The Congress of the United States made a vow to assist transitioning servicemembers: Fort Carson has taken it one step further.

The vow is the Veterans Opportunity to Work to Hire Our Heroes Act of 2011 and that extra step is the Fort Carson Transition University.

The VOW Act sets up a framework for the U.S. Departments of Labor, Defense, Transportation (Coast Guard) and Veterans Affairs to construct a mandatory program for all servicemembers to take prior to leaving the military, either by retirement, choice or other circumstances.

DOL is responsible for a three-day employment workshop, formerly referred to as the Transition Assistance Program. In the TAP workshop, servicemembers are instructed in the basics of resume writing, interviewing skills, employment research and information on using Montgomery GI Bill or the Post-9/11 GI Bill for further educational opportunities. The Department of the Army has added a six-hour financial readiness program as well as mandatory involvement by Soldiers with the Army Career and Alumni Program. When put together, these programs run for most of one working week.

Fort Carson officials have incorporated the DOL employment workshop and the Financial Readiness Program with other locally-developed classes to create the Fort Carson Transition University, which receives support from both the military and the local community. Two pilot programs were run in November and December, and the program officially began Monday. The object of the pilots was to fine tune the program and see what classes worked the best.

"This program has one goal: to ensure Soldiers and their Families have a successful transition out of the Army," said Skip Blancett, Fort Carson education services officer. "No one else (in the Army) is even beginning to do Transition University."

Blancett led the way with the educational aspects of the program. A partnership with on-post colleges and universities has allowed Transition University to run on a volunteer, no-cost-to-the-government basis. Blancett worked with college instructors to teach classes in the art of negotiation, time management, TRIO and branding to enhance the instruction the Soldiers already receive. Blancett also arranged for tours at Pikes Peak Community College and the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs to introduce the Soldiers to college life at both a two-year and four-year college.

Lyle Dickason, transition services manager with the Fort Carson Army Career and Alumni Program, took the lead with the business-oriented classes. Dickason formerly taught TAP class and has many contacts within the business community. Working with both Shelley Anderson, Office of Personnel Management, and Jason Shireman, Veterans Affairs, the three have come up with a veterans panel, consisting of military veterans who share their experiences in transitioning.

They have also put together a business and community mentorship panel, which brings in business and community leaders to discuss their perspective on how the servicemembers can best transition. In addition, Anderson teaches a half-day session on federal employment and Shireman leads the Soldiers through networking and use of social media.

The teaching staff is rounded out with ACAP and Association for Counselor Education and Supervision counselors, Department of Army civilian employees and members of the community to include Stacia Naquin, a local news anchor, and Kevin Walda, Veterans Upward Bound program.

Rob Rohren, a retired master sergeant who last served as the noncommissioned officer in charge for Fort Carson's Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, retired in August but returned to take the first pilot program to help improve the new program. He found TU to be much more helpful than the old system of ACAP and TAP. He returned as a member of the Veterans Panel for the second pilot class.

"You need to take full advantage of this opportunity," he told the students. "These people really care about you, and you'll never get a chance like this again."

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has expressed interest in the program. He sent Leanne Wheeler to the second pilot program to observe and compare the program to the one run for the Colorado National Guard. Wheeler said she was impressed with the program and noted the governor was concerned about the plight of unemployed veterans, which she said was between 12-18 percent in Colorado compared to 6-8 percent of the general population.

The program will start every week with an overlap of one week for each session.