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SMART Heroes

Program teaches transition skills

Northwest Guardian

Published: 02:01PM October 19th, 2017

If you go

To participate in a free, seven-week SMART Heroes course:

• Attend a briefing Mondays at noon at Building 3271, Second Division Drive, Lewis Main.

• Visit the Sheet Metal JATC Training Center, 2725 Williamson Place, DuPont.

• Schedule a meeting to begin the application process.

• Take a basic aptitude test.

• Receive a letter of participation, to be approved by commanding officer and command sergeant major.

• Interview at Western Washington Sheet Metal Training Center.

For more information, call 253-477-4743 or 253-477-4748.

If you’re looking for a new career as you plan your transition out of the military, one option to consider is the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, Transportation SMART Heroes program in nearby DuPont.

Free to service members, the program crams one year of apprentice training into a 200-hour, seven week course in: general sheet metal, welding and HVAC service system test, adjust and balance. So, for those who continue in the field — with advanced placement at facilities nearby or across the country — graduates of SMART Heroes begin their career as a second-year apprentice.

The program is offered through the Western Washington Sheet Metal Workers Union Joint Apprentice Trainee Commission at its facility, 2725 Williamson Place in DuPont.

Eight service member-trainees graduated from the pilot program Oct. 3, and a second group of trainees began the course Monday. The next available course will begin in January.

“I would definitely recommend this class,” said Senior Airman Ethan Eastling, 62nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, as he worked on a computer during an engineering class at the DuPont facility a few days before his Oct. 3 graduation.

Eastling is from central Wisconsin and plans to return there after he transitions out of the military in February.

“The (union) has a lot to offer, and (the course) introduces us to many other trades in addition to sheet metal,” he said. “I’m interested in something geared to engineering, with computer and field work, and it sounds like I could do both.”

Specialist Juan Perez, 504th Military Police Battalion, 42nd Military Police Brigade, and Sgt. Joshua Buckley, 5th Battalion, 5th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 17th Field Artillery Brigade, shared a classroom with Eastling and graduated from the course with him.

Buckley said he plans to use skills learned through the SMART Heroes program to augment his previous welding abilities when he transitions in the coming weeks.

“I’m already a welder, and I’ve bent things before I got here but usually with fire and a hammer,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot here.”

Buckley is from Hinsdale, N.H., and has been in the Army for 12 years.

“(Anyone looking for a civilian career) should do (SMART Heroes); it’s an awesome program,” he said.

Perez also expressed appreciation for skills learned in the course.

“The course was better than I expected,” he said. “I thought it was just about working with sheet metal.”

Perez, who joined the military in his native Puerto Rico, is married with two children.

“We’re trying to re-plan what we’re going to do, and this program offers a lot of choices,” he said.

Sergeant First Class Barry Barker, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 593rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command, has been in the military for 23 years and plans to transition to Tampa, Fla., in January.

“Plan A is to work in HVAC services work, and plan B is to get a government job,” Barker said.

“For all of us (transitioning), this is a rough period because we’ve been comfortable even though it is rough,” he said. “To step out into the unknown can cause anxiety. This course is like a security blanket.”

Master Sergeant Richard Quintena, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 7th Infantry Division, agreed with Barker’s assessment.

Quintena is retiring after 28 years at the end of January. He’s currently a mechanic and lives in Lacey with his wife. Quintena has two step children and five grandchildren.

“We love it here (in the South Sound) and plan to stay here,” he said. “In my case, what I’m learning and already have done transfers over, but (getting out of the military) is still daunting. It’s like jumping into a swimming pool without knowing how to swim. Here, they’ve taught us to paddle.”