“Life is about transitions,” guest speaker Army Lieutenant General David D. Halverson, the Assistant Chief of Staff for Installation Management, said during the graduation ceremony on April 24, 2015, to the 16 United Association (UA) Veterans in Piping® (VIP®) welding graduates from Fort Campbell’s inaugural program. “The most dangerous time we have in combat is during transitions. The first month and your last month—those transitions are dangerous. That is what we are telling our leadership for the Soldier for Life program,” he said, continuing, “We have to start the transition early; give you the skillsets you will need to be successful. We have to replace the anxiety you feel regarding jobs with a plan for transition.” He thanked the UA and the Army’s leadership for having faith in this program, stating, “These partnerships will ensure our soldiers’ success. This takes a lot of commitment. It’s a great day to be here.” He went on to address the graduating class, “You are all competent. You were competent to be a war soldier. This is your first step, and you will continue to prove yourself as you go forward.”
Specialist Alexander Cufaude, who joined the Army in 2012 after hearing about his best friend’s death in Afghanistan in 2011, is going home. He has affiliated with Steamfitters Local 353 in Peoria, IL. He said that he was packed and would leave as soon as the graduation and reception were over. “I’m ready to go home, spend a week and a half experiencing a normal life, and then I’ll be ready to go to work,” he said. Alex had heard about the program through a Soldier for Life briefing regarding transitioning out of the Army. He had welded a bit during and after high school. He has friends who are members of the UA in a local back home, and he is thankful for his opportunity to become a member through the VIP program.
“It’s one of the best things that the Army ever could have given back to us after everything that we’ve done, honestly—a guaranteed job. You can’t ask for much more than that because nowadays there are a lot of people struggling to find a job,” Alex said. He went on to say that his two UA welding instructors, Mike Smith and Barry Richardson, were two of the best instructors he had ever had, stating, “They let us learn. They gave us pointers and tricks and taught us to do things a certain way. They both had a world of experience and that just really helped.”
International Representative Dave Posey facilitated the graduation ceremony and welcomed the many Army and civilian dignitaries who were in attendance. Director of Training Chris Haslinger; VIP consultant Major General Matt Caulfied, USMC, (Ret.); as well as Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 184, Paducah, KY, Business Manager Kyle Henderson; Local 184 Training Director Erik DeFew; and VIP OSHA Instructor Scooby Murt were also in attendance.
International Representative Posey addressed the graduates, “You are the ones who were trained to fight, and we deeply respect that as we fight on a daily basis as a skilled trade organization for the rights of working men and women. We fight to win as you have done to get our message out that there is no substitute for a highly skilled and productive UA craftsman.” He went on to talk about the importance of integrity in the workplace. “I can think of few ingredients more foundational to being a great leader than knowing oneself—and accepting oneself—and feeling secure about oneself inside your own skin. Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, ‘The first great need, therefore, is integrity and high purpose.’” Lieutenant General Halverson addressed the UA dignitaries, stating, “These soldiers that you have are values-based people. They know what values are. They know what hard work is.” Addressing the graduates, he said, “Your commitment to this is important. You have character. You know what right and wrong is—that is what made you good in the military.”
Director of Training Chris Haslinger told the graduates in his remarks about the milestones he was able to achieve through the UA. He then said, “Today, we are on seven military bases across the country, and hundreds of service members have completed our VIP programs and are now earning a good living and providing for their families. When service members, like those here today, complete their training on these bases, they are then able to join an apprenticeship program in the region of their choice. They enter these programs as apprentices, and they are assured of having a job when they get there. In return, the UA has been proud to welcome these fine individuals into our ranks. They are now part of the finest brotherhood and sisterhood in the world, and they are well on their way to a long and lucrative career.”
In his graduation testimonial, VIP graduate, Alex Cufaude, said, “I remember saying to myself that this is all too good to be true. Well, it’s all true—everything that was said to us—it was truth. Every single one of my classmates can ease their minds knowing that we all have a stable, well-paying job in a career field that interests us.”
The 16 proud graduates of the UA’s inaugural VIP program at Fort Campbell will disburse to local unions across the country, and our hope is that with the help of their brothers and sisters in the trades, they will experience a seamless transition to their new careers. They are paving the way for their fellow brothers and sisters in arms to embark on a similar journey.