CHICAGO -- The skills and values that U.S. Army Soldiers develop while serving their nation in uniform are the same skills and values that make them valuable life-long citizens and employees within their own communities, said Gen. Daniel B. Allyn during a June 14 panel discussion in Chicago about reintegrating veterans and their families.

The panel, held on the U.S. Army's 238th birthday, brought together five state and military leaders with different roles in supporting Soldiers and veterans to discuss the Army's "Soldier for Life" campaign. This initiative is an Army program designed to enable Soldiers, veterans and families to leave military service "career ready" and use an established network to find employment, education and health care.

"Soldier for Life is our Army's recognition of the Soldiers who join the Army and contribute to the nation," Allyn said. "We are going to sustain that service to the nation, whether they keep the uniform on or transition back to civilian service in their communities, and it's our commitment to prepare them for that transition if they choose to leave the uniformed service." Depending on each individual, this transition may include the use of education benefits as well as certification programs that could help former Soldiers easily transition their military training and experience into a civilian career.

Allyn, the commanding general of U.S. Army Forces Command based out of Fort Bragg, N.C., oversees most of the Army's operational, conventional forces based within the United States, including nine active-duty divisions and the U.S. Army Reserve.

"Between 2006 and 2011, nearly 850,000 Soldiers returned to communities in our country, and they returned back to all but 20 counties in all 50 states," Allyn said. "[These veterans] are everywhere in our communities, and they must have our support and commitment to ensure that they strengthen and improve these communities the same way that they've made our Army the best Army in the world."

As part of the Soldier for Life campaign, the Army is working to connect Soldiers with the Department of Veterans Affairs and private organizations within the nation's states and communities, Allyn said.

"It's a full-spectrum effort, designed to begin about a year before a Soldiers is scheduled to separate from the military, to provide them a clear understanding and a smooth transition back to the community that they will rejoin," Allyn said.

Erica Borggren, the director of the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs, participated in the panel as a representative from "the other side" of veteran support, where organizations such as hers attempt to catch former Soldiers as they reintegrate into civilian life. Borggren outlined several challenges she's experienced in connecting with and providing service for veterans, including public perception, engagement and making sense of the multitude of veteran-support organizations and services available.

"A trend is that there are many fantastic organizations and efforts out there and underway, all in support of veterans in our communities, but you can actually drown in that sea of goodwill through all the good intentions and the noise," Borggren said. "Navigating that, especially as a struggling veteran, is a challenge … we need more coherence within the resources that are out there."

Brig. Gen. Daniel M. Krumrei, the Illinois Adjutant General and senior officer for the Illinois National Guard, said that when it comes to support Soldiers and veterans, his philosophy is "no wrong door."

"Wherever they go, they're going to get pointed in the right direction," Krumrei said, emphasizing that individuals should go as far as they must in order to connect a Soldier or veteran with the appropriate office or service.

"There's a lot for our Soldiers and Airmen to take advantage of; what we're trying to do is organize it," Krumrei said, referencing local organizations involved in the effort, such as Partners in Care and Illinois Joining Forces.

While this event focused heavily on veteran-support efforts and organizations in Illinois, Krumrei said similar support systems are in place across the country.

"The respect [for veterans and Soldiers] that you find in Illinois, you will find comparable in any state and every state," he said.

Unlike active-duty Soldiers, National Guard and Army Reserve Soldiers maintain civilian careers and connections alongside and beyond their military service, which brings along unique reintegration requirements, Krumrei said, because each new experience requires an individual to reach a "new normal" in their lives.

"Everybody has a different level of stress and experience. How do you integrate that into a new normal that's a healthy one?" Krumrei said. "As [National Guard Soldiers] complete their service in the military and reintegrate, whether it's through retirement or the end of their term of service, [Soldier for Life] means their service will provide them a sense of satisfaction and completeness, and help move them forward in their life."

During the panel discussion, Allyn praised the role reserve-component Soldiers have played in military operations, particularly since 2001.

"We've had more than 600,000 Reserve Soldiers serve during this war, and all of them returned back to jobs, or need new jobs awaiting them when they return," Allyn said. "[Soldier for Life] is vital to our nation, and it's vital to our economy."

In closing, Allyn said that any civilian organization would find strength and value in hiring a former Soldier.

"We invest significantly in our Soldiers as they join our ranks to give them the skills that they need to be effective servants of the nation," Allyn said. "Those skills … are exactly the same skills that will strengthen any team that they join when the return back to civilian life. They are disciplined, they are experts of their craft, they are committed, they are men and women of integrity and character."

"[A veteran's] service will strengthen whatever organization that is smart enough to bring them on-board."

To learn more about the Army's Soldier for Life initiative, please visit http://www.army.mil/soldierforlife.

Page last updated Tue June 25th, 2013 at 16:25