SEMBACH KASERNE, Germany - Fifteen transitioning service members from throughout Europe graduated from the Department of Veterans Affairs' Warrior Transition Advancement Course at a ceremony here Dec. 19. Along with certificates came job offers with the VA.

The WARTAC program aims to provide graduates who, after leaving the military, are ready to join one of the 56 Regional Veteran Service Centers throughout the United States, Puerto Rico and the Philippines.

Fourteen Soldiers and one Airman attended the 10-week course to learn skills needed to become Veterans Service Representatives and handle VA disability claims for fellow veterans. Every individual received a job offer by the fifth week of the course.

"Many people come to a point where they decide it's time to take off the uniform, and the question becomes, 'what's next?' That's what this program is all about - helping them get to what's next," said Installation Management Command-Europe Command Sgt. Maj. Samara Pitre, guest speaker for the ceremony.

"These 15 personnel decided they want to continue to serve - they want to continue to serve those who have served in the past just like they did. They decided to go into this program to see what they can do about helping veterans as they move forward, and they successfully made it through 10-weeks of training so that they can go on and continue to serve as best as they can," she said.

Army Sgt. Luis Ramos, from the 2nd Cavalry Regiment at Vilseck, Germany, equated transitioning from the military to receiving the green light to jump out of a sky diving plane, only to find that the parachute will not deploy. He explained that the cut-away is there for safe landing should the main parachute be dysfunctional.

"Allow me to paint the picture for you on how I felt 365 days ago," Ramos said. "I was not ready for the green light from SFL-TAP. My plan to transition out of the Army was failing fast. WARTAC was the cut-away after the parachute failed. . . WARTAC provided a safe landing, along with a 10-digit grid that will lead me to the new organization I will call my family."

"With my brothers and sisters graduating today, I can gladly say that we are all on the same mission; with integrity, respect, commitment and excellence we will advocate for veterans and their families," he said.

Gregory Cross, VA Central Office training chief and presenter for the ceremony, spoke of the VA's core values before giving each graduate an 'I CARE' pin.

"I CARE - Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect, Excellence - these are common traits that we have in the military. They will continue with you throughout your career," he said to the graduates. "Going forward, starting today, you are a part of the VA."

According to Cross, more than 1,100 individuals have graduated from the WARTAC program since its inception at Fort Belvoir in 2014. This was the second iteration of the course in Europe.

The next WARTAC VSR course will take place April 13-June 25, 2020, at Sembach Kaserne. Applicants must be active-duty service members transitioning from the military no later than Oct. 10, and must be available to begin employment no later than Aug. 24. Service members stationed outside local commuting distance can attend WARTAC on permissive temporary duty status.

For more information about applying for WARTAC, contact the transition services manager in your area:
Ansbach/Stuttgart: Phil Masterson -- DSN: 431-3673, Commercial: 07031-153673,
Baumholder/Rheinland-Pfalz: Dana Cozzens -- DSN 541-1401, Commercial: 0611-143-541-1401,
Bavaria: Anne Fugate, DSN: 476-2057, Commercial: 09662-83-2057,
Italy: David Poulin, DSN: 637-8151, Commercial: (39) 0444-61-8151,
Wiesbaden/BENELUX: Barbara Barnett, DSN: 548-1304, Commercial: 0611-143-548-1304,

Interested service members with the Air Force, Marines or Navy can contact their base transition office for more information.

(This story has contributions from a Jan. 17, 2018, article by Ray Johnson)