Warriors in transition: Education, training program paying dividends
October 6, 2011
FORT CARSON, Colo. -- What does a Soldier do when he can no longer be a Soldier?
It's a question faced by a majority of the troops in Fort Carson's Warrior Transition Battalion. Fortunately, the WTB currently has more than 250 job opportunities and internships to help Soldiers find an answer to that question.
Ninety-five percent of the time, Soldiers in the unit leave the military, said WTB Commander Lt. Col. Mechelle Tuttle. While healing takes top priority once a Soldier lands in the WTB, not far behind is what Tuttle calls the Soldier's second priority -- to transition.
"Our job is to help facilitate them in finding a new direction," Tuttle said. "Sometimes they're stuck in a rut. They always wanted to be a Soldier and they don't know how to think a different way. There's a multitude of opportunity out there. There's a lot that will make (them) a valuable part of society."
Each Soldier develops a Comprehensive Training Plan. Through the aid of his or her transition support team, it is customized and designed to help him or her either return to the force or move into the role of veteran. The CTP includes an education and training component where Soldiers can explore options in school, internships and other jobs.
"There's a wealth of information for Soldiers looking for opportunities," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Ryan Moore, who joined the WTB in August 2010. Originally planning to make the Army a career, Moore found he could no longer stay in the service and cadre encouraged him to pursue his passion for photography. Moore attended classes at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center and University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
"The resources and time that were given to me has prepared me for the transition. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, and it was a radical shakeup that would change things for me," said Moore. "The leadership and mentoring I've been given is unmatched."
Soon to leave the military, Moore has been accepted and plans to earn his Master of Fine Arts in photography at the Savannah College of Art and Design campus in Hong Kong.
About 46 percent of eligible Fort Carson warriors in transition attend some type of school. Approximately 50 percent participate in on-the-job training. Currently, more than 20 different federal agencies have Soldier interns through the Operation Warfighter program, to include Northrop Grumman Corp., Lockheed Martin Corp., Buckley and Peterson Air Force bases, the U.S. Forestry Service, Fort Carson and the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Former WTB Soldier Isaac Torres said the flexibility of the education and training is key.
"Before my time in the Army, I had no trouble in school," he explained. "After deployment, I had trouble with comprehension and understanding. I put myself down because I thought I was smarter than that."
His WTB nurse case manager recommended art therapy classes and Torres found his niche. Since leaving the military, the former sergeant has sold several art pieces, enrolled in culinary school and hopes to combine his artistry and baking skills by becoming a pastry chef.
"You try something like this out. You find it's going to take a great deal of effort, but you can accomplish it," Torres said.
WTB Command Sgt. Maj. Brian O'Connors said, "Education and training can help Soldiers redefine what success means to them. The biggest challenge is to get them to move out of their comfort zone and realize it will benefit them."
Tuttle said Soldiers spend an average of about a year and a half in the WTB. During that time, nurse case managers, squad leaders, occupational therapists and a newly hired transition coordinator help them identify how to prepare for their chosen career.
Often, organizations that want to hire warriors in transition will contact the Army Career and Alumni Program or the Army Wounded Warrior Program.
"The discipline and values that come with military service is something that companies want," said Tuttle.
WTB cadre say that's when a Soldier finds that education and training pay off and he or she becomes a veteran with years of service still ahead.