As the Army begins downsizing, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler has met hundreds of Soldiers like Sgt. 1st Class Adrian Copeland.
For years, Copeland has been told where to be, when to be there and what to wear. For this, he’s received a steady paycheck, deposited into his account every two weeks.
But as his career comes to a close, all that goes away. For Copeland and many like him, life on the outside can look a little frightening.
“You’re thinking, ‘I’ve got a mortgage, I’ve got kids, I’ve got a wife, I’ve got car payments, stuff like that,” said Copeland, who is assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. “It’s definitely the scariest thing that anyone who’s served can imagine doing when they’re not set up already on the outside.”
Copeland’s local Service Member for Life Transition Assistance Program coordinator says it doesn’t have to be scary to leave the military. Like most centers throughout the services, the JBLM program offers many classes, seminars and job fairs to help members who are leaving the service.
JBLM also serves as the site of the Army’s pilot program to provide service members training and job placement with local unions and businesses like United Associates and Microsoft. Chandler visited the base July 24 to get a firsthand look at this new program.
“I was blown away by the things that are happening here at Joint Base Lewis-McChord when it comes to Soldiers transitioning back into society,” Chandler said. “The trade unions and the partnership they’ve created with the Army is phenomenal.”
Service members who complete their course work are guaranteed jobs, or at least job interviews, said Robin Baker, JBLM transition services manager.
“We had an established relationship with the trades,” Baker said. “They were struggling to get veterans to enroll in the training after they left active service because they lost their income and housing once they came off active duty.”
JBLM’s transition program is unique because it allows service members to attend training up to 20 weeks prior to their separation dates, Baker said.
“There seems to be a spirit of looking at other ideas and trying to find solutions to solve problems. I haven’t been to another installation that seems as aggressive in that as here at JBLM,” Chandler said.
The program’s requirements include obtaining command authorization, maintaining a clean, three-year driving record, attaining the required score on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery and separating from the service with an honorable or general discharge.
The job training and placement program also serves as a safety net to catch service members who prefer not to earn college degrees.
“I like to use my hands and construct. I like being able to go back and look at my work and know that I accomplished something,” said Spc. Christopher Stoddart, a student at UA Local 26’s welding training facility and armored crew member with 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.
“It’s good to know (Chandler’s) out there looking at programs like this for people getting out and looking after us,” Stoddart said.
Chandler toured Stone Education Center’s transition classes and United Associates Local 26’s training facility during last week’s visit.
“It is one of the best experiences I’ve had in a long time as the Sergeant Major of the Army,” Chandler said. “You see folks that are leaving, who are being recognized for their service, selected by their leadership and are now in an environment where they’re basically guaranteed a place, their first choice, a living wage and the equipment that they need to be able to move forward into society.”
Service members in the trade class welcomed Chandler’s support.
“I wasn’t going until they made me go, and getting that (separation) letter, I was scared to death,” said Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Cook, a VIP Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration student and corrections specialist with 42nd Military Police Brigade. “I’ve been doing this 19 years and I didn’t plan on getting out, so I was absolutely terrified to go.
“A program like this is a lifesaver,” he said. “I don’t have to worry about having a job when I get out.”