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Construction on veterans training center to begin in fall

WARNER ROBINS (MCT) -- To hear the politicians tell it, a veterans training center that will soon rise from a field shows the state’s commitment to its veterans.

But the $10 million Military Academic Training Center -- which had a groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday -- will likely have a much more profound impact. The goal is to offer veterans and their families a chance at educational offerings from technical colleges, colleges and universities that will ultimately help them find jobs.

“I think this is just going to be an incredible opportunity for veterans and their families,” said Patricia Ross, who retired as a colonel from Robins Air Force Base to help the state’s technical colleges with military issues. A counterpart will work with the University System of Georgia.

Gov. Nathan Deal, a former U.S. Army captain, said the state is aligning its licensing procedures to give credit for military training and experience, so someone who drove heavy equipment in the military can get a commercial driver’s license much faster. The center will help with that, marking an institution he said would not only serve this part of Georgia but the state as a whole.

Younger veterans who have served since 9/11 need the most help getting jobs. In 2013, the unemployment rate for those veterans was 9 percent, compared to 6.6 percent of veterans as a whole. The average national unemployment rate last year was 7.4 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Deal said the center is a tangible investment that shows the support for the military, which would help in another round of the Base Realignment and Closure process. Though Congress has so far rejected the Pentagon’s call for a BRAC, the issue is growing, and most observers expect a BRAC at some point.

“What we do here today has immediate consequences, but it also has very long-term consequences,” Deal said.

State House Majority Leader Larry O’Neal of Bonaire said the veterans center sends a message around the world that “Georgia supports the men and women of America’s armed forces.”

Warner Robins Mayor Randy Toms said the center was quite a partnership for a city that owes its existence to the military and loves the military and veterans.

The city donated the land for the site off Wall Street not far from Wellborn Road. Train tracks and Ga. 247 separate the site from Robins Air Force Base, though there’s no railroad crossing. The city has plans to extend Armed Forces Boulevard through Memorial Park to connect the veterans center to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Ivan Allen, president of Central Georgia Technical College, said the center would help people who helped protect the nation by land, by air and by sea.

“In addition to having the best state in which to do business, this is also the best state for veterans and their families to live, work and play,” Allen said.

Jimmy Faircloth, an assistant vice president at Central Georgia Tech, said construction should begin in late September or early October.

“They’ll be moving dirt here, quickly,” said Faircloth, who is also Perry’s mayor.

The center is expected to open late next year. State officials have not yet determined which programs and courses the center will offer.

Hank Huckaby, chancellor of the University System of Georgia, told a crowd that he’s looking forward to next fall.

“Groundbreakings are fun,” he said, “but ribbon cuttings are much better.”

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.

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©2014 The Macon Telegraph (Macon, Ga.). Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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