A New Approach for Assisting Transitioning Warriors
The Society of American Military Engineers (SAME) Greater Kansas City (GKC) Post commissioned a Warrior in Transition Committee in 2013 with a mission to develop an effective strategy to educate, mentor and assist members of the military who are or will soon be transitioning out of the military (“Transitioning Warriors”) into the civilian sector. The GKC Post leadership took this proactive approach given the high unemployment levels of Transitioning Warriors in addition to the projected increase in transitioning veterans given future projections of a smaller U.S. force structure. Committee members wanted to ensure the ideals of the SAME were integrated into its overall strategy. Likewise, they wanted to develop a strategy that would provide a meaningful forum to truly assist Transitioning Warriors—not something to simply make them feel good.
In order to develop this strategy, the Committee first discussed many of the challenges associated with transition from the military, to include assessing Art DeGroat (Director of Military Affairs, Kansas State University) and Richard P. Crowley’s 2013 White Paper entitled “Looking Critically at Reintegration of Post-9/11 Era Veterans”. Through this research, the Committee concluded that many veterans are unprepared to understand the requirements of the competitive civilian job market; often do not have a professional network to assist them in navigating through the steps required; and often do not have an understanding of the skills necessary to adequately compete for many positions within the market. All of these factors are contributing to the high unemployment rate of today’s Transitioning Warriors. Utilizing the lessons learned from the White Paper and gaining insights from recently transitioning veterans allowed the Committee to take a different approach to assist Warriors in the transition process, all within the context of SAME’s overall mission and vision.
The Committee settled on a strategy with five goals to assist transitioning veterans:
- Expand their interest in career fields associated with GKC Post SAME Sustaining Member firms,
- Network with professionals associated with SAME Sustaining Member firms,
- Inform transitioning veterans about the skill sets and other tools/tips necessary to be successful in civilian career fields (to include helping them understand how their military skills/experience/leadership is applicable in the civilian job market),
- Offer mentorship and professional development through SAME, and
- Encourage SAME membership to enhance their long-term networking opportunities.
To kick off the 2014 support to Transitioning Warriors, the GKC Post joined forces with the Kansas State University Office of Military Affairs, hosting a Warrior Transition Networking Forum at the Kansas State University Alumni Center in Manhattan, Kansas on April 24, 2014. The purpose of the Forum was to provide information to Transitioning Warriors about the fields of architecture, engineering, and construction, utilizing a panel of veterans who have experienced and successfully navigated the transition process into the private/public sector. Specifically, this venue was focused on assisting transitioning veterans from the Fort Riley, Kansas military installation. Mark Loes (Kleinfelder), Committee Chair and Jackie Hacker (HDR), Committee Co-Chair, organized the event. Tony Hofmann (Colonel, USA, retired)(Stantec) and Committee member moderated the panel session. The panel members representing five Sustaining Member firms within the GKC Post were: Matt Metcalf and Al Osborne (Commander, USN, retired) (TEPA), Forrest Joe Lykins (Major, USA, retired) (Tyco SimplexGrinnell), Scott Fehnel (Lieutenant Colonel, USA, retired) (HNTB), Victor Poland (Burns and McDonnell), and Reed Brown (US Army Corps of Engineers, Kansas City District). Art DeGroat (Lieutenant Colonel, USA, retired) (Kansas State University) played a key role in the process, participating in the panel, coordinating the facilities and interfacing with Fort Riley leadership to promote the event. The forum featured twenty-six (26) attendees and included ample opportunity for one-on-one interaction with panel members following the open discussion.
Given the fact this event was not a job fair and attendees would not depart with a job offer in hand, how do we know the forum was successful? Defining a hard “metric” for this type of initiative is difficult to define. Therefore, direct feedback from the Transitioning Warriors in attendance is the greatest indicator for success. The attendees provided numerous comments indicating that the information presented and subsequent discussion was indeed value-added and not something they had previously received in any transition curriculum. Likewise, the consensus was that this type of forum did provide a solid base to begin and enhance their transition. Many also stated that they will now reach out to the SAME panel members in order to help them in their transition. In short, the forum reinforced that the GKC Post Warrior Transition Committee strategy is an innovative strategy that can truly help Transitioning Warriors as they tackle the transition process. Long-term, the true measure of success will be when a veteran makes the transition into a civilian career—while hopefully enjoying the camaraderie and benefits of SAME membership.
The SAME GKC Post is proud to support our Transitioning Warriors. The GKC Post members share in the unfaltering commitment to do right by our uniformed service men and women that have defended our country. Combining the resources of SAME with the professional commitment to veterans seeking employment in the civilian sector, we can proactively provide them the tools to help them be successful through the challenging transition process. This is our mission and commitment.