FORT RILEY, Kan. -- Fort Riley Soldier For Life Transition Assistance office and USO Fort Riley Pathfinder program launched Heroes MAKE America pilot Jan. 22 at Riley's Conference Center.

The career skills training program, taught by Manufacturing Institute, arms transitioning Soldiers with skills and qualities needed to secure rewarding jobs with competitive wages in the manufacturing industry.

The Manufacturing Institute is the official, nonprofit affiliate of the National Association of Manufacturers, which is the largest industrial trade association in the U.S., according to Carolyn Lee, executive director of the Manufacturing Institute and emcee of the event. She said the program answers the call and meets the needs for a workforce in today's age of modern manufacturing.

"We work to advance the manufacturing industry by shifting the perception manufacturing careers and by improving education partnership because nobody is able to do this alone as we look to educate the next generation workforce," Lee said. "It's because we focus on this (manufacturing) workforce, we've become the best knowledge center on what the challenges are in the manufacturing economy."

Col. John D. Lawrence, Fort Riley garrison commander, said during his speech, each Soldier must transition to civilian life and he lauded the inaugural Heroes MAKE America class for their efforts.

"I applaud you, the students of the first class, as you recently embarked on an incredible journey," he said. "Through this Heroes MAKE America program, you 13 truly represent the concept of Soldier for life … The Army's greatest asset is our people; the finest men and women our great nation has to offer. Successfully transitioning Soldiers from military to civilian life is a priority effort."

The program began in Jan. 8 and is full time and 10 weeks long. Students in the class will graduate in March. All 13 students were present at the launch and three of them were invited to speak on a panel and answer questions.

Spc. Dustin Heickman, 41st Engineer Company (Clearance), 1st Engineer Battalion, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, who was one of the panel speakers, said the program has been useful to him so he can build skills that translate into the civilian sector.

"Especially coming from a combat (military occupational specialty) where we really are more focused on completing a mission overseas, unfortunately we don't get a chance to develop a whole bunch of civilian skills," Heickman said. "So I really believe this program is very instrumental to help give those people skills that translate to the civilian sector."

Heickman added the networking opportunity he was given by being in the program and attending the launch was been beneficial for not only him, but also prospective Soldiers who may be interested.

"I'm very excited about the opportunity this program has for not just us, but for future Soldiers coming in," he said. "Biggest piece of advice I would give Soldiers getting ready to do this program is to do their research (and) make sure to take advantage of the SFL-TAP and all the career skills programs. All of them have something great to offer."
Crystal Bryant-Kearns said this program prepares its students for a career in manufacturing, which right now needs the workforce.

"Manufacturing is such a large opportunity," she said. "They have so many things that they can do from making food all the way to making cars and airplanes. So manufacturing is a wonderful opportunity for service members."

Bryant-Kearns added there will be four Heroes MAKE American classes this year. The next class will begin in April. For more information, call the SLF-TAP office at 785-239-2278 or USO Pathfinders at 785-492-5710.