After serving 22 years in the Army, retired Sgt. 1st Class Brian Ashford knew it would be challenging to transition back into the civilian workforce, but the Fort Campbell Career Skills Program, or CSP, was there to help.
Through partnerships with dozens of workforce programs, CSP connects Soldiers like Ashford – now a senior auditor at the United Services Automobile Association – with the resources they need to find employment after leaving the military.
“My background within the Army is in the finance community, so there was a carryover with my skills even though some of what I’m doing is different,” he said. “I love the company, its mission and my team, and without CSP I don’t think it would have been possible to get here.”
Ashford worked with Hiring Our Heroes, a free 12-week program for active-duty Soldiers seeking corporate careers, to line up a job after learning about resource options at CSP’s monthly briefings.
“The CSP office takes walk-ins, but we strongly encourage Soldiers to attend a briefing first so they can find out about multiple career skills programs, internships and DOD Skillbridge opportunities,” said Teresa English, CSP coordinator. “They get to talk to local and nationwide program managers directly.”
CSP briefings are scheduled for 1 p.m. the first and third Tuesday of each month through Dec. 7 at the Staff Sgt. Glen H. English Jr. Army Education Center Auditorium, 202 Bastogne Ave. The CSP office, 5663 Screaming Eagle Blvd., is open 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, and can be reach at 270-798-3195 or 270-798-4974.
“We’re a supplemental part of the Transition Assistance Program process,” English said. “If Soldiers come early and often, with the proper planning, they can hopefully get in one of our awesome programs. We’re averaging an 85-90% job placement rate for Soldiers going through our programs, so it’s definitely worthwhile.”
Captain Ryan Kowal, 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) is among the Soldiers currently working with CSP and attended his first briefing on Sept. 21.
“I have a little under a year of service left, so I’m trying to get out ahead of it and do all the paperwork,” Kowal said. “I’m interested in getting some information on the Hiring Our Heroes fellowship program. Looking online at some of the opportunities and companies they have partnerships with, there are several I’m interested in working with ... I’ve been doing logistics management for my last two years here and I’m passionate about it, so I want to be able to keep doing what I love.”
Applying for programs early is encouraged because spots fill up quickly; however the CSP staff also will assist veterans after they separate in many programs.
“I wanted to get some certificates to put on my resume, but it just kept on falling through because I didn’t plan accordingly,” said retired Army Staff Sgt. Paul Cota, now an intern with the U.S. Department of Agriculture preparing for a full-time position. “I felt like every door was closing, but I remembered the USO has a transition counselor to help with career placements.”
Cota first learned about the USO’s Pathfinder Program through a CSP briefing, and after reaching out to them he was able to use the skills he learned serving with the 72nd Veterinary Detachment, 531st Hospital Center to connect with the USDA.
“I did food inspection for the entire time I was in the Army, and we did a lot of what the USDA does,” he said. “Right now, they’re training me to be an agricultural commodity grader for shelled eggs, and I’ve already been licensed for that. Next they’re going to start training me to be a grader for poultry.”
English said there are approximately 400-600 Screaming Eagles like Cota leaving the Army each month, and CSP serves an estimated 5-10% of them. Soldiers involved with career skills programs can potentially save thousands of dollars in educational fees in addition to finding employment.
“Many of our classes average training cost is $4,000” she said. “But the important part is, they’re leaving with either a guaranteed job or a high probability of a job and they don’t have to invest the time, and the money into a technical school ... they’re already work-ready the day they leave the gate.”
For many companies partnered with CSP, investing in veterans is a priority because of their unique work experience, skill sets and leadership qualities.
“It is an honor to employ our men and women who have served our country and have given so much,” said Brooke Neely, the recruiter for Ryder’s Pathway Home Diesel Technician Training Program at Fort Campbell. “At Ryder, we understand the value skilled veterans bring to our team, and for over 85 years we’ve built our reputation on ideas and values that may sound familiar [to them]: Character, judgment, relationships and results.”
Ryder operates the free 12-week program at seven military installations including Fort Campbell as part of a larger veterans’ hiring initiative launched in November 2011. Since then, the chain has hired nearly 11,000 veterans, and the Pathway Home Diesel Technician Training Program accounts for 207 of them according to a company fact sheet.
“We’ve placed several graduates right here close to home to include Paducah, Bowling Green, Nashville and surrounding areas,” Neely said. “These service members were able to transition from the military with no unemployment time, allowing them to fill job vacancies right here locally. In addition, Ryder employees are often found serving their communities in many different ways from volunteering to continuing their service through the National Guard or Reserve.”
Sergeant Alexander Ferreras, 160th Special Operations Regiment (Airborne), is considering his options for staying connected with the Army and attended a CSP briefing Sept. 21 to learn more about commercial driver’s license, or CDL, courses.
“From what I hear you can get a job the day after you graduate, so having that fallback and being able to work anywhere within the states is helpful because I’m also trying to potentially join the National Guard,” he said. “I’m trying to get as many licenses and certifications as I can, and I don’t mind driving, traveling and getting paid for it.”
By providing training opportunities for Soldiers like Ferreras, English said CSP helps streamline their transition into the civilian workforce benefitting their Families and communities in turn.
“We want them to leave Fort Campbell, go out the gate and have a job waiting for them,” she said. “And not just a job, we want them to have a career they’re excited about, that’s going to help them take care of themselves and their Families. Regardless of your rank, there’s a high level of stress that’s involved with getting out of the service when you’ve got a Family to take care of, so we want this process to be as smooth as possible.”