock hits 4, it's 'Bye, we're leaving.'"

Looking toward the future, Yount is using GI Bill benefits to take some online college classes, majoring in technical management, and hopes to have her bachelor's degree within the next few years. "It's just easier for me, with working, and taking care of daily life, to just take a class at a time," she said.

As is the case for many people who live in Northwest Florida, the sunny climate is a basic reason for trying to stay in the area.

"The weather definitely is a plus for me," she said. And for now, she's content to stay here as she nurtures her education and career plans.

"I think I could stay here for quite some time," Yount said. "We'll see how things go, but it's a strong possibility."