WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Aug, 7, 2014) -- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Veterans Curation Program helps transitioning veterans with job skills, and in the process, the vets assist the corps in its archaeology mission.
It's a win-win for the corps and for the veterans, said Caroline Bradford, laboratory manager and archivist, Veterans Curation Program, or VCP, in Augusta, Georgia.
Veterans working at the labs in Augusta, St. Louis and Alexandria, Virginia, train in the use of computer databases, records management, photography and scanning technologies, various computer software programs, and modern archival principles, she said.
This work helps the corps "rehabilitate" archaeological collections and associated records for long-term curation and future research. "Veterans also have numerous opportunities to develop their resumes, increase communication skills, and network with prospective employers," she added.
While some of the transitioning veterans may decide they like working in the lab, have the requisite proficiency for it, and choose to get a career in archaeology, most of them will move on to other jobs or go to college or get vocational training, Bradford said.
Veterans from any service and any military occupational specialty are welcomed here and they don't need to have a background in archaeology, she said, speaking from Augusta, where her colleague, Patrick Rivera, lab manager and archaeologist, and a team of veteran laboratory technicians are combing through artifacts provided by USACE's Mobile District.
"We take veterans who were infantrymen, mechanics, medics, you name it, and set aside training time for them to develop valuable career skills, from translating jargon on their resumes to something civilian employers would find acceptable, to doing practice job interviews," she said. "Often, veterans don't realize the skills they have."
For example, she said mechanics work with their hands and have well-developed motor skills. These skills are useful in perhaps identifying and classifying Native American projectile points or pottery sherds or bricks and nails from the Colonial era.
ORIGINS OF VCP
The Augusta lab VCP is the oldest, started in October 2009.
The idea for VCP started in Iraq, where Dr. Michael "Sonny" Trimble, chief of curation at the Archives Analysis Branch, St. Louis District, USACE, was leading a team of forensic archaeologists on an excavation of an Iraqi mass grave. He was impressed with the Soldiers who were guarding the team, and he recognized the difficulty of transitioning back into the civilian market during a stagnant economy. This idea grew into the VCP program.
Today, Trimble is the director of the Mandatory Center of Expertise for the Curation and Management of Archaeological Collections located in the St. Louis District, which is the office that oversees the VCP labs.
Since 2009, the VCP took off and grew; all three labs have hired 172 veterans and many other veterans who attended the VCP have gone on to other careers, Bradford said. On Sept. 26, 64 veterans will have completed the VCP training in the Augusta lab. A tour at VCP for a veteran is five months. The veterans are referred to as "technicians."
Veterans who have participated in the VC, have great things to say about the program, Bradford said.
Benjamin Nay spent three years as an Army medic before coming to Augusta.
"The VCP has provided me with guidance on furthering my education as well as resources and benefits available to me as a military veteran," he said.
William Montgomery, a former Army communications technician, said, "The VCP is a great program that helps veterans build new networks with peers and community programs across Augusta. I would recommend the program to other veterans."
George Williams III, a Marine Corps veteran who worked in food services, remarked:
"My transition back into the civilian world was relatively easy, but I missed the camaraderie and support that I had in the Marines. I have enjoyed working at the VCP, because it's a relatively relaxed work environment. The archaeological skills we are learning are new, useful, and interesting, so I am excited to have the opportunity to experience something out of the ordinary."
Jonathan Beaver, a former Army parachute rigger, said he found the program very useful.
"Even after I transitioned from the Army to the Army National Guard, I found it difficult to find a job," Beaver said. "Many companies are looking to hire veterans, but they are also looking for veterans that have the qualifications and traits that they need. It's been difficult to match my resume to their postings and to get an interview. The VCP has really helped with my resume, as well as providing me with some new, transferable skills. I am hoping to get a job out of this that will really further my career in the industrial safety field."
Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works, also praised VCP.
"This is an incredible program that I talk about every chance I get," Darcy said. "It finds a positive and innovative way to put our returning veterans and disabled veterans to work, while protecting and caring for our nation's archaeological materials and associated records."
Next to the Smithsonian, the USACE is the largest holder of archaeological artifacts, with more than 50,000 boxes of artifacts and more than 3,000 linear feet of records, according to officials from the Center of Expertise. These artifacts and records are in the trust of the corps and are managed through the Mandatory Center.
Because the corps has so many artifacts, the three labs are constantly busy, Bradford said. Rehabilitating artifact collections involves a lot of work, photography, organizing and placing the information in searchable databases and matching the artifacts with the paperwork. It's then returned to the corps' designated repositories.
Before any digging or construction is undertaken by the corps, archaeological resources that might be impacted by construction are surveyed and excavated as needed.
Besides Native American artifacts, the corps helps the Federal Emergency Management Agency in recovery efforts after natural disasters.
In addition to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, several other acts pertain to the corps' archaeological work.
The Antiquities Act of 1906 provides general protection for cultural or natural resources, so any excavation of sites or construction on federal lands requires oversight by an archaeologist.
The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 is a "partnership with states, local governments, Indian tribes and private organizations and individuals to use measures, including financial and technical assistance, to foster conditions under which our modern society and our prehistoric and historic resources can exist in productive harmony and fulfill the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations."
The Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 protects archaeological resources "on public lands and Indian lands" and "fosters increased cooperation and exchange of information between governmental authorities, the professional archaeological community and private individuals."
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