National business group recognizes ACAP manager
March 11, 2011
FORT DRUM, N.Y. - A retired Army Blackhawk pilot who helps steer careers safely into the future recently was recognized for letting the dreams of Soldier entrepreneurs take flight.
Lorrie Guler, transition services manager for Fort Drum's Army Career and Alumni Program, has been selected by the U.S. Small Business Administration to receive the Veteran Small Business Champion of the Year award for both the Syracuse district and Region II, which includes New York City, Buffalo, New Jersey and Puerto Rico.
Her nomination now competes at the SBA national level.
Guler said she was incredulous upon hearing the news that she was selected. She pointed out that recognition of Fort Drum success in this area is attributable to the outstanding Soldiers in today's Army who are driven to succeed, whether wearing a uniform or a business suit.
"It's amazing how many of our Soldiers who are getting out want to go into small business," she said. "I give them all the credit in the world, because that's just risky business."
Each year since 1953, the SBA has recognized successful small businesses and outstanding small business champions nationwide through an awards program. The Veteran Small Business Champion award is designated for an individual who has fulfilled a commitment to the advancement of small business opportunities for veterans of the U.S. armed forces. The nominee may or may not be a veteran.
Guler was nominated for it by the Watertown office of the New York State Small Business Development Center, which is a part of a publicly and privately funded association called America's Small Business Development Center Network.
SBDC staff members in Watertown have worked with the ACAP program at Fort Drum for more than 15 years, providing training for prospective small business entrepreneurs including veterans and civilians in transition.
"It was my pleasure to nominate Lorrie Guler as the Veteran Small Business Champion because of all the hard work she has done and continues to do for the transitioning Soldiers and their Families here at Fort Drum," said Robin Stephenson, an adviser at the center who conducts small business seminars on post.
Guler began managing the Fort Drum ACAP nearly three years ago, after obtaining her master's degree in education and spending four years teaching high school English and journalism.
From the start, Guler took the initiative to exercise a great deal of autonomy, embarking on what would become a two-year process of evaluating, revising and tweaking the ACAP program, said Ann Durant, SBDC assistant director.
"As a result of briefings with the Fort Drum garrison and division command groups, she was able to garner support for additional services and to requisition laptops for use in the employment workshop and ACAP seminars," Durant said. "This rapport has resulted in more timely services for Soldiers (and) benefited other agencies with wireless laptop training opportunities."
Durant also noted Guler's success in coordinating career fairs on post, increasing their frequency from semiannually to quarterly and, through networking, pulling in greater participation from local, national and global vendor businesses; educational institutions and service providers.
"The time and effort you have put into providing outstanding programs and support to Fort Drum has made a positive impact on the quality of life of our transitioning Soldiers," Col. Noel T. Nicolle, Fort Drum garrison commander, stated in a letter of congratulations. "Your contributions to this important program reflect great credit upon yourself, Fort Drum, the Installation Management Command and the U.S. Army."
Since its inception in 1990, the ACAP program has offered career assistance to Soldiers, veterans, retirees and Family Members. The program also helps Army civilian employees affected by reductions in force or the base realignment and closure process.
Guler said upon her arrival here, in addition to helping Soldiers decide what career path to choose, she sought to increase an understanding of the small-business world among enterprising Soldiers.
"For us, it's just about information," she said. "Knowledge is power. Knowledge is control, and we want to give (Soldiers) that control."
Roughly 3,000 Soldiers use ACAP services on post each year. In addition to the two-hour, preseparation brief mandated of every service member by Congress, Guler said Fort Drum Soldiers must attend a Transition Assistance Program employment workshop and a four-hour VA benefits briefing.
The three-day event was mandated by Maj. Gen. James L. Terry, 10th Mountain Division (LI) and Fort Drum commander.
"It was very smart," Guler said of the installation policy. "(For) a lot of our Soldiers, (either) their leadership wouldn't let them go, or the Soldier thought to himself, 'Oh, I don't need that. It's just more Army training.'
"Soldiers are coming now, and they tell us they are happy that it is mandatory," she said.
The TAP workshop is facilitated by the New York State Department of Labor. It covers the nuts and bolts of a successful job search, including labor trends, search tips and how an employer seeks out employees.
Guler said Soldiers learn how to translate what they did in the military into terms that a civilian employer can understand. They learn how to write a resume and participate in mock interviews.
Although some Soldiers may consider the three-day training a "check the box" portion of their out-processing, Guler said some attendees now come through saying they heard good things about it from their "buddies."
"I can do all the marketing in the world, but that word of mouth pays the greatest dividends," she said. "I can tell (Soldiers) it is great, but they are not going to take it from me."
Guler noted that Soldiers facing a difficult career choice are encouraged to scrutinize all of the information they receive from ACAP before making their decision.
"(My) objective is to give Soldiers enough information so that they can make a good and informed decision about whether they want to stay or leave," Guler said. "Hopefully, they will decide to stay. But they then stay knowing what they need to do to make themselves marketable when the time comes for them to transition out.
"For those who are dead-set on getting out," she added, "then we provide services to help make them successful in their transition."
According to program administrators, full participation in ACAP has been shown to support retention and hold down unemployment compensation costs for the Army.
Retirees have up to two years before retirement to take advantage of ACAP services; non-retiring Soldiers have up to one year before separation.
"My No. 1 goal is retention, and we do that through information," Guler said. "It's not a hard sell. We don't need to drum it into anyone's head - they usually get that from their peers or retention NCOs and commanders."
Guler said some Soldiers who visit her office are beside themselves with anxiety over the thought of supporting their Family in the lifestyle that they have achieved on active duty.
"The whole transition is pretty overwhelming," she said. "It seems that the longer they have been in the Army, the more intense the stress is as they think about getting out. They don't know anything else, and many of them don't know what they want to do.
"You sit down, first of all, and you get them to calm down," she added. "You provide them with all the tools they need, they go out, and they start putting things together. They come back, meet with our counselors - the next thing you know, they have interviews.
"Then they come in, all smiles, and say they got the job. All of a sudden, the stress is gone."