Retired NCO enjoys life as small business owner

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Siuta B. Ika
  • 99th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
On a hot summer afternoon, Alfredo Sibucao Jr. is rearranging a hat display in his Las Vegas-based retail store. He moves on to the jewelry case by the register and the mini-skateboards in the front window before officially opening for the day.

He makes small talk with a passerby and offers her a discount if she comes back to the store with her 4-year-old daughter. He then makes a phone call to another local business owner with plans of a "mutually-beneficial" agreement.

"I learned how to network on my first deployment, in Pakistan. We set up and didn't have parts for my equipment, so I had to go out to the Army's camp and just say, 'Hey I need a voltage regulator or I need these parts,'" Sibucao said. "From that I learned, 'Hey man you hook me up and I'll hook you up.'"

According to his wife, Sibucao is "the definition of a people-person" and conversing with strangers comes easy to him -- a good trait to have since he represents one-half of his store's employee pool; his wife is the other.

Sibucao is also a working man. Through high school, he worked as a bagger at the Nellis Air Force Base commissary. Upon graduation, he enlisted in the Air Force as an aerospace ground equipment specialist and was stationed at Kadena Air Base, Japan for two years; Osan AB, South Korea for a year, and finally 13 years combined between Nellis -- as an Airman Leadership School instructor -- and Creech AFBs.

Sibucao's father, a retired culinary specialist in the Navy who worked aboard diesel submarines, taught him at a young age that having a strong work ethic and being devoted to family is what matters most.

Even though Sibucao no longer toils under the unforgiving sun on the Creech AFB flightline for 12 hours a day as an AGE technician, he now logs even more hours as a small business owner.

"The store's open seven days a week, so I'm here every day and typically put in about 16 hours a day," Sibucao said. "If I'm not in the store, I'm still working, on the phone tweeting, commenting, I'm on Snapchat now, so it's a lot of work but I'm used to working all day. My wife will switch with me around lunch time if I have to do some sort of marketing thing or run an errand, or the two of us will be here with the kids."

Originally born in San Francisco, California, Sibucao moved to the Philippines for a couple years before his family settled in Las Vegas when he was in middle school. At the age of 18, Sibucao fulfilled a childhood dream and enlisted in the Air Force.

"Because my dad was in the Navy, I lived the military life as a kid," Sibucao said. "I've always been fascinated by aircraft, and I knew all of the planes out there. I traveled on (space available) frequently, and saw the uniform so much that I knew I wanted to do that -- to be part of something big."

Sibucao was in his 16th year of service when the Air Force rolled out the temporary early retirement authority program as a voluntary separation program under the umbrellas of force management and sequestration. At first glance, the veteran of three deployments to the Middle East thought nothing of it.

"At first, I thought I'm not getting out, why would I get out? But by about mid-January, my wife asked me to consider it," Sibucao said. "I told her, well I've done 16 years already and I'm going to make master (sergeant) this year because I missed it by four points last year. So I was like no way I'm getting out; start a business -- that's ridiculous. But as weeks went on, I started thinking about it and asking advice from mentors of mine and a lot of them said take it because they said this opportunity will never come again."

Still on the fence about his future, Sibucao had a talk with his father and flight chief that would convince him to drop his retirement papers.

"Deciding to get out was probably the toughest decision I've had to make in my entire life. My dad basically told me the military is a tougher life now than it was in the 80s when he was in, and I already had sacrificed so much," Sibucao said. "When I was debating about what to do, Senior Master Sgt. Valerie Schenk told me, 'I think I know what your problem is. I think if you retire now, in your mind you think you failed or didn't accomplish anything, because you didn't make master.'

"I had other people telling me I should stay in because I have everything lined up for chief -- special duty, course 14, (Community College of the Air Force) degree working on a bachelors -- all those things and all those special jobs I've done in my career. They said I was just going to waste an opportunity at chief," Sibucao said. "She was the one who said, 'It's not about chief, you haven't failed yourself. You've accomplished a lot. Look at your ribbon rack, look at all the deployments you've gone on, all those things you've done, not a lot of people can say they've done that.' I needed to hear that, and that's when I knew what the right decision was."

After he submitted his retirement application, Sibucao moved quickly to set up for life after the Air Force.

His father-in-law was a district manager at a high-end jeweler for 19 years and then owned four stores of his own. As a teenager, Sibucao's wife worked in many of the stores, so she always wanted to start a business. Now that Sibucao was retiring, the two would get a chance to live her dream and start a business of their own.

"My wife knew I would be a good fit for the store because I'm very sociable, so I can do the marketing and I can interact. Plus I'm used to not having a day off for six months, working 12 hours every day, being an ALS instructor, and being mentally exhausted after the day," Sibucao said. "It's hard to do this every day, but I think my wife knew this was going to happen and I'd be a good fit for it."

Sibucao said the Air Force didn't just say "good luck" and go about its way after he dropped his retirement paperwork, but helped immensely in his transition from blue-suitor to retiree.

"A lot of information was provided during his out-processing, such as his benefits and entitlements," said Bob Monteagudo, 799th Air Base Squadron Airman and Family Readiness Center community readiness consultant. "Since his focus was being an entrepreneur, we connected him with the Small Business Administration's district office and the 'Start your Own Business' seminar. He's on our employment distribution list also, so he's getting continued support even though he is no longer here." 

The A&FRC at Nellis and Creech AFBs offer numerous programs to all separating Airmen, including the Transition Assistance Program; employment search/resume writing; job interview preparation; Veterans Affairs benefits briefings; pre-separation counseling; and Boots to Business.

"One big thing I took away from TAP was about your '30-second elevator speech' and your sales pitch of how you're going to market yourself," Sibucao said. "I think people take that for granted because as a business owner, as soon as I talk to someone and introduce what I'm about, what my store is about, I usually have less than 10 seconds to sell them on my store. What I say, my approach, my confidence can many times determine whether they come to my store or not. TAP taught me that.

"Boots to Business was what helped me the most," Sibucao continued. "It's pretty much older business owners that give guidance to people separating who want to start a business, all for free. They talk about everything kind of like (professional military education). Some of the principles, like what you learn in ALS, don't click until you're in that particular position. I think the things I learned in Boots to Business, it didn't click for me until later. It's like PME. So Boots to Business introduces you to the challenges you will be facing in the business world."

Sibucao also credits the Air Force with instilling in him valuable skills like organization, workplace etiquette and computer skills.

"When you're in charge of, let's say the unit's safety program, and you use Excel and Word to get the safety book together, as simple as it may seem to us, other businesses don't have their employees do that stuff," Sibucao said. "Phone etiquette is another big thing I picked up in the Air Force, so knowing how to talk to someone at the appropriate level. And I'd say just being behind the scenes, being a section chief, managing a shop and just being in a professional environment has helped me organize this business."

Sibucao, who said he hasn't taken out any business loans and has just used money saved from deployments and investments, also said another important thing the Air Force has taught him is to plan for the future.

"It's important to have goals and milestones to constantly strive for. In five years, I'm hoping to sell the business and then either start another business or go back to school with my GI Bill," Sibucao said. "I never thought about doing the whole I'm retired I'm going to play golf all day. That's not me. I hope later on down the road, say 10 years, I want to do something to help other people start a business, because I love mentoring and I love interacting."

Schenk, Sibucao's former flight chief who's now a member of the 51st Maintenance Group at Osan AB, said the Air Force lost an excellent Airman and maintainer when he retired, but Sibucao and his family will be happy and successful regardless of where life takes them next.

"He was always the one the work center could count on to help out -- whether on or off duty -- and he's truly a very caring man. When we talk about Airman and the 'whole person concept,' he epitomized that," Schenk said. "He has an internal drive that makes failure impossible. I'm very proud of the success he's had with establishing and running his business, and I can say I'm not at all surprised he's doing well."