ARLINGTON, Va. — When life throws you a curveball, you've got to adjust your swing. And that's exactly what Army Recovery Care Program's Transition Coordinators (TCs) — individuals who work directly with wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers — did after COVID-19 made typical activities a challenge.
Since 2018, TCs have gotten together every summer for training from the ARCP's Career and Education Readiness Division, which equips them to help transitioning soldiers with employment, education, and vocational rehabilitation, among other things. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic disrupted scheduled training activities for TCs at Soldier Recovery Units (SRUs), but more than 30 of them adapted to the situation and overcame the challenge by convening recently for a first-ever virtual training summit from Sept. 15-18.
Roberta Berry, career and education readiness action officer at the Army Recovery Care Program, said she felt the summit accomplished everything they wanted, despite it being remote this year.
“It was a little bit different — obviously they wanted face-to-face interaction,” she said. “But they were still able to see each other, and there were a lot of instances where they could dialogue about things going on in their unit and talk about best practices. They were still able to give each other ideas on things they could do differently.”
The summit covered many topics, including employment, job placement, vocational rehabilitation benefits, education, and credentialing for transitioning Soldiers and spouses. With this knowledge, TCs are better positioned to build relationships at their installations and within their communities, all while better serving Soldiers.
James Coleman, a transition coordinator at the SRU, said that the first summit took place in San Antonio in 2018, and last year’s event was in Baltimore. They were supposed to go to California for the event this year until COVID-19 made that impossible.
During the event, TCs like Coleman learn about the latest developments in programs that can help Soldiers so they can relay that information to those individuals. For example, during this year's summit, Coleman received a lot of information about the ArmyIgnitED program, which provides Soldiers with access to educational opportunities to pursue their dream career. Under the program, Soldiers can receive up to $4,000 per year in funding from the Army to pursue education and training.
If it weren’t for TCs like Coleman, Soldiers might never know about it.
“They briefed us on changes coming to that program so that we can push that information out to the Soldiers,” Coleman said. “Immediately after I left that conference, I was able to provide soldiers with that information. I still speak about ArmyIgnitED about three to five times per week with Soldiers because it was that pertinent.”
Basically, the summit educates TCs, who are essential for Soldiers overwhelmed by all the information out there.
“It’s way too much information,” Coleman said. “Unless they’re specifically looking for it, they’re not going to retain it.”
While the virtual summit was a success, Coleman said he looks forward to getting back to in-person interactions because it makes it easier to collaborate and learn from other TCs.
“When we all get together, we can network with other TCs,” he said. “Even if you’re surrounded by a good team, it’s helpful to network with others who have a different perspective.”
But even if the pandemic remains a concern next summer, Coleman is perfectly happy to do another virtual summit.
“It gets us away from our norm,” he said. “Not only do we get to network, but we also get to step away from the job for a little bit, and that’s beneficial.”
As far as what the summit will look like after the pandemic, that remains to be seen, Berry said. Organizers may explore doing both virtual and face-to-face, and they likely will start talking about it in January, she said.