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From Trenches To Wrenches: Training Soldiers For Civilian Success

Javier Mendoza Raytheon

This article is supplied and sponsored by Raytheon

If U.S. Army Sgt. Aaron Coe lands his dream job at the General Motors plant in Arlington, Texas, work will be a breeze – even the commute, despite the notorious bumper-to-bumper traffic. Coe, 37, has traveled far rockier roads.

In his 15-year Army career, Coe served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan as a "91 Bravo" – Army shorthand for a wheeled vehicle mechanic. GM would be a welcome switch; for one thing, he won't need to bring a 50-caliber machine gun.

"What I'm really looking forward to is a less stressful, more relaxing working environment," Coe said. "I doubt I'll have to worry about IEDs in Arlington."

Coe is a graduate of the "Shifting Gears" program at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas. Developed through a partnership between Raytheon, the U.S. Army and General Motors, the program trains soldiers who are headed for civilian life to become GM-certified automotive technicians.

The first class of 23 soldiers graduated from the 12-week automotive boot camp on Oct. 28. The second class of 30 soldiers started the next day. It's all part of the U.S. Army's "Soldier for Life" program, designed to help transitioning soldiers launch successful civilian careers – and lives.

"We make it easy for HR and hiring managers. They aren't rolling the dice when they hire a soldier," said Lt. Col. Ryan L. Raymond, Soldier for Life director of education and training.

Raymond said companies that hire soldiers should consider themselves lucky to land such high-performing employees.

"We recruit from the top 23 percent of Americans, and then only accept a small percentage of that number," he said. "Next, we send them to basic training, send them to job training to get Army values, to get warrior ethos. So we start with best, and make them even better."

Bob Williams Raytheon

Bob Williams, Raytheon Intelligence, Information and Services vice president of Global Training Solutions, spoke at the graduation ceremony, telling the soldiers that transitioning from the uniform to civvies is never easy no matter what the pay grade. "You all have a bright future in front of you, and your transition will not be as hard," said Williams, a retired U.S. Army major general. "GM wants you; your country wants you; and you now have skills that will open those doors for you."

Sgt. 1st Class John McCuen said the program gave him and his fellow graduates "a leg up" in their job search.

"I'm an aviation mechanic by trade, and there might be a dozen places in the U.S. that I could work on Blackhawk helicopters," he said. "Now, with these GM credentials, I could find work in a dealership in almost every zip code in the country. But I'm hoping to return home to Tennessee with my family."

Raytheon Professional Services provided this first-of-its-kind training at Fort Hood, teaching the same curriculum that every dealership's GM-certified automotive technician receives.

"Make no mistake about it, we're not mechanics; we're not grease monkeys; we're automotive technicians," McCuen said. "On some models, you'll find 14 computers in the vehicle."

GM dealerships across the nation hire 2,500 entry-level technicians a year, but qualified candidates are often in short supply. By training skilled technicians – and supporting them with career counseling, job placement recommendations and access to technician job openings through GM's dealer network – the Shifting Gears program helps both transitioning soldiers and GM's local dealerships.

Raytheon employees offered enthusiastic support for Shifting Gears, said Allan Blascak, Raytheon business area manager for GM North America.

"We had a lot of raised hands to work this program, and anybody I've tapped on the shoulder has jumped at the opportunity," Blascak said. "Shifting Gears has given us a sense of pride and purpose, and also a chance to give back to the soldiers who have served us."

Jame Turner Raytheon

Specialist James Turner, 31 – a self-described "motorhead" from Roseboro, North Carolina – is hoping to land a gig working for a high-performance racing garage. He says Shifting Gears gave him the necessary credentials and the confidence to land a top-dollar job.

"We spent a lot of time with instructors on how to negotiate a salary, which was helpful for me because I've never had to do it before," Turner said. "Now I'm confident that I can walk into any shop with my resume, my certification, my background and say 'This is what I can do. Let's talk.'"

The Army hopes to expand Shifting Gears nationally. Raymond said other companies have asked how they can participate in similar vocational programs and partnerships like the one between the Army, Raytheon and GM.

"We appreciate these offers and initiatives," Raymond said. "We want to ensure our soldiers who served so proudly are taken care of and that they land softly in the civilian community and succeed."

Turner said that's what Shifting Gears did for him and his family.

"I've had buddies who have been on unemployment for six months to a year," said Turner. "I have a wife and a 5-year-old daughter, and getting this training and certification has relieved so much stress. Now, I see opportunities."

Click here to learn more about Raytheon's efforts to support servicemen and women.


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