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From Solider To Civilian With Help From Local Business

A San Diego business is offering a unique program helping active military soldiers transition to civilian life -- and earn a paycheck.

People leaving the military enter a different world. It may be a safer, but it's one filled with unfamiliar customs and new challenges... especially in today's tough economy. Put simply, new military veterans have got to find jobs. Troop Transition provides on-base training and certification in the areas of transportation and logistics, renewable energy or oil and gas.


Kevin Denny, CEO of Troop Transition

Don Reid, Troop2Energy Graduate (Currently employed for Berg Electric)

Read Transcript

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

FUDGE: I'm Tom Fudge, you're listening to Midday Edition on KPBS. People leaving the military of entering a different world. It may be a saver world than civilian life, but it's one filled with unfamiliar customs and chew challenges, especially in today's tough economy. New military veterans have knot to find job, put simply. That's something Kevin Denny wanted to get at when he started a new business. The very name of his business spells it out pretty clearly. Kevin is CEO of troop transition. He joins me in studio. And thanks for coming in.

DENNY: You bet. Nice to be here.

FUDGE: And also joining me in studio is military veteran who took part in what troop transition had to offer. His name is Don Reed. And thanks very much.

REID: How you doing? Thank you for having me.

FUDGE: And don you served in --

REID: The Marine Corps.

FUDGE: Marine Corps.

REID: Yes.

FUDGE: Okay. And listeners, if you would like to give us a call, if you're a military veteran yourself, and you've had to go through the challenge of finding a job after you served, we'd love to hear your story. Call us at 1-888-895-5727. That's 1-888-895-KPBS to join the conversation. Kevin, I'm gonna start with you, how did you get involved with troop transition and how did you determine that there was a need for this kind of a program?

DENNY: Sure. It started kind of serendipitously. I was living in San Diego. We have a large community of veterans and active duty folks here. So engaged with those folks and literally on a golf course with a general and a colonel started and asking about what's the fate that faces the enlisted men and women. As we looked at that, the employment or unemployment numbers are very significant and high. 27% of those who service as enlisted folks will end up in the unemployment line. 40% will live under the poverty line, and 20% will find some kind of homelessness. We see these folks serving with distinction and honor in a uniform, then we see them some time later with a cardboard sign asking for help with food and money. We took a look at the systems that were in place and made some simple changes relative to the timing at which we addressed this problem. Started with industry, moved into educational systems, teamed up with the military and found that there was a way of affecting significant and lasting change.

FUDGE: How tough is the transition for a service member, going from being a soldier to a civilian?

DENNY: The enlisted folks have a high school diploma, 65% of them will serve for about four years, they more often than not will marry their high school sweet heart and have a child. As they leave the military, their pay and benefit it is stay inside the gate. And there's a tremendous financial pressure that makes it can I have cult to employ your GI bill educational benefits, you've got to pay the rent and food and medical, and their skill set, the hard skills don't transition well. We know these people to be honorable, to have a commitment, to be responsible and disciplined; team oriented. And yet their primary responsibility is to defend our nation. That is a different skill set than a civilian requires.

FUDGE: So troop transition. What kind of programs? What kind of training and certification do you offer to folks?

DENNY: We started with industries that are large and uniquely stationed in the United States , oil and gas, power distribution and generation, transportation and logistics. We met with the employers and asked them, what would a good employee look like? And that allowed us to take that specification and create a curriculum. Of and so with that curriculum, we moved into truck driving, transportation, we moved into rock necking, oil and gas, we moved into solar and wind power, and now mining and rail and other logistics. And those credentials are the ticket to employment.

FUDGE: How are these programs paid for? Is there a tuition that the veteran paid? Do you have grant fund something.

DENNY: We are not grant funded. We are say for profit business. We don't seem public assistance. There are two entitlements that those who seven are able to engage. One is tuition assistance, an active duty use or lose benefit. And that's what we currently lose. There's no cost to the service member. We tap into a government provided education entitlement. The veterans will use their GI bill, and we're working through the bureaucracy to apply for that. Our motto is Johnny gets a job, Johnny does not pay, and Johnny gets to live where he wants to.

FUDGE: Let's talk to don reed just a little bit about this because I know he's been through your training. And Don, you're a recent graduate from what they called the troops to energy program. What were your concerns as you neared the end of your military service and were looking to the future?

REID: Mostly my concerns came from wondering if when I do get out of the military, would I have that stability that I had once when I was once in the military. Going through that course, it pretty much answered all of my concerns, it gave me a path to go ahead and pursue what I wanted to do when I get out as far as being in the energy field. It gave me the versatility as far as being able to choose which side of the troops to energy I wanted to take, and it pretty much was a fulfilling course all in all.

FUDGE: How long did you serve?

REID: I served for four years.

FUDGE: For four years.

REID: Yes.

FUDGE: And what kind of work did you do in the military?

REID: I was actually in the logistics field. So I was in charge of pretty much getting transportation from one place to another, packaging, strapping down, tying down, anything done with movement, that pretty much was our area of expertise, and we took care of that for the military.

FUDGE: Getting back to you, Kevin, you said that a lot of the hard skills that they learn in the military don't apply that well to civilian life. Now, doing logistics, would that not necessarily apply to civilian life?

DENNY: In some cases, it would. And it depends a lot on branch of service, and then what's also known as your MOS, military occupational specialty. The vast majority of those who wear the uniform are what are known as grunts. They're in the infantry. And that skill set is really not transferrable. Don has the ability to move into the logistics, but as you heard him, he wanted to explore energy. And in order to do so, he needed a bridge. And that bridge is short cycle vocational based training and credentialing. Of and so that's what we created. And we brought it to Donald and his peers before they exit the military. So they leave with a job offer in hand.

FUDGE: And Kevin Denny is CEO of troop transition, a company that tries to provide training to military veterans so they can get a job in civilian life. Don reed is one of the guys who took advantage of that training. He is a troop to energy graduate, now works for Berg electric. And listeners, 1-888-895-5727. Don, what was the nature of your training? What did you learn to do?

REID: As far as the military or troops to energy?

FUDGE: Troops to energy.

REID: We learned pretty much the basics as far as learning how to service solar panels, we learned safety measures as far as learning how to rescue people from wind turbines. Those are all from, how could I say? Being able to do practical application in classrooms. We also learned how to identify basic safety measures for electrical -- for the electrical field. We learned a lot of basic, standard safety precautions and as far as wind mills, turbines, solar panels, and electrical.

FUDGE: And how long did that take you?

REID: It was an eight-week course.

FUDGE: Okay. And now you're working for Berg electric. Are you applying the skills that you learn indeed troop to energy?

REID: Yes.

FUDGE: You are. Okay. Are you working with solar panels or are you working with a variety of things?

REID: Berg is actually starting up a solar division, and they're allowing their employees who are of that -- who are certified of that credential to be able to work on that side of Berg. However, that is still in the works. And for now we're just applying what we're learning as far as the electrical side of troops to energy in Berg electrics right now.

FUDGE: Any electricians in your family or was this just sort of a few thing for you?

REID: This is just a new thing for me.

FUDGE: One issue that I'd like to ask both have gone you about is how the transition worked, not just in terms of the skill set you have but socially. Kevin, how is life in the military different from life in the civilian world?

DENNY: It's a great question. The military is very much an institution, it's a bureaucracy, and it manages huge numbers of people, of equipment, of locations. And so you need a very orchestrated and defined environment. It is managed by chain of command and control and communication systems. It has an authority or a hierarchical structure. The civilian world is, whether that be economically or practically speaking, is much more -- or much less disciplined in terms of its structure and form. There's a creative element, there's a need for profit versus budget, there is a different communication, there's a cadence, there's a language, and there's a uniform outside of the military that we need to help and prepare these folks to wear. The military is the best at changing a person from a civilian into a soldier. You needed boot camp to get in. There is no boot camp equivalent to move you back out. And we are really focused on that boot camp training to become a civilian.

FUDGE: Well, what do you do to help people learn some of these those soft skills?

DENNY: Some of it is awareness training. Some of it is done through role playing and observing. Some of it is done through field trip studies. It is intended to help folks understand the- in a day of a civilian, a life in the day of an electrician or a rough neck. And it's that awareness that creates attention and productivity, the skill and the knowledge and the action come together and create an income and a sustainable platform.

FUDGE: And I'm sorry, Kevin. You served in the military?

DENNY: I did not.

FUDGE: You did not. Okay. So let me ask a guy who's an expert in that. Don reed, what would you like to say about this subject? Learning to operate in it the military world as opposed to a civilian culture.

REID: He hit it right on the nail. It's pretty much the lifestyle. Coming out, you are, how could I say? You're not expected to do the same things that you were expected to do when you were once in the military. However, that discipline, and that commitment is what everybody looks at you for. That's what they know you as. Best of that military plateau that you once stood on. And what happens is that provides a good foundation for a new beginning. And coming into the civilian sector, that's something that a lot of employers probably emphasize on because it allows them to know that it'll make them better, not only now but in the future.

FUDGE: Do you find that employers, maybe a question for both of you, do you find that employers want to hire military veterans? What about you, don?

REID: I would feel so. Yes.

FUDGE: You felt that the place where you were looking for a job, they saw you as having come from a background that was desirable?

REID: Yes.

FUDGE: And what about you, Kevin? What do you think about that?

DENNY: Well, I think that is the crux of the matter. While as employers and civilians, we want to not only employ our nation's finest. But we want to honor their service, and it's a difficult transition. You heard last week some programs regarding tax credits and other focuses out of Washington DC. The reality that employers are still motivated by the profit incentive, and they will look to the best candidate for the purposes of filling their particular need. In the case of a military background, it may be that the skill set is not so transferrable as to fill the need at the industry level. What we've done is changed that by creating the skill set, combining it with the military platform, and making that a home run.

FUDGE: And Kevin Denny is CEO of troop transition, and don reed is a group to energy graduate of the program. Kevin, how long have you been in business?

DENNY: We're about five years old.

FUDGE: Five years old. And how are things going?

DENNY: Going great. We operate on both coasts. We have put in the last 18†months about 1800 folks have been through our programs. Those folks are earning almost $30†million in wages, paying taxes back into the system that more than cover the expense of being involved. We think very much about creating a taxpayer. And we think the taxpayer energy is the American dream. Donald fought to defend that dream, and we think he ought to live it. And by putting an income and benefits on the table, he's able to do exactly that.

FUDGE: And Don, anything to add to that? You're paying taxes, you're doing all those things --

REID: Pretty much. I just feel that as far as opportunity and once you're in -- when you're in the service, you just don't leave a blind eye to an opportunity. Be able to know what you have, and what you're able to capitalize on. And take full advantage of it.

FUDGE: Your GI bill paid for the fee for the training program?

REID: Well, as Kevin was saying, we used tuition assistance. It's a use it or lose it, pretty much, program. That we have in the military. It's for active military members only. And we are able to use that, and they give us a certain amount per fiscal year to go ahead and compensate for classes we take. I was able to use a whole fiscal year to compensate for troops transition and take care of that and use that opportunity.

FUDGE: So at this point, what are your goals?

REID: To continue working for Berg.

FUDGE: To continue working for Berg. Any last thing you want to say, Kevin?

DENNY: Donald is exactly what we look for. He's not only used his tuition assistance as it's intended to be used, he's now a taxpayer, but he's used his GI bill to go on and get a four-year degree in an entrepreneur platform. So it continues to create educational benefits for what they were meant to. It's fabulous.

FUDGE: And Kevin Denny is CEO of troop transition, a company which provides training, job training for people coming out of the military. Kevin, thanks very much.

DENNY: Thank you.

FUDGE: And thanks to don reed, who served in the Marine Corps, and he is a graduate of troop transitions troop to energy program. And don, thanks very much.

REID: Thank you.

FUDGE: Don now works for Berg electric. I'm Tom Fudge. You're listening to Midday Edition.

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