Jeff Sornig spent twenty-three years serving in the United States Marine Corps, deploying multiple times, and eventually achieving the rank of Master Sergeant before retiring.  I had the honor of serving alongside Jeff, whose unit was located right across the street from my own, and seeing firsthand the pride he carried with his service, and the admiration the Marines serving under him had for their Admin Chief.

When Jeff retired, I assumed that he, like so many other Marines that excel in support specialties, would land himself a cushy GS position, working for the federal government in a similar capacity to that he mastered while in uniform.  It’s a great career path for those suited to it, and Jeff’s storied history as a model Marine could certainly lend itself to a great Federal resume.  Little did I know, however, in the years I worked down the street from Jeff (and alongside his incredible wife, the now retired Chief Warrant Officer Heather Sornig) that his real passion wasn’t in government service; it was art.

Marines tend not to advertise their artistic sides too often.  Whenever I’d stroll through Jeff’s building, I’d offer him the appropriate greeting of the day, “Good afternoon, Master Sergeant,” and he’d glance up from his desk with the classic SNCO (Staff Non-Commissioned Officer) “You’d better not be here to waste my time” look that must become second nature right around the time you pin a second or third rocker to your collar.  He was always polite, professional, and even intimidating – like most Master Sergeants, he got there because he was good at what he did and was a consummate professional.

So just imagine my surprise when I learned that Retired Master Sergeant Sornig had run off to California to start working as a cartoonist for every kid’s favorite channel: Nickelodeon.

“I was doing what most transitioning Marines do which is find a way to roll your military experience into a civilian equivalent. I really was not thrilled about doing a Human Resources type job, but what else does 23 years of Marine Corps administration qualify you for? I just had no passion to continue in that line of work,” Jeff told me when I got a hold of him earlier this week.

“My wife is also retired from the Marine Corps, and she encouraged me to pick up drawing again to clear my head. I dusted off the old sketchbooks and pencils and gave it another shot. During that time, I met some terrific friends where we live in the Detroit area, who are outstanding artists and they encouraged me to keep drawing. Now with the proper motivation and support, the direction of my second career started coming into focus. I had the Post 9/11 GI Bill and knew I was going to enroll in college, so I decided to toss the dice and pursue a degree in Illustration. It was gamble for sure, but one I was willing to take for the sake of my sanity.”

Jeff began posting pictures of his artwork on his social media accounts, quickly garnering quite a bit of attention from many of us who were amazed at his ability to recreate characters we’ve seen so often on television.  Often, the drawings he posted were of early 90’s Nicktoons (cartoons from Nickelodeon) – hitting all the right buttons in my thirty-something brain to instill a nostalgic sense of glee to coincide with my awe at his artistic talents.