FORT POLK — The KBR-Fort Polk pipefitting program celebrated its 2017 fall graduating class Jan. 9 at the Fort Polk Education Center.

Spc. Darion Drumgoole, Staff Sgt. Andrew Farmer, Staff Sgt. Johnny Heird, Spc. Alex Laurenzana, Sgt. James Michalski and Spc. Kyle Nash are the six transitioning Soldiers that have successfully completed a rigorous 16-week training course to complete their service obligations to the United States Army, step into the civilian workplace and become industrial pipefitters. The pipefitting program is part of the partnership with Fort Polk’s Soldier for Life Transition Assistance Program, KBR, a global provider of differentiated professional services and technologies and Central Louisiana Technical Community College. The program teaches the pipefitting trade to active duty military Soldiers transitioning out of the Army.

Steve Humphries, Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk Casualty Affairs Office, spoke at the graduation. He said when he retired there were no programs like this to assist Soldiers.

“This program has been made available to you and you’ve been given a career opportunity to learn the skills of a pipefitter. It’s a great career path you’ve chosen. As Soldiers transitioning out, you are going to be watched by employers for the discipline, work ethic and leadership skills you learned as a Soldier. Set the example for those that follow you because you represent the Army and your fellow Soldiers. I appreciate your hard work and efforts to complete this course and graduate. Now, show the world what you can do,” said Humphries.

The sky is the limit for these graduates, said Michael Day, KBR vice president of construction. “It’s my pleasure to be standing here celebrating the third graduating class in the pipefitting program, he said.

The industrial construction sector has experienced a critical shortage in the last 20 years, said Day.

“We had to do something to staff our projects. Two years ago KBR identified active military and military veterans as a key resource pool to be the next wave of craftsmen. We also believe that the American business industry had an obligation to support service men and women who are transitioning back into the workforce,” he said.

Day said KBR is fortunate to have a relationship with Fort Polk and its SFL-TAP program.

“This installation is strategically located close to many of our projects on the Gulf Coast. The leadership at Fort Polk had the vision and commitment to set their Soldiers up for success. This program demonstrates their interest in your future because none of this would be possible without the endorsement and support of Fort Polk leadership,” he said.

KBR worked with Fort Polk’s SFL-TAP and Central Louisiana Technical Community College to develop the pipefitter-training program which boasts 28 college credit hours and portable industry credentials. Training classes are held at the community college campus.

“I want to celebrate and congratulate the six graduates today as you embark upon your journey of industrial construction. I hope it’s a long and productive one. But I also want to thank you, not only for your commitment to sticking with the program, but also for your service to our country,” said Day.

“Today is about our graduates and the partnership that made this initiative possible,” said James Sawtelle, CLTCC chancellor. “At the beginning of the semester, you made a promise to yourselves that you would work hard and you have fulfilled that promise, not only for yourselves but for those who have supported you.”

Spc. Kyle Nash completed the program at the top of his class with a 98.64 grade point average. He said the classes weren’t easy, but he knuckled down and studied to get the job done. Academics are nothing new to Nash. He already has a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice and works in Information Technology for the Army.

But as he began his transition to the civilian world, he said he wanted to try something different. The pipefitting program seemed to fit the bill.

“Before I even signed up for the class, I discussed the pros and cons of the job with my wife and we agreed that I should give this a chance. Hands down, the hardest thing I had to learn was how to grind a pipe, but I liked learning these skills. Now that I’m done, I think I’ll enjoy it. No matter what, I’m going to give it my best shot. After going through the program, this just feels like the right fit for me,” said Nash.

Spc. Darion Drumgoole said he wanted to participate in the program because it was time to try something new, but previously learned skills helped him with these classes.

“Learning pipe fitting is similar to welding, which I already had some experience with. That wasn’t a problem. The hardest part of the program for me was all the tests and studying, but I’m glad I graduated,” he said.

Though Staff Sgt. Andrew Farmer didn’t know what pipefitting was at first, he said he was quick to take advantage of the opportunity to take part in the program.

“It sort of fell into my lap, but I love working with my hands and this job lets me do that. Graduating with these skills and knowing I’m going to transition to civilian life with the education and ability to get a job in this field is a weight off my shoulders,” said Farmer.

Farmer said he encourages other transitioning Soldiers to look into participating in these programs. “It’s a win-win for me and it would be for them as well,” he said.