On-duty training at Joint Base Lewis-McChord is part of a push to improve employment prospects for servicemen and women headed for civilian life. Microsoft as well as Starbucks chief executive Howard Schultz’s foundation are among those helping.
JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD — Spc. Josue Garcia is a diesel mechanic but no longer spends his days in the shop fixing vehicles. Instead, as he nears the end of his service, he’s getting paid by the Army to study for a new career in computer programming that he plans to undertake after he leaves the military.
The five-week, free course is funded through the Schultz Family Foundation — founded by Starbucks Chief Executive Howard Schultz and his wife, Sheri — and offers classroom sessions on how to break into the tech industry along with online courses and networking with potential employers.
“I found out about this in a transition briefing, and it fit perfectly with what I was trying to pursue — software development,” Garcia said.
Wednesday events honoring veterans
Pinning ceremony, West Seattle: Military veterans at Providence Mount St. Vincent in West Seattle will be honored at a “pinning ceremony” at 1:30 p.m. in the center’s third-floor Pigott Chapel, 4831 35th Ave. S.W.
Veterans Day Service, Evergreen Washelli: 66th annual Veterans Day event; volunteers to place flags at markers in Veterans Memorial Cemetery, 7 a.m.; music by the Eagles and Letter-Carriers band, 10:30 a.m.; service of remembrance, concluding with taps and rifle salute, 11 a.m., Evergreen Washelli Memorial Park, 11111 Aurora Ave. N., Seattle (206-362-5200 or washelli.com/).
Museum of Flight: Patriotic music by Boeing Employees Stage Band, free admission for all U.S. veterans and current military, 11 a.m.-noon, Museum of Flight, 9404 E. Marginal Way S., Seattle; regular admission $12-$20 (206-764-5720 or museumofflight.org)
Veterans Day Program, Shoreline: City of Shoreline and the Shoreline Veterans Association invite all veterans of any U.S. military service, their family, friends and all who want to honor veterans to a short program followed by refreshments, 2 p.m., Shoreline City Hall, 17500 Midvale Ave. N., Shoreline; free (206-801-2700 or shorelinewa.gov/Home).
Tahoma National Cemetery Veterans Day Ceremony: U.S. Naval Air Station flyover, speaker Vietnam veteran Jim Martinson, ceremony to thank veterans, 11 a.m., Tahoma National Cemetery, 18600 S.E. 240th St., Kent; disabled parking with shuttle available (425-413-9614).
This on-duty training is part of a broader push to improve employment prospects for servicemen and women headed for civilian life amid a continued downsizing in the U.S. Armed Forces.
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Joint Base Lewis-McChord, south of Tacoma, has been an early incubator for these skill programs, with more than a dozen options available that range from a union-sponsored course in welding to hands-on “academies” in solar and roofing to three-month internships with corporations for those interested in management.
Currently, about 500 of the more than 6,000 Air Force and Army men and women who leave the service from the base each year are taking one of the skill programs. All of the courses have a strong focus of not only training servicemen and women but connecting them to employers.
And some JBLM programs are expanding elsewhere, including a Microsoft Software and Systems Academy that will be offered at nine locations serving 12 bases around the country, and the Schultz Family Foundation training, which may be offered at as many as 20 bases in two years’ time.
“It’s a small program now because we want to make sure we get it right,” said Daniel Savage, of Syracuse University, which is contracted to run the Schultz Family program on the base. “But we’re very excited to see where this goes.”
2011 bill started it
The JBLM classes have their roots in the 2011 Veterans Opportunity to Work Act — co-sponsored by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. — that enabled the Army to approve a training option during the last six months of service.
The act passed at a time when the unemployment rates for young veterans were considerably higher than for their counterparts who had never served, and higher than they are now.
There also was concern about the aggressive enrollment tactics by for-profit universities targeting military personnel and their families for expensive courses that could plunge them into debt and still not deliver a job.
And, at JBLM, Col. H. Charles Hodges — who was then the base commander — came up with course guidelines requiring that none of them cost a service member anything out of pocket, and that the men and women get an interview or placement in a job paying at least $15 an hour after completing the course.
Some of the early base training programs were launched by unions to provide the skills for placement in apprenticeship programs.
In a trailer that sits in the parking lot outside the base education center, 10 service members last week practiced their electrical-wiring skills during an 18-week course in heating, ventilation and air conditioning. The United Association Local 32 of Seattle, which represents plumbers and pipe fitters, sponsors this course and is able to place service members at jobs all over the country, with initial positions in Seattle that can begin at $25 an hour.
“This kind of career, for me — that’s it. I like working with my hands,” said Spc. Zachary Adams, a 21-year-old soldier who will be ending his Army service soon and returning to a job in his home state of Ohio with his wife.
Next year, in training developed by Pacific Gas and Electric Company and paid for through a federal Labor Department grant, 15 JBLM service members will be able to take courses in a Bates Technical College program in Tacoma that leads to jobs in the utility industry.
Microsoft’s academy, which opened in 2013, was another one of the early offerings as the company partnered with St. Martin’s University in Lacey to come up with an intensive training curriculum that could lead to a certification.
“As a veteran myself, I thought there was an untapped talent pool, and we had been invested in military recruiting pretty lightly at the time,” said Sean Kelley, Microsoft’s military-affairs director.
The 15- to 18-week program is being offered at JBLM for the sixth time and also is offered at two other bases. So far, at JBLM, 92 service members have graduated, with three-quarters of them employed or in school. The average starting salary for those graduates has been more than $70,000.
The Microsoft academy classes are held in an education center on the base, and are drawing service members from other bases as well. In addition to getting employers more involved in the hiring end, unit leaders have had to get used to the idea of freeing up talented service members from their duty posts to go to school.
“It was really hard to convince my commanders that this is what I needed to be able to do,” said Sgt. Dustyn Flavell, a Marine based in Okinawa, Japan, who said he had to ask three times before his commander allowed him to go to JBLM and attend the Microsoft classes. “Mission is always first; that will never change in the military.”
Focus on veterans
The Schultz Family Foundation technology and customer-service courses, which began earlier in the fall with 26 people enrolled, are some of the newest education offerings at JBLM. They also are offered this fall at Camp Pendleton, a Marine Corps base in Southern California.
In recent years, the Schultz Foundation has put a big emphasis on veterans as Howard Schultz — the son of a World War II veteran — emerged as a high-profile corporate advocate for helping post-9/11 veterans reconnect with the civilian community.
Schultz co-authored “For Love of Country,” a book published last year that offers stories of the bravery and commitment by post-9/11 service members, both in combat and on the home front. His Starbucks board includes former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and the corporation has committed to hiring 10,000 veterans. Last year, the foundation announced a $30 million investment in veterans programs.
Most of the foundation’s veterans money will be spent on the skills-training programs known as Onward to Opportunity. Over the long term, foundation officials hope corporations that want to recruit veterans will help fund these classes.
“The Greatest Generation of the World War II era was truly an entire generation — tens of millions of Americans who fought or who were activated on the home front in an all-out war,” Schultz wrote in an online column published on the Schultz Family Foundation website and last year in The Wall Street Journal.
“This generation’s wars were different, fought by relatively few service members, all of them volunteers, while the home front paid gradually less attention. It’s time to pay attention again.”