WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Aug. 27, 2013) – A now year-old Army initiative called Soldier for Life helps Soldiers achieve the right mindset, obtain the necessary training and qualifications, and make the necessary connections to be successful in their effort to reintegrate into civilian life.
Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno created the Soldier for Life office to facilitate successful reintegration of veterans and their families into civilian life, so they will remain “Army Strong” and will continue to practice Army core values as civilians within their communities.
Whether Soldiers serve for four years, 20 years, or more, they will have the tools to succeed after the Army with the proper preparation, said Sgt. Maj. Shane Chapman, who works within the Soldier for Life program office.
“Our objective is to change the mindset of Soldiers so they understand they are a Soldier for life, that when they joined this team, the ultimate team, that they are on this team for life,” said Chapman.
Soldiers embody the best traits that employers seek; they have years of exceptional training, and are disciplined leaders, loyal team members and hard workers, he said.
After they end their service and have all this unique training, “we give them back to America,” said Chapman.
“Companies, corporations, and industry across America are coming together and are saying ‘I want to hire veterans,'” he said. “They understand the value of a veteran and the skills that they bring.”
In addition to being valuable employees at civilian businesses, veterans are also important members of their community and make great ambassadors for the next generation of Soldiers, Chapman said. He said that is a critical component in maintaining the all-volunteer force.
ONCE A SOLDIER, ALWAYS A SOLDIER
The Soldier for Life initiative highlights the Soldier “lifecycle” with four points: “start strong, serve strong, reintegrate strong, and remain strong.”
“We recruit from the top 23 percent of young Americans who are 18-24 years old, and we take a small portion from that,” said Chapman. “That means 77 percent of young Americans are unqualified, whether for legal, moral, physical, mental or educational reasons.”
The Army offers 47 military occupation specialties in which Soldiers can receive certifications in 91 different areas that directly translate in the civilian world, Chapman said. Such areas include computer certifications or truck driving.
“We have dozens of states that have agreed to accept our Army driver’s license in place of the training and the road test to get a commercial driver’s license,” said Chapman. “That is a success story, good news.”
The program helps Soldiers with real-world career skills, such as learning to be relaxed in a job interview. It also teaches Solders to lose the military jargon on a resume and instead present their military skills in terms that will appeal to civilian employers, said Chapman.
The Soldier for Life program collaborates with a number of entities, including states, cities, universities, non-profits, local veterans groups and businesses.
“A lot of time these organizations want to help veterans, but they don’t know where to find the veterans, and the veterans don’t know where to get help because they are overwhelmed because there is so much out there,” Chapman said.
The Soldier for Life program provides links for where veterans can turn for information on benefits, education and career opportunities, fitness and health, family services, mental health services, suicide prevention, post-traumatic stress disorder, and traumatic brain injury.
A successful reintegration is extremely important, he said, as veterans who have meaningful work and a purpose are less likely to have, but not exempt from, some of the serious issues facing the nation’s veterans.
“We wanted to reduce unemployment. We want to eliminate suicide among veterans. We want to reduce the homelessness,” said Chapman.
Soldier for Life seeks to build strong relationships between the military and the community, keep that trust and continue to grow those ties.
“We have created and enabled this network. We have shared best practices with communities on hiring and taking care of veterans,” said Chapman.
An ideal situation, said Chapman, would be for Soldiers to leave active duty and continue serving in the Army National Guard or Army Reserve.
But no matter what the case, he said, the Army wants veterans to be successful members of their communities who “Remain Strong” using the resources and training from the Army, while readily having access to the wide network of civilian entities that support them.
Soldier for Life is one of many programs that are part of the Army’s Ready and Resilient Campaign. R2C aims to support and strengthen the mental and physical readiness of Soldiers and includes a wide range of programs meant to ensure the right conditions exist for Soldiers to be ready to do their job, or even to transition to the civilian workforce.