JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. – For a service member separating from the military, trading in combat boots for business shoes can be a daunting task, especially when making the transition alone.
Boots to Shoes Foundation is a non-profit organization that helps military personnel in the Puget Sound area transition smoothly into the civilian workforce.
Since 2009, Boots to Shoes mentors assisted approximately 150 service members.
Tricia Stromberg, retired associate technical fellow at Boeing and the founder and president of Boots to Shoes, said they wanted to educate employers on what veterans bring to the workforce.
The mentors are civilian volunteers from the Puget Sound business community that understand the job search process. They fill out an application explaining their hobbies and career experiences to ensure the veterans are paired with a compatible match. They also make a six-month commitment to the program and take classes to hone their mentoring skills.
A 3-hour workshop, Boots to Shoes Mentor Savvy, provides mentors with tips on resume feedback, interviewing strategies and job search planning, said Patricia Conover, the Boots to Shoes program director.
Mentors volunteer for different reasons. Brannely Turpen, a Seattle native and former Marine, transitioned from the military in 2003. He signed up to be a mentor simply to help veterans.
“I just wanted to give back,” said Turpen.
Soon, Turpen started mentoring Staff Sgt. Ryan Sund, a Naples, Fla., native and an aviation operations specialist with 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment.
Sund knew that when he left the military he wanted to pursue a project management career, but had “no clue” how many different aspects of this field there were, said Turpen.
“As a mentor, I have gained a greater amount of respect for the journey,” said Turpen.
The mentors and veterans meet once or twice a month, so it is important to make the most of their time.
To introduce Sund to the project management field, Turpen set up mock interviews with his co-workers – four interviews with four potential employers covering four aspects of project management in four hours.
“That day is what prepared me for my real interview,” Sund said.
Turpen said it is important to allow employers to get to know you during an interview. It is also important to create a resume to “lean on rather than lead with.”
Service members often have a hard time talking about themselves and the accomplishments they have made, said Conover.
“In the military it’s all about the team, but as a civilian you have to sell yourself,” said Sund.
Through Boots to Shoes and his mentor’s guidance, Sund has the skills necessary to gain civilian employment.
Stromberg said Sund already received a job offer months before his separation from the service.
“Helping veterans helps the community in general,” said Turpen. “I will definitely mentor another veteran.”
The organization plant to expand to other locations across the country, said Stromberg.
Boots to Shoes sets up information booths at local job fairs and Army Career and Alumni Program events to showcase the free services they offer.
“Once I get my feet on the ground, I want to give back,” Sund said.