FORT DRUM, N.Y. (April 12, 2018) -- The first cohort of Fort Drum Soldiers graduated April 6 from the Construction Craft Laborer program - a six-week course designed to prepare transitioning servicemembers with skills needed to enter the construction industry. The training included instruction in basic safety, construction math, hand and power tools, communication and employability skills and introduction to materials.

The course is completely funded by the Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc. (ABC) and those who graduated will receive credentials, equivalent to a New York State Laborer apprentice, from the National Center for Construction Education and Research.

During the recognition ceremony at Clark Hall, Jeff Albert, ABC chief operating officer, said that the NCCER is becoming the standard for construction curriculum.

"We wanted to give these Soldiers the curriculum that would benefit them most - they could walk into an entry-level position and probably get the most demand right away," he said. "At any commercial job site, the most common employee is the laborer, and that means you can kind of do everything."

Albert said that he was enthused when he was contacted about bringing this career skills program to Fort Drum Soldiers.

"This is exactly what is needed in the industry and we love being involved," he said. "We're a national organization and we have chapters around the country and can link all those contractors with these veterans."

Albert said that the industry is hurting for the talent and type of transferable skills that military veterans offer.

"These Soldiers took the curriculum on, 110 percent, and they wanted more," he said. "They wanted more of a challenge every day and that's exactly what a contractor wants. A contractor doesn't want somebody who needs to be told what to do all the time. They want the employees to come and say 'What's the next challenge?' These guys have that."

Albert said that another construction course will be offered in the fall and he is hopeful to have twice the attendance.

"I think the first class was successful and we learned a lot, so we'll move forward in a great direction," he said.

Lorrie Guler, transition services manager at Fort Drum Soldier For Life-Transition Assistance Program, said that the SFL-TAP mission is twofold - prepare and connect.

"In that prepare mission, we're giving our Soldiers classes and counseling on how to be successful in their transition stage," she said.

The connect mission links transitioning Soldiers with employment and educational opportunities - such as career skills programs. Melanie Telego, SFL-TAP career skills program administrator, said that a monthly briefing allows Soldiers to hear from training providers and internship representatives.

"Soldiers can hear about these opportunities and then they schedule a meeting with me to make an educated decision on which direction they want to go on employment based on the opportunities available to them," she said.

In addition to the construction craft laborer course, Fort Drum SFL-TAP offers four other employment skills training programs and currently has six internships, Telego said.

"Those seem to be growing, and they are great opportunities for Soldiers to get a little training while they're in, get a feel for what they want to do, and then connect with employers in the industry," she said.

Among the graduates, Sgt. 1st Class Gary Whitley, from 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, plans to retire in Watertown and will participate in the electrician apprenticeship program.

Capt. Samuel Curtis, from 2nd Battalion, 10th Aviation Regiment, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, is planning to relocate with his Family to Fairbanks, Alaska, where he had previously been stationed as an infantry officer before transitioning to military intelligence at Fort Drum. His plan is to open a dogsled tours kennel, but Curtis and his wife are also interested in building houses in remote villages where people don't have the means to do so themselves.

Curtis said that they have refined some housing blueprints from when they built their own home, which they can use as a model for what they can offer villagers. He said that he was grateful that Albert and Chris Gray, lead instructor, covered extra material during the course - to include basic carpentry and tools and forklift certifications. For their final class project, the Soldiers built an 8'x8' shed.

"Jeff also went out of his way to pass our resumes out, order materials for future apprenticeships and link students in with potential employers he knew in the area," Curtis said. "This was an excellent course for Soldiers, and every attempt should be made to continue it."

Cpl. Tyler Smeltzer, 1st Battalion, 10th Aviation Regiment, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, has served four years as an aircraft avionics systems repairer and plans to work as a substation electrician for West Penn Power. Smeltzer took the course because he said that a foundation in construction is required.

"I actually wish this class was longer, but it was fantastic from Day One," he said. "Taking this class is going to make me more employable."

Smeltzer said that he enjoyed the small class size because they all got to know each other quickly.

"We had a good time," he said. "It was real easy to talk to everyone, and even easier to work with each other. At the end, when we were building the shed, there was a lot of banter going around."

To learn more about SFL-TAP, visit https://www.drum.army.mil/hr/Pages/dhr_sfl_tap.aspx or call (315) 772-3434.