Building career roadmaps for Soldiers led to the Warrior Transition Battalion’s transition coordinator being named the best in the region.
Mary Ball’s tenacity in seeking career and education resources for wounded, ill and injured Soldiers earned her the title of Regional Health Command-Pacific Civilian Employee of the Year for 2017.
“Through her tremendous efforts, she has set the gold standard for all the Warrior Transition Battalions,” said Lt. Col. Julie Craig, WTB commander. “Mary is a true team player, filling in wherever she is needed. I’m extremely proud to have her a part of this wonderful organization.”
As the lead transition coordinator for the battalion, Ball oversees the career and education program for all of the Soldiers in transition by arranging internships, apprenticeships or education plans; gathering information at job and education fairs; and serving as a one-stop hub for career information for Soldiers and their spouses alike.
Her background as an occupational therapist interlaces well with her role of working with occupational therapy to ensure internship or education placements fit both Soldiers’ career goals and medical requirements, and in understanding the unique challenges of potentially changing careers while living with illnesses or injuries.
“I think the Soldiers who are transitioning out of the military, whether it’s in the WTB or on (base) through the (Integrated Disability Evaluation System) process, are getting overwhelmed because they are trying to focus on that next career, Ball said. “’How am I going to support my family? Where am I going to live? What can I do?’”
In fact, the career and education programs are available to all Soldiers at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, although the embedded transition coordinators at the WTB offer those Soldiers another layer of support.
“The advantage to the Soldiers in the WTB is we tell them constantly what’s available,” Ball said.
She ensures that those same resources are made available to spouses as well, because helping spouses helps their Soldiers be more successful.
Since community partners offer most of the resources available to transitioning Soldiers — from internships with federal agencies to apprenticeships with trade organizations to veteran-friendly hiring practices — the constant support from these partners is integral to Soldiers’ and their spouses’ successful transitions.
With 79 percent of WTB Soldiers transitioning out of the Army, Ball’s ability to build relationships with community organizations through attending career fairs and other connections is even more vital in helping Soldiers jump ahead in the hiring process.
“If we call between job fairs and say we have a Soldier that is interested, it cuts through a lot of red tape,” Ball said. “The Soldier goes straight to the right recruiting manager.”
Instead of cold calling companies or applying online, Soldiers can get a direct connection to recruiters and human resource managers.
Even when WTB Soldiers plan to stay in the Army, transition coordinators like Ball help them to stay competitive by encouraging them to take online classes that support their military occupational specialties and rank advancement. If they’re trying to reclass, Ball encourages them to engage in education related to the new specialty and can set up a remain-in-the-Army work activity with one of the units on base.
When she’s not supporting Soldiers and spouses directly, Ball educates WTB cadre and staff about the transition resources available to their Soldiers.
“The Soldier might be at an appointment with a nurse case manager or discussing plans with their squad leader or they might be with their social worker when the light goes off of a program that they’re interested in,” she said. “And it’s very advantageous for the cadre and staff to know what’s available.”
She boasted of the battalion’s walking success stories — Soldiers who found career opportunities they didn’t know existed, and those who leave the Army with jobs already lined up in their home states in the trade they just learned.
“That’s the coolest part about the job, knowing the Soldiers didn’t settle,” Ball said. “My favorite thing about this job is when Soldiers come back and tell me how happy they are at the job that they just got, or they’re excited because someone I referred them to led to them getting either their dream job or the job that they have fallen in love with.”