From the Air Force to Accounting: Jared Hager Can Handle It

Jared Hager began his career in the U.S. Air Force and served in the Middle East. Now he’s using those skills to make a difference at EY.

Building a better world starts with the small ripples that can lead to a wave of global impact. Profiles in Motion celebrates the steps young professionals take at EY to help create a better working world.

It takes all kinds to make an impact at EY—from dedicated accountants, to actresses turned entrepreneurs, to U.S. airmen flying dangerous missions over Afghanistan and Iraq. Everyone who finds their way into the organization can make a difference. Jared Hager, the former airman, illustrates what makes EY a leader in finding and developing talented individuals who want to make a global impact.

Hager, 34, grew up in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, just north of Minneapolis. His family had no background in accounting, and no expectations of their son’s later interest. His childhood was, he says, “pretty simple, you know. I went to a very small church school-type of thing through high school, so nothing too crazy.”

In 2004, he joined the U.S. Air Force and would eventually complete three deployments in Afghanistan (including a partial one in Iraq) with the 97th Intelligence Squadron out of Offutt Air Force Base. He spent two years training as a cryptologic linguist at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, where he studied Mandarin. But in Afghanistan he found himself training crews for the airborne reconnaissance missions for which the 97th is best known, spending up to 10 hours in the air listening for enemy transmissions that might waft up from the embattled plains and mountains of Afghanistan far below.

“The only language that I actually learned was Mandarin Chinese,” says Hager. “So, when I was deployed to the Middle East, obviously I wasn’t necessarily using that language, but there were other systems that I could run. But all the languages—Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, Pashto, all those languages—we’d be doing missions … intercepting communications to warn people on the ground, transcribing, translating, that sort of thing.”

Hager is hesitant about being more specific about what he did while deployed, saying much of his day-to-day actions are still classified, because the Air Force uses highly-sensitive technology to pick up the ground-based cell phone signals and short-range radio that militant groups such as the Taliban may use to communicate. But he did support American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, training his team to collect the electronic signals of the enemy, translating and transcribing them, and then sending the intelligence back to headquarters to be acted upon.

After six years, however, Hager decided it was time for a change. Had he stayed in the military, his choices were to continue his Mandarin studies and risk not getting his preferred assignments, or do something less language-focused to get better assignments—but lose his language skills.

“With those choices, neither one being very attractive to me, I decided I’d get out,” he remembers. “The G.I. Bill was a very good opportunity to use at that time, so I decided I wasn’t going to re-enlist, and I started looking for schools.”

In 2010, he left the Air Force with a rank of Staff Sergeant and took his then-fiancée (now wife), Lauren, to Austin to study accounting at the University of Texas.

He settled on accounting because he says, “I wanted something stable with good options, kind of like a base that I could branch out from in the future as my career went on.”

After graduating in May this year, with both a bachelor’s and a master’s in Accounting, he joined Ernst & Young LLP in September working out of the Minneapolis office in the Assurance service line. But how did someone with a background in Mandarin and flying around the skies over war zones catch the attention of EY?

“Well, I was very fortunate,” he says. “UT-Austin has an excellent accounting program, they’re very well-ranked, well-rated, so all the large accounting firms recruit there regularly.”

He says his time with the 97th—the unit’s motto is, appropriately, “We Can Handle It”—prepared him well for EY and allows him to use the skills he learned there to make a global impact.

“Mandarin Chinese is very different from English, so you really have to focus on all the details, because one little thing in a character can make it mean something totally different,” he explains.

Furthermore, he says, language school taught him how to learn, and “how to really see what the end-all is and then structure my plan of studying.” Working at EY is similar, Jared explains, because he has to stay detail-oriented, while keeping in mind each project’s bigger picture.

And it’s that big idea he wants to grasp in his first year on the job. “From what I understand, it takes a long time to really get a big picture idea of the entire audit process.” He’s eager to learn as much as he can so he can dive into a business, “really getting down into all the processes and controls, and how that business actually works and runs and makes money.”

“I’m looking forward to that with whatever client I happen to be working with,” he says. “I know it sounds kind of nerdy, but I’m looking forward to that for sure.”

Hager says he has already planned goals for his first five years at EY. He wants to make senior associate in three years and manager in five. But most recently, in his internship, he’s been working with companies that manufacture medical devices, which he said was “really, really interesting, just seeing all the different companies that actually make this stuff.” This has inspired him to think of working with governments and nonprofit organizations down the road, either at the local, state, or federal level.

And after those five years? Beyond starting a family, he wants to “show that long-term goals are achievable through time and hard work,” he says. “Four years ago, the idea of completing a degree, the CPA exam, and landing an opportunity with an organization like EY, while also moving across the country, getting married, and living in a new city seemed a bit daunting.” But now he knows such things are more than doable with the reputation EY has in the marketplace and the opportunities that are now available to him.

There’s little doubt that Jared Hager would make his buddies in the 97th proud. “We Can Handle It,” indeed.