WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Jan. 29, 2014) – As the Army draws down in Afghanistan and reduces its overall force strength, Army leaders and veterans groups remain focused on ensuring Soldiers have the support to be successful in the civilian world.
Budget issues, challenges of transition, the Army’s future, and the health and wellness of the force were among the topics of discussion at the Pentagon, Jan. 24, as the Army hosted a quarterly meeting with members of veterans’ service organizations and military service organizations.
Army leaders who addressed the forum included Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno; Lt. Gen. Patricia D. Horoho, Army surgeon general and commander, U.S. Army Medical Command; Maj. Gen. Karen Dyson, director of the Army Budget office; and Col. Adam Rocke, director of the Soldier for Life Program.
Successful reintegration was a key point stressed by the Soldier for Life Program. The program, which was founded 18 months ago, supports Soldiers in finding and taking advantage of all the resources available to them, such as education, training and other opportunities, to facilitate a strong return to civilian life, said Rocke.
The meeting at the Pentagon was a unique opportunity for the Army to hear from service organization leaders and exchange ideas on how to best support veterans, he said.
“These connections are paramount because at the end of the day, it’s not about any one individual, it’s about the collective group — the service members and their families as a whole,” said Rocke.
Working together with the service organizations and building synergy will make a lot of progress in helping the nation’s veterans, he said.
The Army hosted more than 40 service organization members representing a wide swath of the veterans’ community, including officers, enlisted members, wounded warriors, women, veterans of foreign wars, reservists, and students.
Odierno’s son, retired Capt. Anthony Odierno, was among the service representatives.
The younger Odierno, who lost his left arm in a rocket-propelled grenade attack while on patrol in Iraq in 2004, is the vice president of military and veterans affairs at JP Morgan Chase.
“Today is very important, because to really make a difference, military, government, non-profits and the private sector all have to work together to make sure that our transitioning service members and their families are successful,” he said.
Veterans who are entering the civilian workforce face unique challenges, he said.
“In some cases, you’ve been in the military for 10, 15, 20 years, and then all of a sudden you get out and you have to figure out what you’re going to do next,” he said. “That can often be difficult to translate what you did in the military into a civilian job.”
Retired Col. James Hutton, the chief communications officer with the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, or TAPS, said the meeting is a “very valuable event” for all involved.
“What this allows us to do is hear firsthand what the Army leadership is thinking about the Soldiers for today and for the veterans of tomorrow,” said Hutton, who noted the discussion allowed the unique opportunity of getting immediate feedback from the chief of staff of the Army.
“We also hear from the other organizations that are like us and we are able to better understand the concerns that a lot of their constituents are having,” said Hutton.
Genevieve Chase, an Army Reservist who is the founder of American Women Veterans, said more and more veterans are looking for civilian employment and opportunities, as U.S. troops leave Afghanistan and service members transition out of the military.
“We’re already starting to see the impact of that on the veterans’ community,” she said.
The Pentagon meeting is a “significant and important acknowledgment” by the active component of the importance of veterans’ issues, she said. It reinforces the Soldier for Life mindset, she said.
“When leadership comes in to talk to the veterans’ service community, it demonstrates to veterans that they are interested in the Soldiers after they get out of the service,” said Chase.
Karen Montagne, the project director with the Business and Professional Women’s Foundation, said the Pentagon meeting was a great opportunity for service groups to not only interact with top Army leadership, but also with each other.
“We get so caught up in our own work that we’re doing that we forget there are a lot of other resources we can leverage to serve our communities,” she said.
The meeting, she said, provided an opportunity for groups to report back to their members about Army developments and policy, as well as on the services and resources offered by the other groups.
“That’s an opportunity that’s invaluable,” she said.
Seth Waugh, director of government affairs at the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the U.S., came to the Pentagon to hear about Army policy, budget issues, force structure changes and other issues that impact the National Guard.
“Everyone understands that we are in some pretty dire financial straits. We understand that there are going to be cuts,” he said.
Members of the National Guard, whether in the Army National Guard or Air National Guard, are proud to serve the nation on state or federal missions and it’s important to make sure the Guard is properly represented in the budget, he said.
John Trujillo, founder of Warrior Transition, counsels veterans on how to use the skills they gained in the military to become entrepreneurs.
“We started looking at how we can empower them to start their own business and control their own future,” he said.
With their own business, he said, the veterans are not dependent on waiting for someone to hire them.
“They start it and they move forward,” he said.