Soldier for Life prepares troops for civilian world

Alford O’Reilly, a contractor with GBX, teach a Department of Labor job skills class to transitioning Soldiers as part of the Soldier for Life-Transition Assistance Program Friday. The program provides training and opportunities to make Soldiers successful in their post-military career.

Fort Campbell’s Soldier for Life-Transition Assistance Program provides training and opportunities to make Soldiers successful in their post military career.

Soldiers take six required classes with many other optional ones available to them, providing them with specific training that will prepare them for their transition into civilian sector.

The program not only improves Soldiers’ chances for a successful transition, but it helps Army readiness as well. Harold Riggins, SFL-TAP transition services manager, explained that the program helps the Army manage the amount of unemployment compensation it pays out of its budget, which the Army can then use for training or equipment instead.

“From the start of OIF and OEF unemployment compensation that the Army paid out grew exponentially for 13 years, ultimately hitting $540 million per year,” Riggins said. “With law, unemployment compensation dropped to $373 million. We think and the government thinks that by helping Soldiers this is paying off. There are more bullets, there are more training dollars.”

Additionally the Army is better preparing Soldiers to use their Veterans Administration benefits, such as the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Before when he spoke to Soldiers about college, they would tell him of plans to attend college. Now when he speaks to transitioning Soldiers they tell him about a specific college or university, along with a start date and field of study.

“Our college drop [out] rate two years ago was 55 percent,” Riggins said. “It’s plummeting now, because we’re preparing Soldiers to go college.” The transition assistance program offers training for obtaining a civilian job, returning to school, starting a business as well as explaining to Soldiers the Veterans Administration benefits they may qualify for and connecting them to the Nation Guard and Army Reserve.

One of the steps Soldiers go through in preparing for civilian jobs is a three-day Department of Labor workshop, said Elishia Martin, contractor installation manager.

“We help them translate their military [training] to civilian [skills] based off of what they currently do in the military,” Martin said. “So we basically go through everything and see how that translation can happen.”

The translation process results in a resume, as well as interview skills training. Later in the process the Soldier will review his or her resume as well as professional references with a counselor during the individual transition plan portion of transition training.

The transition process occasionally proves to a retention tool as well. Soldiers have to work out a detailed budget for the 12 months after leaving the Army. In order to make the budget work, Soldiers have to determine what the cost of living is in the area they want to move to after the military and what target salary they need to earn as well as a forecast of the job market they are going into.

“Some are on the fence whether they want to get out or not,” said Sean Solorzano, a SFL-TAP transition service specialist. “We say, ‘Hey this is how much you’re going to have to make.’ This is what health insurance is all about. Things you’re not thinking about.”

Faced with the hard numbers some decide to reenlist.

For the ones who decide to leave the military the Soldier for Life program works hard to make them successful. One way it does that is through two massive job fairs Fort Campbell hosts in the spring and fall. For two days more than 150 companies will available to meet with transitioning Soldiers, with some employers prepared to make job offers to qualified candidates. There is a requirement for each company at the job fair to have at least 10 open positions they are seeking to fill.

The spring 2016 job fair is from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. Wednesday and April 7 at Cole Park Commons. The event is presented by SFL-TAP and the Army Community Service Employment Readiness Program. The first day of the job fair will be national and international companies and the second will feature companies within 100 miles of Fort Campbell.

“If they are within 90 days of being able to work for somebody they’ve been through our interview process,” Solorzano said. “They have a resume, so they have already received all of our training. So really what we’re doing is we’re preparing [them, and] with the training then we’re connecting [them] with companies.”

Soldiers can go to the Fort Campbell SFL-TAP office at 5661 Screaming Eagle Blvd., or call 270-798-5000, to register for an interview preparation class Wednesday. The office also will offer walk-in resume reviews specifically for the job fair. Soldiers can visit to find a list of the employers and what positions will be at the job fair.

“So on the 5th, 6th and 7th Soldiers that are attending the job fair can come in here and get one-on-one assistance to kind of help them tailor to the specific companies and positions they are applying for,” Martin said.

She advises all job seekers to dress for the fair as if they are attending a job interview.

“Dress to be prepared to get a job interview,” Martin said. “For me the resume gets you the interview and the interview gets you the job. So you can be stellar on the resume but if you don’t interview well, if you don’t present yourself well that company is not going to hire you.”

“That first contact, if you don’t get past that regardless of your skill set, it is an issue,” Solorzano said. “Very rarely do they hire you based on your [military occupational specialty] or skillset.”

Solorzano added that they have to turn away more than 60 companies and after hiring veterans companies always want to return to Fort Campbell’s job fairs.

The job fair is a great way for Soldiers to set themselves up for success using all of the skills Soldier for Life has taught them during the mandatory classes, but the job fair also helps the companies attending it by providing it with skilled, quality workers.

“They show up to work,” Riggins said. “They’re drug free. They know how to get the mission done. They need minimal guidance. They work in diverse cultures and they adapt and overcome. A Soldier learns how to lead, learns how to adapt and learns how to function from day one until the time they get out.”