Soldiers get preview of civilian life in Savannah

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SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — Three soldiers stationed at Hunter Army Airfield are getting the opportunity to experience work in the civilian world before they transition out of the service, thanks to a unique partnership between Georgia Tech Savannah and Gulfstream Aerospace.

Army Spc. Rammon Swainson, Spc. Victoria Frizalone and Sgt. Angel Jordan are the first participants selected for Georgia Tech Savannah's Veterans Education Training and Transition — or VET2 — program, a one-of-a-kind course that helps active duty soldiers learn how to translate their military skills and values into successful civilian careers.

Georgia Tech developed the four-week program, which includes classroom work and job shadowing, and offers it free of charge for participants.

"When we were developing this program, we looked at a lot of colleges and universities and couldn't find any that offered an experiential program tied to an educational component," said James Wilburn, director of military programs at Georgia Tech Professional Education.

"The Department of Defense just recently authorized internships for active duty members within the 180-day window of the end of their service, so these three are the first," he said.

"And what better place to start than Gulfstream, where we have placed so many student interns and with whom we have a great working relationship."

The fit also works.

All three soldiers work on helicopters at Hunter. Swainson is a Black Hawk mechanic, while Frizalone and Jordan work on the smaller Kiowa Warrior, she as a mechanic, he in avionics.

For them, Swainson said, the opportunity to see how things are done at Gulfstream is a real eye-opener.

"For those of us who went right into the military after high school or college, getting out means we'll be looking for a civilian job for the first time. Doing this gives us the different perspective we'll need and, hopefully, the chance for a permanent job."

Frizalone agreed.

"There's a lot of opportunity here," she said. "If we perform well and the company thinks we're a good fit, we may be offered a letter of intent, which means we would have a job once we're out of the service.

"From there, the career opportunities are endless," she said.

Don Moore, Gulfstream's military outreach program manager, describes the program, the first in the country with active duty Army interns, as "extended job interviews."

"In essence, they're getting what the average job candidate would love to have — the time to prove themselves and show us how they perform in an actual work setting," Moore said.

While the interns are just shadowing in the service center because they are not FAA-qualified to perform any actual maintenance, Moore said there is plenty to assess.

"Their attentiveness, their interest, the questions they ask — all that gives us a good sense of the kind of employee each will be," he said.

Also, the interns get "off-aircraft training" with senior OJT trainer Kevin Edwards.

"This is where they can try their hands at drilling, riveting, working with sealants," he said.

All of which allows Gulfstream trainers to assess their performance and potentially offer that letter of intent.

At a time when the unemployment rate for post-9/11 vets in Georgia is nearly double the state's overall rate, the program is something that Tech plans to expand, Wilburn said.

Our plan is to offer quarterly classes based on companies' hiring needs and those military personnel within the window."

While he expects to continue working with Gulfstream — 27 percent of whose 10,000-plus employees are veterans — plans are also in the works to offer internships at SNF Chemical Holdings in Riceboro and JCB Inc. in Pooler, Wilburn said.

"We hope the success of this first program will be a call to action for other companies in the area that want to keep the military's valuable skill sets at home," he said.

"If we can get these soldiers in front of employers, chances are they will have job offers before they take off the uniform."


Information from: Savannah Morning News,

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