By Mr. David E Gillespie (Army Medicine)November 4, 2015
FORT CAMPBELL, KY. -- For wounded, ill and injured Soldiers at the Warrior Transition Battalion, transition from the military is often more abrupt than for Soldiers with the luxury of planning for a career following their service commitment.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation hosted a two-day Fort Campbell Transition Summit Oct. 21-22, aimed at easing the transition for all service members, as well as helping veterans and military spouses. The event featured panel discussions, networking opportunities, employment workshops and a Hiring Our Heroes job fair.
"Our WTB or WTU (Warrior Transition Unit) Soldiers may have unique challenges they are dealing with when it comes to transition," explained Chuck Hodges, senior director for events and programs for the Hiring Our Heroes program. "But the good news is that there are many services available, and we are there to support them in their effort."
The summit events emphasize education of service members and commanders on the transition process and spotlight opportunities available, Hodges said. The events are hosted on dozens of military installations in the U.S. and overseas each year, connecting employers with thousands of veterans, transitioning service members, and military spouses at each location.
"This is critical for all service members, but for WTB Soldiers' transition to civilian life, it is even more critical. The military puts a concerted effort on quick transition processes to make sure they are still getting required education to prepare them."
Through a collaborative effort with private industry, nationally recognized companies and government agencies, the program includes all of the elements of a job fair, but Hodges said the critical distinction is the education component.
"A lot of folks do giant hiring fairs and job fairs, but it is more important to get service members prepared along with the transition managers on base. These additional educational opportunities help get them mentally prepared for the transition process, whether it's VA benefits or the simple things like how to do an interview or a 30-second pitch -- all of those soft skills that are necessary to find employment and have success in the outside world," Hodges explained.
"There are many great organizations out there working to support them. Their country cares, and companies care and want to make them great employees like they were great service members."
Sgt. 1st Class Shawn Allen was among the warriors in transition in attendance at the summit and shared his experience. As an infantryman with more than 23 years in the Army, Allen said he never imagined anything but being a Soldier. But then his over-40 physical revealed something unexpected.
"After that physical, there were quite a few red flags. I was diagnosed with cancer," Allen said.
At that time, Allen worked as the operations non commissioned officer in charge at 20th Replacement Company. "I'd been in the Army for more than a minute, so I pushed through. Regardless of how I felt, I still showed up on time, did physical training, and ensured my roles and responsibilities happened."
A year later, along with continued care, a second biopsy showed the cancer had spread. With more surgery and additional treatments, Allen said it was more productive for him to be moved to the WTB.
"At the WTB, we are all pushing toward our transition, whether it is back to the mainstream Army or back into the community. The WTB is good program that helps us work toward those goals," Allen said.
He has had surgery and dealt with some residual issues, but more treatment is in his future. Along that process, Allen said he expects to begin the medical board process, Army retirement and transition to another role in federal service. In preparation, he has attended multiple job fairs and built upon the networking skills he learned as a recruiter.
"Going into the Transition Summit, I was really anticipating being able to network with other entities within the Federal government," Allen said. "I took full advantage of what they had to offer and spoke with quite a few of the companies there. It was very informative on many levels. It was definitely a learning process."
Allen emphasized that the summit builds upon multiple programs the Army has in place today.
"What used to be called the Army Career and Alumni Program is now Soldier for Life --Transition Assistance Program. Even for Soldiers who completed one term and got out, that program is still there for them to help with their transition. Along with frequent job fairs, there are a lot of opportunities and better chances for employment. If Soldiers don't take advantage, that's really their loss. The programs available are phenomenal."