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Council working to ease transition to civilian careers

Northwest Guardian

Published: 12:41PM June 13th, 2013
Council working to ease transition to civilian careers

Christopher Gaylord/Northwest Guardian

Marine Corps Maj. Dave Baril addresses state agencies, and representatives from the Department of Defense and local schools, labor unions and businesses, during a meeting of the Washington Military Transition Council.

Exiting service members worried about their transition to the private sector can relax a little. An entire coalition is working to help them, and it’s only growing. In other words, at ease.

Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s local Military Transition Council, stood up in response to a December 2011 Department of the Army order mandating installation committees tackle issues faced by transitioning troops, is now receiving top-level support.

With the signing of his first executive order, Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee formalized the council, which JBLM’s Army Career and Alumni Program started in early 2012, making its cause a statewide concern — not just special to the base.

“That’s not just a veteran’s problem; that’s a Washington problem,” said Mark Sullivan, a member of the council who comes from the Washington Office of Financial Management and helped draft Executive Order 13-01, also called “Veterans Transition Support,” which Inslee signed May 10 on JBLM.

Sullivan called current veteran unemployment rates unacceptable and said that the military’s youngest troops are the ones suffering the most. About 20 percent of veterans across the nation between the ages of 18 and 24, he said, remain unemployed. And the number holds true, for the most part, he said, in Washington state, where about 40 percent of local veterans leaving the service will remain.

“We can’t have that many young people coming back and simply being frustrated by not being able to support themselves and their families,” he said June 4 during a quarterly meeting by the transition council, now referred to as the Washington Military Transition Council. “Particularly with the younger folks coming back who have done one or two tours and are coming back into the civilian sector, the unemployment rate is unacceptably high.”

The council allows state agencies, Department of Defense representatives, base transition services staff; and local schools, labor unions and businesses to address and solve the challenges standing before troops leaving the service.

Sullivan said it also provides a chance for the state to honor the sacrifices of its veterans while at the same time pulling an economy out of a less thriving and vibrant condition than possible with veterans added to the local workforce.

When the Army pushed out its order in 2011, said Robin Baker, JBLM’s transition services manager for the base’s ACAP center, guidance was rather broad and pointed more toward establishing a team exclusively from within the base than one that brings the community into the mix.

“What I saw right off the bat was that you can’t just do a transition council behind the gate,” said Baker, who developed the council. “You have to involve the community. It’s no good if there’s nobody on the other side of the gate to receive them (veterans) and to hand the service member off to.”

Baker reaches out regularly to local organizations that play a key role in the transition process of local military men and women, bringing them together each quarter to share both obstacles and triumphs.

During the council’s most recent meeting June 4 at Patriot’s Landing in DuPont, multiple organizations and agencies spoke the praises of grants awarded for service member and veteran support programs.

Andy Brucia of Bellevue College shared with the group an $11.8 million Department of Labor grant awarded in October that, over the next three years, will fund online healthcare-based information technology training and certification through nine separate U.S. colleges. The primary demographic for the grant, he said, is the military — both transitioning troops and vets.

“It’s our biggest target population,” said Brucia, explaining that the schools will work to cross-train and certify individuals with both healthcare and IT backgrounds. “One of our measurables is how many veterans are we helping. Not how many people; how many veterans.

“Bellevue College is trying to keep their foot into helping vets whenever they can.”

They’re out there, Baker said — companies, unions, organizations and agencies with a desire to help troops reenter the civilian sector. The council brings them all together under one roof.

Because of the nature of Baker’s job, she has access to multiple efforts outside JBLM, but for those she can’t reach, she said, Inslee’s executive order will help include them in the future.

“I have no authority over the other branches of the service or state agencies, so it really needed that top-level leadership to say, ‘This is a good thing to do; this is what we’re going to do,’” she said, adding that state government involvement in the matter will mandate participation by additional branches of service from other local military installations.

For the past year, with no formal order, participating agencies have remained more of a coalition of the willing than anything else.

Washington is the only state, to Baker’s knowledge, that has taken the step to make its transition council a statewide effort. The plan, she said, is to bring forth the model Washington is setting to establish a standard among all of DOD.

“What we’re doing here is way above par, having seen what all the other installations are doing,” Command Sgt. Maj. Ronald Johnson, JBLM’s senior enlisted leader, told the council before its latest meeting began.

Johnson has seen the councils of multiple other installations across the Army’s Installation Management Command, and none of them, he said, matches what Washington is doing.

Baker joked the only problem moving forward might be managing the council once it has grown.