FORT POLK. — “We must open the doors of opportunity. But we must also equip our people to walk through those doors,” said Lyndon B. Johnson, the 36th President of the United States.
Obviously, Johnson wasn’t talking about the Soldier for Life — Transition Assistance Program when he said these words, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t fitting when it comes to taking Soldiers ready to transition out of the military and giving them the skills they need to be successful in civilian life.
One of the ways SFL-TAP provides this training is through its Career Skills Program.
There are currently three career courses offered at Fort Polk. They include the industrial electrician course through McDermott, industrial pipefitting through KBR and truck driving through Praxair. The electrical and pipefitting are 16-week courses held at Central Louisiana Technical Community College. Truck driving is an 11-week course.
The costs of the courses are:
Electrician — $1,760
Pipefitter — $1,500
Truck driver — free
In addition to the career skills training offered at Fort Polk, the program offers access to 166 Career Skills Program courses across the United States. Soldiers interested in these programs must have permissive temporary duty assignment and cover all of their own travel and living expenses for the length of the course.
Active duty Soldiers ready to transition must complete the SFL-TAP courses to be eligible for the Career Skills Program. Courses include Dress for success, Family concerns, interview techniques, skills development and more. Other necessary requirements include getting a commander’s endorsement, filling out the career skills application, turning in the resume completed in SFL-TAP and more.
Soldiers can learn all they need to know about the program by attending the Career Skills Program brief held in room 215 of the Education Center on the first Monday of each month — unless there is a holiday and then it falls on the second Monday of the month.
Clifton Hill, Fort Polk Education Center, Career Skills Program coordinator, leads the Career Skills Program brief.
Hill said not everyone is prepared to go the traditional rout of a four year college and he wants Soldiers to understand that this program and the training and skills it provides, gives them an advantage in the workforce they are about to enter.
“I love that active duty Soldiers transitioning out of the military have an alternative way to learn a skill while being paid. Once they graduate, they can find jobs with these companies and begin earning money immediately. Some jobs start anywhere between $20 and $25 an hour,” he said.
Hill encourages Soldiers to attend the briefing and learn more about the opportunities the program provides.
Civilians are also eligible to participate in the program. Chevina Phillips, Fort Polk Education Center education services officer, said the number of civilians applying to take part in the program isn’t huge, but there have been a few.
“Last August we had two female spouses take part in and complete the industrial electrician course. There have also been children of service members who have taken part in the program,” she said.
No more than 20 students per class are accepted into the courses and there is a possibility Family members, veterans and civilians can get in but only if there is room after active duty Soldiers apply.
“The program was originally designed to for those first time Soldiers ages 18-24. They get first shot. Soldiers E-5 and above are the next in line for a spot in the classes. After that, if there is room, then civilians can apply for a slot in the class,” said Phillips.
Attending the briefing held May 6, Keshaunt Quattlebaum, an active duty Soldier going through his Medical Evaluation Board, said he wants to attend college and graduate with a degree in computer animation, but he would also like to have a back up plan to make his future secure.
“I’d like to have both,” he said.
Attending the career skills briefing to learn more about his options is his first step toward achieving his goals.
“Once I get out, I’d like to be able to work in a career I’ve been training in. I’m interested in the industrial electrician classes here at Fort Polk or possibly the heating, ventilation and air conditioning program offered at Fort Lewis, Washington,” he said.
Quattlebaum said the career program is exciting because it offers a Soldier many opportunities to be successful after they leave the Army.
“This program is important because many young Soldiers have never had a job beyond the military. Once they get out, the program gives them the chance to possibly go to work immediately and make good money,” he said.
Tom Brown, Universal Technical Institute military admissions representative, spoke to the Soldiers at the briefing about signing up for a 16-week permissive TDY opportunity with the Marine Corps at Camp Pendleton, California, that would teach them to become BMW automotive technicians. His program is one of the 166 career skills programs offered across the United States.
Brown retired from the Marine Corps as a Master Sergeant. He said he wishes there had been a program in place like this when he retired.
“Many of the Soldiers transitioning out of the military are looking for hands on skills instead of a traditional education and this program gives them the option to follow a career path that interests them,” he said.
Brown said the partnership between industry and the military has made the program a success. “Industry loves the military because its Soldiers bring something more to the table,” he said. “They have better leadership skills, responsibility and dedication to get the job done.”
Boguslav Sakhan graduated from the industrial electrician course sponsored by McDermott. Sakhan was a sergeant in the Third Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division. He took the 16-week course from Jan. 2-April 19.
“This program provided valuable skills in a trade in which I hope to have a long career,” he said.
Sakhan said his experience was a positive one.
“I couldn’t have achieved everything I have without this program and its instructors. They were informative, qualified, professional throughout the course,” he said.
Sakhan said he thinks employers will look at him with a lot more certainty now that they know he has these skills.
“Based on the training and knowledge I learned through this program, I feel confident in skills and am confident in my earning potential and future,” he said.
Phillips said the partnership between Fort Polk, CLTCC and industries partnering here at Fort Polk such as McDermott, KBR and Praxair, as well Brown’s Universal Technical Institute is essential to the success of transitioning Soldiers.
Phillips said some Soldiers might not realize how important the program is to their future. As a veteran, Phillips said when she got out of the Navy the economy was great but soon took a nosedive.
“The skill sets that I had coming out of the Navy were all I thought I needed to find a good job. I thought I was going to be employed with no worries. It didn’t work out that way. It took several jobs that barely made ends meet before I found my career path. The whole process was stressful,” she said. “But these Soldiers have a chance to train while on active duty. If they take part in the program in the proper time frame they have an opportunity to be paid to learn a new skill that can grow into a career while still on active duty. That is to their financial benefit and can bring them peace of mind about their future.”
The Career Skills Program has graduated 195 participants, said Phillips, including:
• 91 electricians
• 37 pipefitters
• 64 welders
• 3 truck drivers
Philips said in addition to the number of graduates, another indication of the success of the program is Fort Polk has seen a 43 percent decrease in unemployment insurance paid out.
“That means Soldiers are now getting out of the military employed. That’s a great thing,” she said.
For more information call the Education Center at 531-5269.