By Alexandra Shea, IMCOMMay 16, 2019
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Soldiers leaving military service have a lot to prepare for as they transition from active duty to the civilian workforce. Thanks to the Soldier for Life-Transition Assistance Program, this transition can set Soldiers up for success through the sometimes tricky process of translating military service and military occupational specialties to civilian workforce skills, resume writing and opportunities to participate in vocational certificate programs.
One program available at Fort Jackson offers service members a chance to trade their Army Combat Uniform for fire retardant bunker gear, equipment regularly used by firefighters to protect them from the intense heat from fires. The program is called Troops to Firefighters, and one Fort Jackson Soldier has taken full advantage of what the program has to offer.
"Going through the Soldier for Life program here at Fort Jackson, I had a leader who was looking for information for his wife and he said 'Hey man, they have a firefighter program here and they pay for it,'" said Staff Sgt. James Hall, Company A, 3rd Battalion, 39th Infantry Regiment. "So I did it."
Hall has served on active duty for more than 20 years and is set to retire in August. He, like all separating Soldiers, attended a mandatory separation brief where he learned about the Troops to Firefighter program. He said he never thought about becoming a firefighter before the briefing, but he submitted a packet to enroll in the program, and a few weeks later he received the news that he had been accepted.
"I'd been leaning towards becoming an electrician; that's what my Family business is," Hall said. "But I really fell in love with firefighting after going to the fire academy."
With the support of his unit's chain of command, Hall was placed on permissive temporary duty to attend the South Carolina Fire Academy. After a grueling eight weeks, Hall graduated and returned to his regular duties with his company.
"I thought it was definitely physically challenging," Hall said. "It's not the easiest job, but it's very rewarding."
Hall said his military training as an infantryman helped prepared him for the physical demands a firefighter faces daily. The weight of the bunker gear is similar to the combat load of body armor and ammunition. He also explained how military structure is equally similar to a firehouse, including the camaraderie and style of training found within most military units.
"I think James is a very good fit to go into the fire service," said Pete Hines, assistant chief of the Fort Jackson Fire Department. "He is intelligent. He can think. I wish he could stay [here at Fort Jackson]."
Hall graduated the fire academy in March but remains on active duty until he starts his terminal leave at the end of May. With the support of his commander and Hines, Hall was able to keep his newly acquired skills sharp by spending a few days out of the week working for the Fort Jackson Fire Department. There, Hall's duty day is like the other firefighters. He helps to maintain his personal protective equipment, the fire vehicles, the firehouse and respond to fire calls. Hall was also afforded opportunities to attend additional fire training classes to expand his firefighting certifications that will make him more attractive to prospective fire departments in Texas when Hall moves his Family back home in May.
Hall's successful completion of the program and his volunteer service with the fire department will allow him to begin seeking employment with a local fire department as soon as he is settled in Texas. Hall said he believes the transition will be a smooth one thanks to the program, support from his Family and support from his chain of command.
"I wouldn't have been able to do this without the Fort Jackson Fire Department, (the program) and my unit," Hall said. "Any of these programs that are available, I say take advantage of them while they are here."
The Troops to Firefighter program is one of many offered to transitioning Soldiers. Other programs include lineman, trucking, piping, solar energy and more. To find more information about these programs, contact the Soldier For Life - Transition Assistance Program office at www.sfl-tap.army.mil or 1-800-325-4715.