Goodbye Trading Pit, Hello Afghanistan

For 16 years, Rob Prosniewski spent his days shoving, shouting and spitting as a floor trader at the Chicago Board of Trade, a cutthroat world captured in the documentary, Floored. He walked away two years ago, tired of what he calls the "survival of the fittest" mentality.

At age 40, Prosniewski took on a new battle. The father of three enlisted in the U.S. Army and is now a combat medic serving in Afghanistan.

He says he enjoys the hands-on challenge of helping his fellow soldiers both physically and mentally. "That has a hell of a lot more meaning than selling 100 futures contracts in the S&P 500 pit and hoping and praying for bad economic news," he says.

Prosniewski enlisted in 2009, at a time when the maximum enlistment age was raised from 35 to 42 to help the Army reach its recruitment goals. (The age limit recently dropped back to 35 on April 1.)

In an interview with SecondAct.com, Prosniewski talks about his dramatic midlife career change, the rewards and challenges of military life, and his plans for returning to school when his service ends.

On leaving trading: "There were times when I would be sitting on the train heading home after a mood and money swing of a day saying to myself, 'I probably lost more today than all of the people's mortgages put together on this train car.' One day after another week of scraping to pay bills and and exhausting my savings accounts, I walked out of the CBOT, took my last look down beautiful LaSalle Street [in the business district], and said out loud, 'Elvis has just left the building.'"

Why the Army? Prosniewski has a degree in economics but says he always wanted to work in physical therapy. He sees the Army as a way for him to fulfill that goal. "And [becoming] a combat medic was my ticket to actually do something tangible and self-fulfilling. Volunteering to help fellow soldiers in war [is] priceless."

Getting started: He was nervous going to sign up at the recruiting office. "I felt old for military standards." He passed several exams -- overall physical, drug tests, physical training tests, and an aptitude test -- and after three months, "I officially gave Uncle Sam my John Hancock."

Typical day: "I wake up at 4:30 a.m. and go for a 7- to 9-mile run. After that, I go to our gym and do a body core workout for about a half-hour, then retrieve and answer emails, and then the greatest thing, call my kids [because it is dinnertime in the states]. [My company] convoys six days a week to the other COPs (Command Operational Posts) to deliver supplies: water, food, ammunition, etc. I like traveling to the different bases because you get to see and meet a lot of different people -- Afghan and American. Sure, it's dangerous, but so is Detroit. All in all, it is a 15-hour day."

New perspective: Being in the Army, he says, has "definitely opened my eyes to how much more there is to life. I quote Ferris Bueller in Ferris Bueller's Day Off when he said, 'Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.' We all get caught up in the moment and let meaningless things stress us out. I feel much more alive having made this big transition."

Biggest challenge: Being prepared for an enemy attack during a convoy. "All I want is safety, but when the inevitable happens, [we have to] help our wounded and get them on the bird so they can get the care they need."

On missing trading: "It's in my blood. I miss the great work hours, intensified adrenaline rushes, and pure freedom, but I don't miss the stress. Thinking about money 24/7? No thanks."

Inspired by: His three kids: Haley (11), Spencer (9), and Maddie (7). "The only thing I can't stand about the Army right now is not being able to see them every day. They are the only thing that keeps me going. I just hope they understand the choice I made was not only for me, but for them. I wanted to make sure their college and health insurance would be paid for, along with a more steady income."

What's next: He's currently applying for Officer Candidate School (OCS) and hopes to be a medical officer and start his master's in psychology or physical therapy. "I could've entered the Army as an officer, but chose the enlisted route so I could be a medic and and see the Army from the ground up." After OCS, he says he'll either stay long-term or do his time and go back to civilian life.

Words of advice: "Don't hesitate. Do your own thing. Don't let anyone say you can't. If you have to take one step back to go two steps forward, then so be it. I did."

© 2010 Entrepreneur Media, Inc. dba SecondAct

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