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Gary Sinise visits Washington Military Transition Council

Council works to help servicemembers' transition into civilian jobs

Lt. Gen. David Halverson, commander of Installation Management Command, spoke to attendees of the quarterly meeting of the Washington Military Transition Council. Photo credit: J.M. Simpson

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I met Gary Sinise almost 15 years ago at McChord Field. Tuesday morning, I had the chance to reconnect.

Nothing's changed about him - he is the same sincere and humble man I met a decade-and-a-half ago.  What's more, his focus remains squarely on servicemembers and their families.

"It's great to be here," Sinise said as he prepared for a television interview as he stood in the hallway outside a conference room.

"The work being done at JBLM in helping veterans transition from the military to civilian jobs is a model for the country to follow."

That's saying a lot from the award winning actor who played the Lt. Dan in the 1994 movie Forrest Gump and went on to star in the television crime series CSI: New York.

The founder of the Gary Sinise Foundation and a spokesman for the "Get Skills to Work" program, Sinise visited with members of the Washington Military Transition Council (WMTC) during its quarterly meeting at the McGavick Conference Center at the Clover Park Technical College.

The program seeks to match veterans - 100,000 of them by 2015 - with some of the more than half million unfilled high-tech manufacturing jobs in the country.

More than 13,000 veterans per year through 2016 expect to make Washington their home.  A bit over 8,000 of those veterans will transition from Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

"There is a skills gap in the manufacturing industry," Sinise stressed. "Raising awareness about transitioning veterans from the military to these jobs - building that bridge between the military and the private sector - is why I am here today."

The WMTC has a vision to ensure that separating servicemembers transition seamlessly into civilian employment, training and business opportunities.

To accomplish this, the group works to create a sustainable cross-jurisdictional "linked systems" approach in the state that can then be replicated across the nation.

"We're not reinventing anything here," explained Mary Forbes, assistant director, Veteran Services and Behavioral Health Divisions. "We are synchronizing efforts and as we do our success will come through collaboration."

To that end, JBLM and the state of Washington have poured resources into programs to help veterans make the transition into the civilian work force.

>>> Actor and humanitarian Gary Sinise took a few minutes to talk with and ham it up with Joint Base Lewis-McChord servicemembers during a meeting of the Washington Military Transition Council at the Clover Park Technical College. Photo credit: J.M. Simpson

The base has opened its gates to a number of military-to-civilian job training programs, and the state has established goals to deliver five percent of state contracts to veteran owned businesses, hire veterans into state agencies, and increase college retention among veterans.

Important people have noted the work.

This past April, the federal Government Accountability Office published a report on military transition programs. 

Cited for its cutting-edge programs was JBLM.

But with that success came the request for data. Success must be measured.

"It's about outcomes," commented Col. Chuck Hodges, the base commander, during his introductory remarks to the audience of about 150 individuals.

Lt. Gen. David Halverson, commander of Installation Management Command, thanked the council for its work.

"We are the enablers for our soldiers and their families in their search for good jobs," he said.  "All agencies need to work together."

Finding those outcomes, however, is a challenge.

The Department of Defense found that bases like JBLM could only show data regarding how often servicemembers used the programs on base. As to how veterans fared in the civilian world once they left the service, the DoD found very little data.

At this juncture came the need for discussions on further collaboration. Not surprisingly - like peas and carrots - JBLM and the state got together.

Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs Director Alfie Alvarado has initiated a program to collect data on veteran-owned businesses receiving state contracts.

"Our work is far reaching. With the combination of corporations, educational institutions, non-profits, and federal and state agencies, we are making progress," she said.

Over the past year, more than 4,200 servicemembers from JBLM took advantage of various programs that allowed them to visit job fairs, businesses and colleges during their final months of service.

"Things have changed since I was in the Army," commented Mary Huff, program coordinator for the South Sound Military & Communities Partnership. "The people here today see the challenges and the opportunities; they realize that transitioning is not just the military's problem and the progress is being made."

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