FORT SILL, Okla. – Six Fort Sill Soldiers transitioning from military to civilian life are taking part in a pilot program that prepares them for civilian life with hands-on job training.
The program, coordinated by the on-post Industrial Training Center (ITC) and ABF Freight, a national trucking company, is preparing these Soldiers to drive big rigs and earn their commercial driver's license (CDL) with a guarantee of a job upon successful completion.
"Transition out of the military is an extremely stressful time for most Soldiers," said Thomas Miller, ITC program manager. "There are many uncertainties and difficulties, but our goal is to close whatever gaps exist between Soldiers, their resumes and employers by bringing these employers into the transition process."
The Soldier for Life and Transition Assistance program works to assist Soldiers in finding employment after serving. Resume building, education and job fairs are several ways in which these programs assist Soldiers, but the ITC takes this one step further. Employers work with the ITC to train Soldiers in the particular skills they want and provide the necessary experience through their own training programs. But, perhaps most importantly, the training comes with a job offer.
"This program really spoke to me," said driver trainee Sgt. Rosteeve Bellier, Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 214th Fires Brigade. "It was not just job training, but a job offer. The job fairs were usually full of local employers asking for applications, but ABF Freight offered a job and the flexibility to take that job wherever I wanted it."
In today's economy, truck driving jobs are some of the most secure and in-demand positions in the country, according to a study by National Public Radio and the United States Census. Holding a CDL and truck driving experience gives these Soldiers a leg up as they transition to the uncertainties of civilian life, even without the job offer.
"ABF Freight is a national company that offers its drivers incredible pay, benefits and opportunities," said driver trainer and long-time ABF employee Savio Martinez. "This is a great career and one often difficult to get without truck driving experience, but we have a policy of reserving job slots for transitioning military personnel. When you hire a veteran, you know you are getting a quality employee who has discipline, responsibility and incredible training."
The six-week program was designed and funded by ABF to teach Soldiers all of the fundamentals of truck driving, from normal operations like shifting a manual transmission to advanced skills like pulling double trailers and blind side alley docking. Each trainee had his or her own truck and teacher so they could work independently at his or her own pace and focus on particular needs.
"I couldn't believe it when we went straight to the trucks," said Bellier. "I had never driven a manual transmission before in my life ... but they had us climb straight up into the seat and get started."
Soon enough the nation's newest truck drivers were hooking and unhooking trailers, driving them first around a parking lot and then the post to learn proper techniques.
But, forward was not the only direction they needed to go.
"Backing a trailer takes skill, experience and feel," laughed Bellier. "We backed straight up, around curves, parallel parked and weaved between cones. We've done a lot of backing up because that's a major part of the job."
By pairing transitioning Soldiers with employers who are willing to train and hire them, the ITC and their industrial partners create partnerships that best serve everybody. A foot in the door and experience in a specialized field on top of elite military skills gives these Soldiers a head start as they begin their newest adventure and career.
On the other side it also gives employers America's finest men and women who will walk onto the job trained and holding the skills and values that make them the perfect employee.
"Their training won't be finished when they leave here, but they will be ready to make this company and profession better than they already are," said Martinez. "They will continue to train on the job wherever they go. I will miss them though, they are incredible people and I'm proud I've had the opportunity to watch them learn and just know them as people."