JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. – Four years ago William Northrop joined the Army to learn a trade which would make him marketable in the civilian workforce. He enlisted as a heavy equipment operator but saw his role shift as the Army called on him to focus on route clearance skills and eventually, improvised explosive device detection operations in Afghanistan. During his deployment, he received a traumatic brain injury from an IED detonation and was awarded the Purple Heart.
As the end of his enlistment grew near, Northrop, like many service members, said he was uncertain what he would do when he hung up his uniform - until he learned about the newly redesigned Veterans In Piping program through the Army Continuing Education System staff at JBLM.
The 18-week pre-apprenticeship program, VIP, is a first-in-the-nation partnership between JBLM and the United Association, which allows soldiers to get training in industrial construction skills, such as welding, as a permissive temporary duty while finishing out their contracts. The program helps service members transfer seamlessly from the military into a guaranteed career with a living wage, full health and retirement benefits.
“This program targets transitioning service members. Many of whom are in our combat arms (jobs), who love to work with their hands, and traditionally have a difficult time matching their military training and experience to a civilian job,” said Amy Moorash, chief of Advising and Apprenticeship Program Manager for the Education Centers on JBLM. “The UA, as well as many of the labor and training organizations, recognize the value of our trained military men and women and putting them directly into skilled trades. They are punctual, they are drug-free, they are trainable and they are not afraid to work.”
Moorash said this program should be the model for the Department of Defense as the military continues to decrease the size of the force. She said it alleviates much of the stress for the transitioning service members and their Families.
It is this sense of relief, she said, which was expressed to her by the service members of the inaugural class, which began in January, who were hand-selected by their brigade and battalion commanders and interviewed by the UA prior to securing their spots.
“The feedback I have gotten has been extreme satisfaction and joy that they were chosen for this program. They don’t have to worry about feeding their families or how to make ends meet while drawing unemployment. It’s amazing how soon after (veterans) transition that they can fall and how far they can fall – without a job,” said Moorash. “I am really proud that at JBLM we are actually doing what everyone has wanted to do and talked about for so long, actually put them into jobs. I am proud to work with the UA.”
The outcome of the hard work, commitment and partnership was on full display at the graduation ceremony at the Southwest Washington Pipe Trade (Local 26) building in Lacey, Wash., May 23.
The ceremony was attended by senior JBLM and civilian leadership and representatives from the UA. It included keynote addresses by Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee, 10th District Congressman Denny Heck and JBLM Commander Col. H. Charles Hodges Jr.
Col. Hodges congratulated the graduates and said the program was in keeping with the tradition of welcoming veterans back into the fold of society where they could continue to serve having done their duty to protect liberty and fight for freedom across the globe.
“You have transformed yourselves from soldiers into professional apprentice welders ready to perform a service across our great nation. I want to thank you for that and for your dedicated military service in a time of war, your sacrifice and selfless service to this nation is honored and appreciated and will not soon be forgotten,” he said. “While you are closing one chapter of your life, military service, with the training you received here with the UA, you will be opening another chapter. As you move forward on into your careers, I wish you the best of luck and God speed.”
He could not, however, relinquish them into their civilian careers without issuing a final mission for them.
“Make us proud. Continue to live the warrior ethos and the (Army) values. You are now the ambassadors of the United States military and will have the title of veteran because of your service to your nation and as such, for the remainder of your natural life will be treated with a unique level of respect from the American people,” said Hodges. “I want you to remember your brothers and sisters who still serve in uniform and those who have yet to serve. I ask that because as undoubtedly in your travels and future careers you will have the opportunity to reach out and provide the same type of support that you have received through this course to help another service member transition from the military service into civilian service.”
Standing on the stage, moments away from receiving his diploma, Northrop had come full circle and achieved his initial goal for entering the service. It could not have happened at a better for him personally. His wife also recently left the Army, and they welcomed their first child three weeks ago.
He said they had planned their entire future around the program and that he was thankful not only for what it had for his family but also for his classmates. He hoped it would be made available for all service members who served honorably and were looking for help finding a career.