Scott DeLuzio 00:00:00 Thanks for tuning in to the Drive On Podcast, where we’re focused on giving hope and strength to the entire military community. Whether you’re a veteran, active duty, guard, reserve, or family member, this podcast will share inspirational stories and resources that are useful to you. I’m your host, Scott DeLuzio. And now let’s get on with the show. Hey, everybody, welcome back to the Drive On Podcast. Today my guest is Curtis Rutledge. Curtis is an Army veteran and creator of the nonprofit Shift 6 whose mission it is to bridge the auto industry with the veteran community by raising veteran awareness, through teaching automotive and technical skills. Welcome to the show, Curtis. I’m glad to have you to really appreciate it.
Curtis Rutledge 00:00:47 Thanks, Scott. Thanks for having me.
Scott DeLuzio 00:00:49 Absolutely. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background and we’ll go from there?
Curtis Rutledge 00:00:56 I’m a 12-year army veteran. Did three tours overseas in Iraq. My second tour, came back kind of realized that due to my injuries, it was gonna medically retire me. I kind of was lost. I planned on doing 20 years in the military but had to adjust and kinda did law enforcement for a little bit. Then due to my injuries, I couldn’t really continue to do that. About the same time when all of that was happening, I kind of did the mind mid-life crisis, bought a 68 Chevelle, and put an LS into it and an LS one. Then when it came to doing the metal fabrication, work on it, to get it up to par, I quickly realized how expensive it was and how undereducated I was on the task of welding. I took it upon myself to go to welding school, got into the welding industry, loved it. That’s how I got into doing and creating Shift 6 through working at a nonprofit here locally in Bakersfield. I saw the need for that. If it helped me, then maybe we would be able to help some other veterans kind of take the idea and now we’re running with it.
Scott DeLuzio 00:02:09 I love this idea of bridging the auto industry with the veteran community. and this idea for Shift 6, sounds like it came from your own experiences. Basically trying to figure stuff out on your own and realizing how underprepared you were. What are some of the things that when you first got started, when you dip your toes in the water here, if you will, what were some of the things that you were realizing? I know you said like welding, but what are some of the things that you were realizing that you weren’t quite as well-prepared for, as you thought you were?
Curtis Rutledge 00:02:55 I grew up a car guy. My grandfather, he’s a Navy veteran. But he’s a diehard car fanatic as well. I’ve always grown up around cars. I never really knew the back end though. I never knew what it took to get back that car that you dream about sitting in the field, getting it back up and running, getting it back to the status where you could drive it. Take your family out on a Friday night cruise night, like we have here just take it to the track and have fun with it, pass it down to your kids. The intricacies of metalworking, the intricacies of building a decent horsepower car that you’re going to be able to drive on a daily basis and then take it out on the track on the weekends is stuff that our forefathers and our grandfathers had when they had like the old classics. Being able to rent a car like the Hertz, Shelby GT three 50, the Hertz clones, those cars are making a comeback, but stuff like that, you could have it as a daily driver and then take it out on the track on the weekends.
Curtis Rutledge 00:03:56 That’s big. There’s a lot that goes into it. You want to make sure it’s structurally sound. You got to know your parameters on that. You want to make sure that everything is within those parameters to where you can be sure that you’re safe on all ends and then you can get home safely, but you want to be able to include the people that you love, friends and family, fellow veterans. That’s why it kind of spitballed and just started with just the welding aspect of it. Then the stuff that I didn’t know. I started trying to include it. I figured the more the merrier, one of our Latin sayings. It’s always learning. I don’t think I’ve ever met a car guy that has learned everything about cars. The industry is so vast. For me to be able to do it with brothers and sisters in arms, it’s huge. Then to have the backing from the welding community and the automotive community and just the whole blue-collar trades comp, communities. It’s great. It’s such an honor to be able to carry this torch for everybody.
Scott DeLuzio 00:05:05 What are some of the things that Shift 6 does to help out veterans? Is it mostly the teaching and the training to kind of fill the skills gap that they may have, or do you kind of get involved with job placement to help people get into the industry as well? What is Shift 6 kind of in a nutshell, and what is it that you help veterans out with?
Curtis Rutledge 00:05:31 We give them the skills. We teach them the basic skills, for welding metal fabrication, and whatnot. We do act as a conduit, with finding veterans who have already been trained or are looking to get trained. I, myself, worked at a nonprofit here to where I was able to get a lot of outlets when it came to veterans, and job-seeking skills and stuff. Right now we do a lot of, our big thing has been welding metal fabrication, paint and body, a lot of veterans are really attracted to those topics mainly. What we’ve been doing is kind of tailoring our classes to that, to try to garner more interest in the near future. What we’re aiming to do is once we have our own brick and mortar establishment, we’re going to have it where we actually get our veterans trained by a certified trainer. We basically pay for their certification from the American welding society. Then they can take it out and then earn money and earn a decent income and the trade that they have they’re choosing.
Scott DeLuzio 00:06:38 That’s great because I think when veterans are getting service members out of the military, they’re making that transition. I think it is just through the conversations I’ve had with other veterans. I think there are these people out there who think, I’ll be able to figure this out. I’m a veteran, anyone’s going to hire me and they’re going to jump all over this. It’s not true if you don’t have the skills for the type of job that you’re looking for. Welding, that type of thing. That’s a specialized skill. It takes some training and practice to be able to do that type of work.
Scott DeLuzio 00:07:27 You can’t just walk in with your DD214, expect someone to just jump all over you and give you a job. You definitely need that kind of training. How does the whole process work? You have a service member who’s just getting out of the military. We were just talking about doesn’t know what they’re going to do with their lives. They don’t have the training in certain things, but they always like tinkering with cars like you said, growing up, you work with cars and they’re considering that type of career in the auto industry. They just don’t know where to start. Then they come across Shift 6, what can they expect when they reach out? What does that whole process like?
Curtis Rutledge 00:08:12 What we do here locally is we partner with local hot rod shops. Currently, we’re partnered with born vintage, hot rods. Great shop right there. The owners are very big on pro-America pro veterans, all that. They’re very great red-blooded Americans. I mean, we can’t get any better than that. They’ve opened their hearts in their shops. When we started this program, they were on board right off the bat. It’s great to see them be a part of our journey as well. They’ve believed it since the beginning. Having those professionals in the industry, they went to SEMA this past and they killed it. One of their trucks was in the battle of the builders. To have a shop of such a caliber, be a part of Shift 6. It’s amazing that our veterans can come into the shop and then they can be partnered with such experts and be taught those skills free of charge.
Curtis Rutledge 00:09:12 We provide breakfast via coffee and donuts, and then we usually have lunch, at one of the local barbecue joints here. What we do is we just create these conducive environments where the veterans can come learn. There’s no judgment, there’s no combat vet versus combat vet. There’s no service, segregation, it’s all male and female veterans. We all come together and we all learn. Some of us are a little bit more advanced while other ones we’re just getting their feet wet. Just learning how to just strike an arc on a stick welder or, being more elaborate TIG, welding, aluminum, welding. We try to make sure that all of the veterans come through. We cater to all those levels to where everybody can see that the environment is. Like I said, it’s conducive for everybody there’s no picking and choosing.
Curtis Rutledge 00:10:06 We want to build that environment where veterans can come in and not feel any sort of segregation or any branch. I’ve had my oldest veteran who was a Korean War veteran. Then my youngest veteran that we’ve had just got out about six, seven months ago. It’s great to see those veterans chopping it up. Male and female veterans. We had a female veteran where her dad didn’t believe that she made her own mailbox. I actually had to send photos and a video of her doing it. To be able to break down those barriers and then, hear the pride and the sense of enjoyment that female veteran had being able to show her dad that I can do this and I can exceed the standard. That’s what we want to be able to do. That’s our goal and that’s what we’re going to keep doing.
Scott DeLuzio 00:10:55 That’s great that that’s how this is working, where veterans from all branches, from all areas from, like you said, combat, and non-combat. That’s all coming together, and working together to learn these new skills. I think that that’s incredible and one thing that I think the veterans who are getting out of the military don’t give themselves enough credit for is their ability to learn new skills. When we went to all of us, anyone who’s ever served when we went to basic training, we didn’t know how to march with a rifle. It’s something that we were taught and we learned, the military courtesy and how to throw a grenade and like, whatever our job was, I was an infantryman. I’m just coming up with all these things like infantry-type things. I’m sure other MOS have had other things that they learned, we’re all capable of learning something. We’re not idiots. I mean, some of us may act like idiots, we’re not idiots.
Curtis Rutledge 00:12:14 I agree. I was one of my MOS scouts. Once you get that environment, me and you, we would have been chewing the same cud out that downrange, but it’s good to have that comradery. It’s good to see how resilient we are as veterans. The sad part is when we get out we were trained to just to go do our mission to secure what we need to secure, to capture what we needed to capture and what, but on the back end of it is to see us all come together and to see that the resiliency of the veteran community and how the ability is not lost once we’ve gotten out.
Curtis Rutledge 00:13:01 Yes. It’s things to lose all that, that brotherhood and sisterhood and that skill set that we gained, that made us all unique, but to reimplement it into a whole nother facet, and a whole nother teaching skill, it’s huge. it’s such a sense of enjoyment to see, being able to pass it on to other veterans who are in need, who may be like trying to figure out life as it goes, because like you said, we’ve all struggled it, and it’s not something that we’re going to figure out tomorrow, or right now. We have to implement ourselves with new skills and new outlets. With those new outlets we can help to process our own issues the right way, not the wrong way, and to curb that dark subject of veterans suicide if we can save one veteran, this is worth it all the time and money, and effort spent and donated by the community. That’s what we want to capitalize on. We want to be able to capitalize on the fact that our community is doing so much to endorse us and bring to fruition what we’re doing. we can help to curb what we can and better, better in illnesses and ailments and just get them out there again. It’s such an honor to be able to push it out, especially since it’s so near and dear to my heart.
Scott DeLuzio 00:14:21 One of the things that I like about doing this podcast is that it’s almost like therapy for me. Just being able to come on and talk with them about veterans and have these conversations. But this is something I enjoy doing. There’s so many different interests out there there are people who are way more into, whatever the thing is welding or, fixing cars, whatever it is. They find comradery with other veterans through organizations like this through Shift 6 and figure out how to do this new skill, in that community of other veterans. they pick back up almost like where they left off, where they can come together as veterans.
Scott DeLuzio 00:15:25 One of the groups of people that are just so incredibly helpful with each other are our veterans. They’ll do anything for each other. It’s rare to find that in other subsets of the population. When you’re able to make some of these friends outside of the military after you’ve taken off the uniform, you’ll have these people who are going to, they want to see you succeed. I don’t know for sure, because I’m not a part of these daily classes that you’re doing and everything, but I wouldn’t suspect that they’re looking at each other, like competition, they’re looking at each other, how can we help each other out.
Curtis Rutledge 00:16:15 It’s great. Here locally, we have a really great, veteran community. We have a really dense population of veterans. Kern county as a whole is the second-largest veteran population next to Riverside. The closer you get down to LA the more, I don’t want to say polluted, but the more busy things are. But here in Kern County, we have such an amazing population and so many great organizations. I tend to find a lot of veterans from different parts of California, they migrate here because of the outlets. I mean, we have everything from major breast screen therapy. We had an organization when I started out, which was wounded, wounded heroes found here locally. We offer everything from, they offer, excuse me, they offer everything from, grants to a food bank, movie nights, and all that stuff.
Curtis Rutledge 00:17:08 Then you have organizations like living for vets here. It’s all about the veteran’s health and wellness, getting them back in shape, Having all those multitudes of organizations, it’s great to see that a population, a local population. There’s so much about the veterans that can even endorse another avenue where our veterans are almost fully covered, and like you said, the veteran community as a whole, we’re very tight-knit. To be welcomed is huge, and to show proof that what we’re doing out there is working. To be able to have more veterans come along. It’s a great success.
Scott DeLuzio 00:17:47 Yeah, absolutely. And this is just one small corner of the country, right? This is just your, in your area where you’ve mentioned a couple of other organizations that are all working together with veterans. There’s a bunch of these organizations working to improve the lives of veterans. It’s not unique to any one area of the country. There’s organizations all over the place. Really just looking to make veterans succeed and offering all these resources. I’ve talked to people all over the country. They’re doing everything from helping veterans figure out how to go on a job interview or writing a resume or skills training. You mentioned some things that we had a guest on the show a little while back. Their whole thing is not just therapy, but just training as well, like job training to help people get jobs in that market.
Scott DeLuzio 00:19:05 There’s an organization locally here in the Phoenix area that I’ve been helping out with. I helped get jobs in the technology industry, and for veterans. I think the point I’m trying to make with all this is, maybe the person who’s listening to this right now doesn’t live in California in your local area, but there are organizations all over the place who are doing things like this, maybe not the exact same thing that you’re doing. But they’re doing things like this. It’s really just a matter of figuring out who these people are, where they’re located and how we can get people in touch with them. That’s why I love having guests on the show like yourself. It’s really all about raising awareness to organizations like this. The listeners who are in California right now, they can check you out and be like, Hey, this is, this is something I’m in. I want to learn more about this. They can come down and get these skills.
Curtis Rutledge 00:20:19 The good thing is, we’re already in talks with starting up a Texas chapter. I think of a Kentucky chapter as well. So what we want to be and then our five-year three to five-year plan is to be nationwide. We’ve got some great organizations that we’re going to pair with. We’re some great industry leaders that we’ve already teamed up with. People that are sponsoring some of the stuff that we already have going on. CK, worldwide are really predominant. They’re huge in the welding game, Lou Demon, they’re huge. and then you jumped the welding car side, Snake Eater Performance. They’re sponsoring our injectors for our 10 build, auto metal direct, they’re sponsoring the whole bedsides for this truck as well.
Curtis Rutledge 00:21:11 To see those two come together it’s great. Our big push is to go nationwide because I’ve tried to look into it and see what other avenues and organizations are out there and it’s great to partner. I just love the fact that we can continue to grow and then make sure all our avenues and just make sure everything’s covered, have to know where we’re, checking every box and every veteran has the opportunity to get that help, whether they’re near or far.
Scott DeLuzio 00:21:43 That’s a great thing, too. All right. expanding your reach replicating this in different markets and across the country, because, obviously it’s not just Californians who are looking for welders and auto folks. It’s nationwide really. There are veterans nationwide who are looking for this type of stuff. That’s really great. Do you have any success stories that you might be able to share? People who, maybe reach out, to Shift 6, went through the training and have gone on to successful careers and, moved on, with the stuff that they’ve taken away from there. Anything that you’d be able to share with us?
Curtis Rutledge 00:22:37 Yeah, without giving names and being too personal, I have one of my older veterans, a great Navy veteran. He’s been battling with his injuries and all his issues from his time in service. When he started, he was very nervous because when I noticed he was very nervous and it was just having the community there and then having guys like Brock and Comocca. Welcome him into their shop with open arms. It’s a very heartwarming and heartfelt experience because, when you see these gorgeous cars at places like SEMA, like Detroit Autorama or Tokyo Auto Salon, these are like cars that have been worked on for years, and they have millions of hours into them. To have a shop open up their arms to veterans, it gave him such a boost in his confidence that he went from just trying to figure it out to be able to weld.
Curtis Rutledge 00:23:39 He told me when he started, it was just I’ve always wanted to weld. I was a welder. My dad got away from it, and then I just joined the military and I never got into it. Now he’s actually, from my understanding, he’s welding on the side to make some extra money. It’s a great confidence booster, especially, from a veteran who’s struggling with their issues to being able to provide. It’s something amazing. Like my story in and of itself. I was at my wit’s end and being able to dive into this welcoming community and have the backing from the welding community. It’s huge. The veteran community is very tight and the welding community is just as tight as well.
Curtis Rutledge 00:24:25 They welcome you with open arms. Having liked the shop and the auto industry, it’s crazy because, like I said, I grew up on cars. I grew up watching ships boost, work over people’s cars. I grew up watching all those different car shows, knowing, I can remember as a kid being like, man, I would love to be able to do that someday, but now on the flip side, I’m like, all right, well, let’s make this happen. Now we can give that to our veterans. We have given it to our veterans to where we have guys that they’ve actually gone out and bought welders just to practice more and more. and then what’s funny is they go out and buy these welders and then their wives. They give them these honey-do lists of projects that they want. It goes from something that starts as a hobby to something that they can actually make a profession out of or something that they can expand their own realm with and pass down to their kids and say, ”Hey, I learned this at an organization”. With people that I felt comfortable with, that they can pass down. It’s a very rewarding feeling.
Scott DeLuzio 00:25:27 That’s important too. I think the ability to share things with your children and pass things down like that because there might be some guys and gals who come out of the military and not really know how to relate to people who are around them. Having things that they can share and teach. One of the things that we do pretty well in the military is to teach other people. If we can teach these skills to our children and pass them on, these skills are things that are gonna be passed down for generations. It’s not just one father to one son or a mother to daughter or whatever the combination is.
Scott DeLuzio 00:26:20 That’s something that those kids are now going to be able to pass on to their kids down the line. If that’s something that they choose to get involved with and keep up with everything. iIt’s generational really the impact this type of thing could have. Where can people go to get in touch with you if they’re interested in finding out more about how they can be involved with Shift 6, to learn more, to take some of the training classes that you offer, and how they can work with you?
Curtis Rutledge 00:26:57 Yeah. We have Facebook and Instagram project_shift_6. We’re always available to be reached out; it’s our Facebook and Instagram. We always keep it updated. I make sure that I stay on top of that. We have email as well. Everything’s attached from the website. We’re actually updating our website. Pretty soon it’ll be the Shift6.org website right now. It’s linked through GoDaddy, but here pretty soon, we’ll be transferring everything over to the Shift6.org. But right now our main point of contact is Facebook and Instagram. All the stuff goes to my cell phone. I believe my phone number is on the contact info as well. If people are serious, you can always shoot me an email, shoot me a text message. I have no problem. I’m better via texts than I am on the phone sometimes. It’s really easy. I make it very easy for people to get a hold of us. if they have any questions I’m more than welcome any constructive criticism, I’m all, I’m all yours.
Scott DeLuzio 00:28:05 Yeah, absolutely. Are there any specific things that you’re looking for help with, in terms of donations, volunteers, resources, things like that?
Curtis Rutledge 00:28:14 Like I said, in the near future, we hope to be in a brick and mortar establishment. Since we’ve been up and running for about two years, our 501c3 came through this past December, November. We’ve been operating with that. Right now the donations are huge right now. We’re trying to get our operating budget up to where we can start doing more events. We got our first big donation, from a wonderful company. It’s actually a company where they donated a thousand dollars. We’re super grateful and thankful for that. we’re working on trying to get some annual donors, so anybody who’s willing to do donors or sponsorships for any of our future builds or who just wants to donate, they can always link up with me. I’m working on getting a donation portal setup for our website as well, to where it can be donated anonymously, or if you want, we can always reach out. It’s just growing the tree to where we can, yielding the fruit, and giving it to the veterans to make them healthy.
Scott DeLuzio 00:29:17 Yeah, absolutely, and what about, if there’s other people who maybe have a similar idea to this, around the country. They’re looking to start something like this, but it makes maybe more sense to partner together. I know you said you’re looking to expand it. Just reach out, and see if you can work together, right?
Curtis Rutledge 00:29:41 Yeah. That’s what I’m working with a potential partnership or sponsorship with a shop out in Kentucky. There’s some pre-existing stuff that they’re getting started, operation dysfunctionally built, great guy. Rest is good. I’ve gotten to know him really well. There’s always opportunities like that to where we can start something or partner with. We just want to get to the point where we can have our veterans covered on all aspects.
Scott DeLuzio 00:30:12 Well, Curtis, it’s been a pleasure speaking with you today. Thanks for taking the time to join us, in sharing what you’re doing with Shift 6, with me and the audience. I really do appreciate it, and I appreciate all the work that you’re doing as well because I think this is a great resource to have available to the veteran community. Thank you again for coming on and doing what you’re doing.
Curtis Rutledge 00:30:38 No, it’s my pleasure. And It’s my honor. Thank you for having me and allowing me to represent Shift6.
Scott DeLuzio 00:30:44 Thanks for listening to the Drive On Podcast. If you want to check out more episodes or learn more about the show, you can visit our website DriveOnPodcast.com. We’re also on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube at Drive On Podcast.