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Veteran recruiting

Service members looking to the future

Northwest Guardian

Published: 12:35PM December 5th, 2013

LACEY — After 16 weeks immersed in the codes and languages used in the world of software development, 22 service members from Joint Base Lewis-McChord emerged with something tangible. They were honored with certificates Monday for completing the inaugural Microsoft Software and Systems Academy at Saint Martin’s University’s Norman Washington Conference Center in Lacey.

The course was taught at Stone Education Center on Lewis Main by instructors from St. Martin’s and experts from Microsoft, one of the leading companies in the technological field.

Each of the 22 newly certified service members has a leg-up on an entry-level software testing position at either Microsoft or through Launch Consulting, the technology consulting firm administering the program.

For many of the service members, getting a foot in the door of a technology career was incentive enough, but a prestigious corporate brand like Microsoft made the reward even greater.

“But for us, that’s all that we need,” said Staff Sgt. Chad Townes of 2nd Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. “We know that we have the aptitude and we know we have the motivation. That means we can do anything that we want to do at this point.”

Sergeant Bernard Bergan had moved to Seattle and attended tech meet-ups with Impact Hub Seattle, which acts as an event venue and innovative lab for the aspiring people in technology and network with companies.

While sorting through education options, Bergan said he ran across the MSSA and signed up to start in August.

“It turned out to be the right place, right time and right path,” Bergan said.

The course taught the service members HyperText Markup Language and how to compile code using the C# and R languages, CSS and JavaScript codes for Web development — programs used to call overseas via Skype or do online research for an exam.

“Just like in the military, I have a real world impact,” Bergan said.

MSSA was developed as a partnership between JBLM and Microsoft to provide a seamless transition from the battlefield to the working world. This vision was inspired by the 2011 “VOW to Hire Heroes Act” to enhance service members’ job search before separation from the military.

Senator Patty Murray — the keynote speaker of the ceremony and a key contributor to the VOW Act — called the MSSA and similar programs successes in assisting transitional service members.

“Because no matter how much we do to prepare our veterans for the workplace, we can’t successfully transition them to civilian life without strong, lasting partnerships with businesses, labor organizations, colleges and universities,” Murray said.

Sean Kelley, senior staffing director at Microsoft, said the technology world needs more employees like the graduating service members.

“All of the certificates and degrees and programs in the world don’t mean anything if people don’t get jobs,” Kelley said.

Many graduates were offered jobs that start January, including Bergan and Townes. For them and the rest whose prospects are bright — a dream come true.

“Realizing that I do have the potential to succeed and to pursue my goals in life, it makes me feel really good,” Townes said. “Getting to see even more what’s out there makes me feel great.”

While they prepare for life after the military, JBLM commander, Col. H. Charles Hodges Jr., told the 22 graduates their service follows them into the civilian workplace.

“You are now the ambassador of all of us still in uniform,” Hodges said. “You’re going to take all of those things you learned in uniform and you’re going to apply those in the civilian world.”