Fort Carson, Colo., soldiers of all jobs and training backgrounds are getting a chance to engineer a new future using skills from their military service.
Wednesday, 13 soldiers graduated from the Veterans In Piping program. The program's goal is to ensure the soldiers - most of whom are in the process of transitioning out of the military - have a job waiting for them.
"It's changed everything for me," said Staff Sgt. William Mikschl, an infantryman.
Mikschl said soldiers often worry about finding employment or a good school after they leave the military.
"I didn't have to think about any of that (now)," he said.
The program is a joint effort between Fort Carson, the local plumbers, welders and pipefitters union and the Mechanical Contractors Association of Colorado.
The goal of the program is immediate job placement. Veterans who complete the 18-week program become second- or third-year apprentices in their craft. While many will go right to work for contractors once they leave the military, they will also have the opportunity to continue their training in welding, pipefitting or plumbing by taking advanced classes after their normal work day.
"The VIP program is a win for everyone involved," said Ron Lenz, business manager for Local Union 58, in a statement. "Our industry gets new, well-trained workers, and veterans get access to lifelong career opportunities."
The program appeals to different veterans for different reasons, though all seem to have found a link back to their time in the Army.
"I love working with my hands," said Sgt. Michael Galan, a medic with multiple combat tours. "(This) just seemed like a good fit."
Galan also said he has experienced a "similar blend of personalities" with the other tradesmen that he saw in the military. He cited a culture of camaraderie much like what he experienced during his years of service as a large draw to his new trade.
Family is another factor heavily influencing Galan's decision to leave the military. He estimated he has been away from his wife and three sons for a combined three years and nine months due to deployments and training.
Galan is looking forward to steady work without the risks of combat and the concerns families face when their loved ones are in harm's way daily.
Even if he has to occasionally travel to other states for jobs, at least his wife won't have to be afraid he may be blown up, Galan said.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 William Huestis indicated his transition from the military has been smooth thanks to the program, although the tempo of training has been challenging. Huestis has over 25 years of experience in the Army, much of it with Special Forces. Now he is pursuing a new career in orbital welding, a skill he said is in high demand in the tech field.
Many are optimistic about the future of the program, which also exists at Camp Pendelton in Calif., and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., and came to Fort Carson last year.
"Once other corporations and business owners see the success this has, it's going to catch on," said Command Sgt. Maj. Clinton Reiss.
Governor John Hickenlooper also attended the event and encouraged the soldiers to forge ahead with their new professions.
"Once you've been through the military in this country, no one is going to doubt your work ethic. No one is going to doubt your character," he said. "Your experience creates a set of skills that are going to translate into making you great employees."