Thousands of veterans and service members preparing to leave the military are expected at Joint Base Lewis-McChord this week for a three-day summit.
Organizers say it’s the largest event of its kind ever held. More than 300 employers with job openings are expected on Thursday. Corporate partners will hold sessions Wednesday to discuss employment opportunities in aerospace, agriculture, health care and life sciences.
Tuesday’s event was part education session and part pep rally, where more than a thousand senior military leaders and commanders, civic and business partners gathered on base.
Corporate partners announced new job training initiatives. Soon JBLM will pilot a solar academy, hotel management classes and a so-called corporate training academy for officers.
Many veterans are unemployed when they leave the military. Colonel James Isenhower, director of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Office of Reintegration, was blunt about some of the challenges for service members.
“They’ve got to prepare their resumes now. We’re not good at writing resumes. For the duration of our military service we’ve always subordinated ourselves to the mission and the organization and now it’s time to champion yourself. And that’s a tough thing to do for anybody in uniform," Isenhower said.
Isenhower called on commanders and leadership to make it a priority to help their soldiers in transition. That means giving them the time to take part in transition services programs long before they leave.
About 8,000 soldiers are expected to transition out of military service from JBLM this years as part of a planned force reduction. The trend is expected to continue for at least the next two years.
U.S. Representative Denny Heck told the crowd about 40 percent of those service members will stay here in Washington, drawn to the state’s high quality of life.
“The questions are what will happen to them? How will we be able to provide them with health care, how will we be able to provide them with educational opportunities, and, most importantly, how will we be able to provide them with the jobs so that they can provide for themselves and for their families? And that is the challenge," Heck said.
Wounded ill and injured veterans are especially challenged; they are dealing with a shift in what they thought they were going to be doing after the service.
U.S. Senator Patty Murray, who sits on the veteran’s affairs committee, praised JBLM for its work on transitional services. Murray says JBLM sets the standard for the rest of the country.
But she cautioned that the focus can’t just be on employment, it has to be the right job for each veteran. Murray said military leaders need to give service members the flexibility to take advantage of job training and job counseling to help them make the right choices.