JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - The Army has come to a point where deployments and major operations overseas are winding down, and as a result, the force as a whole is shrinking with Soldiers transitioning back into the civilian workforce.
Joint Base Lewis-McChord's education center, 16th Combat Aviation Brigade and the South Seattle College have come together and developed a two-month program to help train and certify military aviators before their service has ended.
South Seattle College's Aviation Maintenance Technology department presented the first graduation class, 13 people, with certificates of completion during a ceremony Dec. 10 at a 16th CAB hangar on Gray Army Airfield.
"The positive intersection of teamwork between our military community, business community and transitioning service members is a win-win for everyone and a module for moving forward," said Col. William A. Ryan III, the 16th CAB commander and guest speaker. "With the commitment of the AMT seminar, we recognize an unmatched example of how we translate the military service and technical skills our service members have to the civilian sector."
The graduating class, which was comprised of Active Duty, Reserves, National Guard and Air Force personnel, spent six weeks both strengthening skills they acquired through military training and learning about certain aviation areas normally given to a different military occupation specialty.
"In the unit, we pull an engine off the helicopter and give it to the back shops to fix it. In this course, we have to pull an engine off of an airplane and fix it ourselves," said Sgt. Christopher Kell, a Black Hawk helicopter mechanic with 16th CAB.
Getting the program off the ground took the combination of Chief Warrant Officer 4 Earl Joy, the 16th CAB quality control chief and William Nolan, the JBLM community service program manager.
"Mr. Joy and myself came together and said let's figure out a whole-meal deal. We get a school to provide the training and instructor, and we'll find an entity to fund it, which was Camo2Commerce," Nolan said.
Camo2Commerce provides opportunities for career development and jobs to service members transitioning out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord into civilian life in western Washington.
"Normally I would have to pay out of pocket, even just to test out. Having the opportunity to go through a two-month course for free with other support with travel is great," Kell said. "It's just helping the Soldiers transition to get out so much more seamless, so they don't end up in a bad spot later on in life."
The six-week curriculum was developed between Joy and key personnel from South Seattle College, including the course lead instructor, Eric Klevstad.
"One of the benefits of this program is everyone has a different background and we can help train each other," said Sgt. Robert Hellin, a helicopter mechanic with 16th CAB. "I'm mainly an avionics guy and have just a little experience in airframe. We have an airframe guy in our group and he can use his specialties to help train us. In return, I can help him with avionics."
"These guys are excellent mechanics and students," Klevstad said. "Their dedication and focus to learning is some of the best I've seen. They're very professional."
Nolan and South Seattle College also coordinated with five major civilian aviation corporations to guarantee job interviews with every person in the seminar.
"It's almost like we don't have a choice but to get a job. Everyone is treating this as 'we're going to get us a job,' which is very motivating," said Spc. Michael Mahan.
With a new military-to-civilian transition program established for aviators stationed in the Pacific North West, service members have a new hope and less stress about the next phase of their lives.
"I don't think we could have asked for anything better. This is one of the best schools for an AMT program in WA because of all the tools, various engines and aircraft they have," Hellin said. "It's nice to see a program like dedicated for us."