SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii -- Transitioning service members and veterans living in Hawaii now have the opportunity to apply for an 18-week academy that could land them a career in the technology industry.

Microsoft Military Affairs officially opened its Microsoft Software & Systems Academy (MSSA), here, July 10. The academy provides critical career skills in Information Technology (IT), plus transition assistance like resume preparation and interviewing skills.

"What a privilege it is to bring this program to the state of Hawaii and the military community here on the island and to add Schofield Barracks as our newest campus," said Matt Brogdon, senior engagement manager, Microsoft Military Affairs.

"We have folks who have an IT MOS (military occupational specialty) or people who have no background in technology and are interested in getting in the IT industry," said Brogdon. "(Upon graduation,) we offer them an interview with either Microsoft or one of our over 500 partner employers."

During the MSSA ribbon-cutting, Col. Thomas J. Barrett, commander, U.S. Army Garrison Hawaii, joined retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Chris Cortez, vice president of Microsoft Military Affairs, and Lyndsay Beaulieu, associate executive director, U.S. Campus Operations, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-Worldwide, for the "untying of the lei."

Kahu Victoria Lanakila Tuggle-Togafu chanted in Hawaiian a breath of life into the program, cleansed and purified it, then blessed all participants.

Barrett thanked Microsoft and Embry-Riddle for the curricular and their care and concern.

"Unique programs like these, and opportunities, give you the ability to hone your skills and learn new ones," he said. "They enhance your competitiveness as you make future plans beyond the service."

Barrett explained that a service member's lifestyle, a commitment to something greater than self, to duty, physical fitness, work ethic, selfless service and to country set them apart from others and make them a valuable commodity.

He continued, "As a Soldier, you've developed tremendous technical and leadership skills. These attributes that you've learned in the military service are sought after in the private sector."

Cortez said Microsoft "put a lot of sweat equity" in the program, located at 15 locations and in nine regions across the United States. It began as a pilot at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, in Washington, in July 2013. Now more than 1,600 cohorts, or students, have graduated from the academy, and they start at a national average salary of $75,000.

"We've also been thinking about the military spouse," he added, so in September of 2018, Microsoft provided a pilot for them. The first class graduated in March.

Hawaii's inaugural class began July 1, with 17 students; they're set to graduate Nov. 10. The cohorts attend Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in the Schofield Barracks Education Center. They receive IT instruction in the morning and get mentorship and transition support in the afternoon.

"For a lot of them, this is the first time they've had IT. My role is to keep things moving smoothly," said Mo Radke, site manager, Microsoft, here, "to make sure this is the best possible experience they can have.

"They've got a great instructor whose level of experience is way, way up there," Radke added, explaining the instructor is making information understandable -- no matter from what career skill a service member originates.

A mix of transitioning service members -- among them, a veteran of 10 years, a Soldier who left active duty five months ago and a Marine -- comprise Hawaii's first class, said Army Sgt. Bijay Karki, formerly a medic with C Company, 225th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division.

Only four or five students, he added, have any IT experience; yet, each is looking forward to learning what they need to know and beginning a career in the IT field.

To find out more information about MSSA and to see what's being taught where, visit https://worldwide.erau.edu/microsoft.