WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Jim Cullen is a soft-spoken man, married with a son and daughter. He has traded the chill and lake-effect snow of Rochester, NY, where he grew up, for the warm sands and palm trees of the Atlantic Coast where he works for PNC Bank.
Between Rochester and West Palm, however, was Iraq. Fallujah in particular. April 2004. U.S. contractors supporting the U.S. war effort had come under fire, and four were killed. To regain control, a U.S. intelligence team identified high-value targets, and Cullen, as part of a U.S. Marine Corps “quick reactionary” force, was called into the city. Despite experiencing more resistance than anticipated, they continued to patrol the city in an effort to restore order.
On the third day, insurgents fired RPK machine guns on Cullen’s unit. The 19-year-old took two bullets to the shoulder and a third pierced his helmet and grazed his head. Cullen received medical treatment for his injuries before returning to duty. He later returned to Iraq, completing a second tour in Ramadi in 2005 and a third tour back in Fallujah in 2006.
“I decided I like working in risk,” Cullen said with a smile. Fully recovered, he is an underwriting associate within PNC’s Corporate and Institutional Banking development program, researching and evaluating companies seeking loans from the bank.
Cullen got his start at PNC as an intern in its Philadelphia public finance group. At the time, he was already married, a father and in his third year attending the University of Miami on the G.I. Bill. The summer went well and Cullen was hired full-time when he graduated in 2015 with a major in finance and minor in accounting.
“I expected a cut throat environment, but that was not what happened,” Cullen explained about his transition from the military to banking. It was clear at PNC, he said, “that we were in this mission to get it done together.”
Cullen is one of more than 1,000 veterans who work at PNC. The company has had success in recruiting and retaining servicemen and women due in part to the values, including performance, respect, teamwork and integrity, shared with veterans like Cullen. The U.S. Department of Defense gave PNC its Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award in 2014.
Cullen helps recruit veterans to join PNC. A member of the bank’s Military Employee Business Resource Group, he has attended PNC events that focus on recruiting veterans and military spouses and also advocates for veterans looking to get into the financial services industry.
“PNC is a Main Street bank and that appeals to me,” Cullen said.
He joined Cressman Bronson, regional president of PNC’s Florida East region, to sign a statement of support for PNC employees serving in the guard and reserve as part of a coordinated effort across the bank’s 30-plus regions.
Like many veterans, Memorial Day holds special meaning for Cullen. During his time in Iraq he saw first-hand the sacrifices service men and women make.
"I think it's important to remember not only those who've died in service to their country but their families as well," Cullen said. "I would encourage people to enjoy the day off, go to the beach and barbeque with their families but take some time to acknowledge the sacrifices made."
The struggles of veterans who returned to civilian life from service are well-documented, and Cullen points out that “many veterans who did make it back suffer daily from traumatic brain injuries and various emotional disorders related to their service overseas.”
He added, “Veteran suicide is becoming a bigger issue, with reports as high as 22 veterans taking their own lives every day."
A good way to honor those who've died is by reaching out and lending a hand to those struggling. Offer them meaningful employment, encourage them to further their education, and help them translate their military acumen into the civilian sector.
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I think it's important to remember not only those who've died in service to their country but their families as well.
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