It's a rainy May day in New Jersey and Master Sgt. Darrell McAllister, course manager of the 80th Training Command's carpentry and masonry course at Fort Dix, is quizzing his class of more than a dozen soldiers on the specifics of pouring concrete as he leads them in impromptu push-ups. As his students will soon discover, succeeding in the field of carpentry and masonry will require both mental acuity and physical toughness, something for which McAllister is now cleverly preparing them. By the end of the two-week course, soldiers will have learned the basics of construction, from how to properly utilize shop tools and the raw tools around them to accomplish the mission to mixing mortar into concrete and laying a concrete slab.

Soldiers attending the course spend a portion of their day in the classroom, learning about carpentry and masonry from a textbook, and the rest of the time in the shop or in the field applying their newfound knowledge in real-world, hands-on exercises. These soldiers, made up of active duty, and reserve soldiers as well as National Guardsmen, have assembled at Ft. Dix from across the country to pick up new skill sets and when they complete the course, they will graduate as carpentry and masonry specialists.

While all the soldiers come to the course with a degree of military experience, including some with combat deployments, most of them are learning these particular carpentry and masonry skills for the first time.

"I had zero experience with carpentry/masonry before this course," explains Staff Sgt. Michael Gilpin, 467th Engineer Battalion, Millington, Tenn. "When I left active duty as an 11 Bravo [infantryman], I wanted to choose an MOS that is a tangible skill I can use, not only for myself, but also to help other people, as well."

The course appealed to him because he liked the idea of learning specific, practical skills, which could not only help him advance in his military career, but could also help him in the civilian world.

"The exact things that I'm doing here are comparable to what goes on outside of the army," Gilpin said.

"It's a good area where you can use these skills on the outside," says McAllister. "Most of them will find a unit that is an engineering unit and then from there, they'll get more experience doing what they were taught here. This field does progress pretty well."

Finding a path in the military with the potential for advancement is always a key factor for soldiers looking to re-class, and McAllister believes that becoming a carpentry and masonry specialist provides soldiers with a clear path to success.

After spending hours in the classroom absorbing the intricacies of carpentry and masonry, it's time for the students to put their newfound knowledge to use. Outside at a designated worksite, the students are actually building the foundation for a structure, starting from scratch. Working together, they choose and measure their materials with meticulous care. They use table saws to cut wood with precision and they figure out the exacting process for mixing concrete and pouring concrete for the first time. These
students are having fun putting what they've learned into action and as they continue working, they take pride in the results of their labor. The work itself can be difficult, but they all seem to have an easy time getting the job done. "I am what I call an 'in-betweener.'" says Gilpin with a broad smile. "I'm not highly intelligent, but I'm not as dumb as a two-by-four. I'm in-between. If I can grasp it, anyone can grasp it. It's a professional course -- it's to standard, I understand what's going to happen now and I understand what's going to happen going forward and so forth."

Spec. Rafael Moyer, from the 716th Engineer Company, also had little to no experience in this field and he sees this as an excellent opportunity to lay the groundwork for his future.

"I hope to advance my career in the military as far as I can in this career field," he says. "If I can do so in the civilian world too, all the better. With carpentry and masonry, there's always going to be a job on the civilian side for you with such skill sets...there are jobs everywhere."