By Megan Locke Simpson, Courier staffApril 23, 2014
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (April 23, 2014) -- First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden delivered remarks to more than 1,200 Soldiers and family members gathered at Campbell Army Airfield's Hangar 3, today.
A part of the Fort Campbell Veterans Jobs Summit and Career Forum, the focus was on providing a smooth takeoff after the military for service members and their families. The First Lady announced a cutting-edge government tool designed to help veterans, transitioning service members and military spouses find employment. The Veterans Employment Center is a new feature on www.ebenefits.va.gov, where transitioning service members and others within the military community can link up with employers and find valuable ways to translate military skills into civilian paychecks.
"Starting today, every service member, every veteran and every military family member will have access to a new online tool that will revolutionize how you find jobs in both the public and private sectors," Obama said.
On this site, Soldiers can type their military occupational specialty into the military skills translator and the website will match military jobs with civilian skill sets. Users can find job opportunities posted by employers, and pursue the leads immediately.
"You can make your resume visible to the employers who are on that site," Obama added. "It is very simple. I have seen it myself. It is truly an amazing tool that will make your lives better."
College and benefits information will be easily accessible, and companies will be able to connect with individuals they are looking to hire.
"It's the first authoritative federal tool that provides quick, fast, easy access to transitioning service members, veterans and employers who are seeking to hire veterans," said Rosye Cloud, senior advisor for veteran employment at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
The Summit allowed veterans, service members and family members to meet with more than 100 employers looking to hire veterans and their family members. Other federal and state agencies were onsite to assist with resources and training opportunities during the free event.
Organized by a partnership of public, private and nonprofit agencies, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Labor, the U.S. Army and the Department of Defense's Military Spouse Employment Partnership, the event comes on the White House's Joining Forces initiative third anniversary. This initiative began as a way to support the service members and their families, particularly through employment, education and wellness opportunities. The First Lady and Dr. Biden have been key players in the initiative from the start.
Biden cited improvements such as the new GI Bill Comparison Tool and the Military Spouse Employment Partnership as direct results of the Joining Forces initiative.
"From employers hiring veterans, to schools recognizing military kids, to nonprofits supporting military families, America has stepped up," she said.
The summit allowed for not only transitioning Soldiers, veterans and military spouses to connect with eager employers, but also participate in panel discussions and employment workshops designed to make them more successful in their respective job searches.
For Staff Sgt. Angie Quinn-Clark, who is set to retire soon after 21 years of service, Wednesday was dedicated to making connections to further the rest of her life. Her reaction to the First Lady's speech was simple.
"I think it was awesome. She's a good speaker," Quinn-Clark said, of the First Lady's remarks. "That's the first thing I noticed. She didn't have [any] cue cards. She made eye contact."
The Memphis, Tenn., native and unit supply specialist for Bravo Company, 626th Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, said "she had a good time" and she hopes the summit is the first of many on post.
"I think this forum is good," she said. "This summit -- it's a good idea."
The Fort Campbell Army Career and Alumni Program continues to lead the way Army-wide for transitioning Soldiers, explained Transition Services Manager Harold Riggins. As the frontline provider for linking up transitioning service members with job opportunities, Fort Campbell ACAP opened the Soldier for Life Center in November 2013 to improve its scope of services and perpetuate Army goals. According to ACAP statistics, the program currently works with 4,572 Soldiers within two years of separation and another 2,900 recently separated service members. In addition, ACAP officials indicate 450 to 600 Soldiers transition out of the Army on a monthly basis.
"About 1/5th to 1/6th of our Soldiers are in some phase of transition out of the military," Fort Campbell Garrison Commander Col. David "Dellinger said. "We anticipate that right now, we have 5,000 Soldiers that are in our transition pipeline. That pipeline begins about 12 months from their Expiration of Time and Service date."
The fact that all transitioning Soldiers are mandated to use ACAP services is a direct result of The VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011, a bill aimed to decrease unemployment of American's veterans. Fort Campbell's ACAP is already exceeding expectations.
"Fort Campbell implemented the transition process a year ahead of law," Riggins said. "We actually implemented before there was ever even mention that the VOW Act was going to come into existence. Every action we can do to connect Soldiers with education, employment, Small Business Administration, we make those efforts to get them connected, and it's resulting in great, great statistics and the Soldiers are successful as they exit the military."
To end both the First Lady's and Biden's first visit to the installation, they visited with family members of deployed 101st Airborne Division Soldiers. But before the morning's speeches concluded, 101st Airborne Division Commander Maj. Gen. James C. McConville summed up the approach the command group is taking to help Soldiers succeed.
"Our Soldiers at Fort Campbell know the price of freedom with multiple combat deployments and we have troops deploy in harm's way as we speak," he said. "We are committed to supporting them and their families. Our commitment to them does not end when their service ends. Helping Soldiers and their families transition back to civilian life is part of taking care of our Soldiers. When Soldiers sign up to serve, they become Soldiers for Life."