As 8,000 soldiers leave Lewis-McChord, base helps find them jobs

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- New numbers in the South Sound spell out quite an increase in the large number of soldiers leaving JBLM for civilian life.

Some 8,000 soldiers left their military careers at Joint Base Lewis McChord this year. That's one-third more than last year when 6,000 made the transition.

And roughly 40 percent of all of these soldiers remain in Western Washington and need to find jobs to support their families.

"43 percent are saying that they already found employment," said JBLM Transitional Services Director Robin Baker.

But thousands of others are still looking and hundreds of them, preparing to leave JBLM in the next 6 months, lined up for a career fair to start figuring out what's next for them.

JBLM, the Washington National Guard and Air Force Career & Alumni Program teamed up for a career fair, the largest to date on JBLM, featuring more than 75 employers ready to hire them on the spot.

"Employers need what they have, which is hard work, dedication -- a value-based employee that I think everyone wants to hire," said Base Commander Col. Chuck Hodges, Jr.

This military- based team is working with community groups in Pierce County, like Goodwill, to help teach skills and make the transition easier.

Mike Tassin, Veterans Services Manager at Goodwill, said the networking skills are the biggest thing they work on: "How to network and who to network with."

Goodwill does more than just run thrift stores -- that's just a way to help pay for its job training mission. And while many think Goodwill just teaches people how to work retail in its stores, that's a minor part of what they do. About 90 percent of the workers they train find jobs outside of Goodwill.

Goodwill is getting a $75,000 grant from Boeing to offer job training specifically to veterans. And the Wounded Warrior Project is granting another $50,000 specifically for disabled veterans.

The programs are part of Operation: GoodJobs.

Tassin said they're working to get soldiers into job training programs at its center or through local unions and apprenticeships. All sides work to help the soldiers figure out what skills they possess from the Army can transfer to civilian work.

"There's that unknown in the civilian world," Hodges said. "That unknown out there and they're a little nervous about that so when they talk with employees and they realize what they have to offer they're amazed, like 'wow!' "

When Tassin ended his eight-year career with the Army, he used his GI Bill to get a Master's Degree and become a licensed therapist. Now he set up the Goodwill program to welcome all veterans in, with specialized services.

"Anonymous, free counseling, unlimited sessions which is a huge thing," Tassin said. "I can just talk about symptoms. I can talk about if this is really bothering you, how do we help you, how do we fix it. We don't want to make them think like they're some strange species. We just want to say, hey, things happen, people deal with it differently. Lets help you deal with it."

To date, the Tacoma-based program helped more than 350 veterans transition to the civilian workforce.

Looking further into the numbers, Joint Base Lewis-McChord veterans make quite a unique talent pool:

* 82% are 21-30 years old and have served 3-10 years (some served as many as 18 years)
* 18% are 36 and up; retirees with more than 20 years service
* 40% stay in Washington, while 60% leave the state
* 13% are women and 87% are men