To train one soldier from the recruiting station to the first unit station can cost an average of $50,000 to $64,000, according to the Army Public Affairs office. But that intense training can work against them when their military duties are over.
“When the time comes for military veterans to return home, they don't receive training to re-adjust to life outside the military,” says Judae Bost'n, Ed.D., a trainer/counselor at Bates College, Tacoma, WA.
To help veterans coming home from the Middle East, Bost’n works with the United Association (UA), an international construction union, to offer career and lifestyle transitioning as part of the UA Veterans in Piping (VIP) Program. This national program trains returning veterans for new careers in the construction industry.
“Career and lifestyle transitioning is a key part of the training that the United Association is providing for veterans,” said Mike Arndt, Director of Training for the United Association. “Returning veterans need to rebuild their civilian lives. We hope that our program will break new ground in helping our returning heroes.”
“When a soldier returns to the states, any re-adjustment problems they may experience must be resolved before they get worse,” said Anne St. Eloi, M.Ed., the United Association (UA) Special Representative who developed the VIP Program. “That is why the VIP Program starts with two weeks of career and lifestyle transitioning.”
St. Eloi spearheaded the development of the VIP Program at the request of William P. Hite, the General President of the UA. “It’s the right thing to do,” Hite said, “since these veterans have given so much to their country.”
Career and lifestyle transitioning is not happening for all returning veterans and that’s a shame, Bost’n says. “If a soldier's been deployed, they really need to have the chance to re-assess and reflect on their life experiences. During World War II, soldiers had to take a long boat-ride home, and that gave them lots of time to reflect on what had happened to them. Today, they may be in combat one day and then, 24 hours later, they’re in their local airport.”
Bost’n stresses that military training shapes every aspect of a soldier’s life. “They need that kind of intensive training to stay alive on the battlefield,” she says. “They also need to know they are working in unison with the soldiers around them. When they return to civilian life, they need to adjust to the fact that people usually don’t work together with that kind of precision. This can be extremely disorienting for them.”
This is especially true for soldiers who entered the military right after high school, as well as soldiers who grew up in military households, Bost’n added. Basically, most of their adult-life mental processes have been military, and to suddenly leave that can place them in a fish-out-of-water situation.
Plus, military personnel soon find that people in the civilian world communicate in a different manner, Bost’n says. “It’s like people in the civilian world are speaking the same language, but a different dialect,” she said. “Plus, military personnel may be unaccustomed to things not happening when they request them.”
Putting the Pieces in Place
Bost’n considers herself a puzzle-master, and helping veterans to bring together the pieces of their new identity as a civilian is very much a matter of puzzle-solving.
“I have to take them back to who they were before they received their military training,” Bost’n said. “A word they lost track of in the military is ‘I.’ In the military, ‘I’ is not how things get done. ‘We’ is how things get done. They have to determine who their ‘I’ is in civilian life.”
The UA VIP Program’s career and lifestyle transitioning is held eight hours a day, five days a week for two weeks. It is very intensive, with strong follow-up.
Following the career and lifestyle transitioning, the VIP Program enters a 16-week period of hands-on welding training. Skilled welders are in short supply, St. Eloi noted, and the welding training element helps to assure that participating veterans will be able to find work nationwide.
"From that point on,” she said, “the participants are able to apprentice with the UA, so they can enjoy lifelong careers as journeymen in the construction industry.”
Bost’n noted that the veterans are really enjoying their work with the unions. “Union life is a culture that is both agreeable and understandable to them,” she said. “Union members, like members of the military forces, receive a lot of training and have clear-cut roles among their personnel. Union members call each other their brothers and sisters, and that kind of unity appeals to veterans. We all want to belong, and the veterans are receiving that sense of belonging in their new roles in the construction industry.”
For more information, visit the UA VIP Program Web site at www.uavip.org.