"Fort Stewart is the place where we take care of soldiers," under secretary of the United States Army Patrick Murphy said during his visit to the 3rd Infantry Division Wednesday.
Murphy toured the installation and promoted an Army program called Soldier for Life that works to prepare soldiers who are leaving the service in areas such as resume building and job training.
"To me it’s a readiness issue," Murphy said of the importance of the Solder for Life program. "In that for
the last five years the Department of Defense spent $4.6 billion in unemployment benefits."
While the department will continue to take care of soldiers and pay unemployment, he said, "we’ve got to do a better job to be proactive, to make sure they have the skills necessary 12 months out when they’re leaving. Because listen, every soldier will eventually leave, whether they do three years or 30 years."
Murphy also talked about the impact of soldiers in the communities, saying "every one of our American soldiers is a civic asset to our nation."
"Our soldiers are more likely to be employed than non-veterans. They’re more likely to run a small business and for that small business to be successful than non-veterans," he said. "They’re more likely to vote in elections than non-veterans, no matter what their political persuasion is."
Besides visiting with soldiers across the installation and dropping in on a class at the Sgt. 1st Class Paul R. Smith Army Education Center, Murphy also toured the Home Builders Institute facility on Fort Stewart that trains transitioning soldiers in trade skills like carpentry, electrical and plumbing.
The HBI facility is "where they make sure that they have the certifications, that they have the training necessary that when they transition from our military, that they have a leg up," he said.
At the facility, Spc. Andrew Selover, 6th Squadron, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, was learning how to connect multiple switches to one electrical outlet. Selover hopes to become an electrician in the civilian sector.
"This is going to help me because this is actually a career field that I’m wanting to pursue back at home. And I actually have three jobs that I’m trying to pursue right now and line up," he said.
Learning a new trade alongside other typical job hunting skills like resume building gives soldiers such as Sgt. Christopher Hamel with 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team another skill to prepare them for life after the Army.
"We go through Soldiers for Life and you learn how to build a resume, how to transition, but you’re just kind of out there," he said. "Doing this program allows you to get the hands-on training you need so that if you don’t go to college, you can go into a trade."
Hamel and Selover both said that one of the biggest challenges facing a soldier getting out of the Army is finding a job that they like and where they can apply the skills that they learned during their military service.
"For example I’m a diesel mechanic in the Army, and I enjoy doing that, but you also have to find in the civilian world how’s that going to play or how’s it going to transition. And how you can carry the trades that you’ve learned in the military, how can you apply them to civilian," Hamel said.
"So that’s been the biggest thing is finding what the soldier enjoys doing and then finding that in the civilian world and how they can apply to that," he added.
Selover said his current job in the Army "has nothing to really translate in to the civilian sector." He added that the class allowed him to choose from a variety of trade skills in which to receive certification.
"Part of it is these soldiers have to have the confidence," Murphy said, "of what they’ve done for America translates to the civilian world."
"The fact is these soldier can do anything they want to do," Murphy added.