Program helps veterans dig in and succeed
By THE AUGUSTA CHRONICLE, GA. Published: June 29, 2019
(Tribune News Service) — It's so satisfying to solve two problems with one solution.
Actually these aren't problems. They're more like challenges.
Here's the first challenge: Veterans leaving military service don't always enjoy a smooth transition into the mainstream job market. And even when they get there, the skills they acquired in the service aren't always compatible with what's required of them as civilians.
Here's the second challenge: The massive construction projects undertaken by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers turn over a lot of dirt. And in that dirt are a lot of archaeological artifacts, many dating back centuries. You can't just throw them away.
So they've been itemized, bagged and put in boxes – tons of them. And that's where they've stayed, some since the 1950s or earlier. Now they have to be re-processed, using modern archiving techniques including cameras and computers. But the Corps has lacked the manpower.
Until now – thanks to the Veterans Curation Program.
The program was started by local wounded warrior activist Laurie Ott, now an executive with University Health Care System, and Dr. Michael "Sonny" Trimble, now the director of the Corps' Center of Expertise for Archaeological Curation and Collections Management.
From 2004 to 2007, Trimble and his archaeological team excavated Saddam Hussein's mass civilian graves in Iraq, and America's soldiers and Marines became his protectors. When Trimble returned stateside, immensely grateful to the servicemen and women who kept him safe, he wanted to give something back – something special – to veterans.
Through Trimble's and Ott's efforts, the first curation lab in Augusta opened in October 2009. Today there are seven labs and satellites of the program spanning the entire country.
In the labs, teams of veterans go through a program over several months to learn how to catalog, curate and keep records for these stacks of artifacts. When they graduate, military members who used to be armed with weapons now are armed with new job skills from database management to computer skills to old-fashioned interpersonal communication among office-workers.
Its numbers show success. As of last May, 600 vets have been through or are now enrolled in the program Of those, 72% went on to permanent employment.
The work can be fascinating. When we visited the lab Thursday, a worker was going through pottery shards excavated in the 1950s from a Indian mound that's now beneath the shallow headwaters of Lake Hartwell on the Tugaloo River. The shards are likely Cherokee, and hundreds of years old.
Other finds are more recent. From a collection of corroded metal found during excavations for the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway across Alabama and Mississippi in the 1970s and '80s, archaeologists unearthed an antique toy car. We personally think it's a LaSalle convertible from the 1930s, but if you looked at it you might disagree.
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