There are nearly 19 million military veterans in the U.S. Of those, 1.6 million are younger than 35, and more are transitioning out of the military each year.
Many are looking for what to do after life in the military. While the simple answer may be “get a job,” that can be harder for some transitioning veterans than others. I recently had the opportunity to tour Workshops for Warriors (WFW), a nonprofit school that provides veterans with industry training, nationally recognized credentials and help with job placement in advanced manufacturing. While at the San Diego, CA facility, I spoke with Veteran student, Sgt. Brian Riley.
Riley joined the Marines in 2008 when he was 22. He says he’d always wanted to join the military, and after doing a little bit of everything, including school and factory work, he enlisted to be a reconnaissance point man “because it was the hardest job you could get with a contract.”
Riley was stationed in Okinawa, Japan and then deployed to Afghanistan. It was there, in 2011, that he was injured by enemy small-arms fire while on foot patrol. The medium machine gun round led to a below-the-knee amputation and discharge from the military in 2012.
Speaking on transitioning out of the military, Riley says his experience is probably a little different from others’ because he’s always been able to roll with the punches. However, that’s not to say it was easy.
“Getting out can be more stressful than being deployed. The only two, I guess you’d call them ‘panic attacks,’ that I’ve had in my life was about a month before deployment when I woke up in the middle of the night and was like “oh my God, I’m going to die’,” Riley recalls. “The other one was about a month before I got out and I woke up like ‘oh my God, there’s no guarantee of success’.”
That’s where WFW comes in. Riley graduated from the school’s welding program last semester with the intent to do underwater welding as a summer job while going to college. However, while at WFW, the machining program caught his interest and he is now going through the organization’s 16-week course.
Riley now has his eyes set on a career as an engineer and physicist working in fusion energy resources.
“Here we’re learning a lot of practical information that is going to help us be easier to work with down the line,” he said. “Say I was engineering a part; it wouldn’t have immediately occurred to me to verify if the machine shop could actually make it. Now, that is something I think about.”
Since WFW graduates earn nationally recognized credentials, they are better equipped to enter the workforce. A lot of skills service members train for in the military don’t translate to civilian jobs, and for the 17% of those who are doing what they did in the Military, many of their experience does not transfer over into the civilian world the way that nationally recognized credentials do.
“Sure, I can track people down in the forest, but do I really know how to do customer service?” Riley explained. “There’s not a lot of job carry over in the O3 field (enlisted infantry) and that’s what Workshops for Warriors provides me. You can walk out of here with verifiable job capabilities.”
For more information on Workshops for Warriors, visit workshopsforwarriors.org.