It’s graduation day for Welding Class 22 at Fort Carson, the latest group to complete training through the United Association Veterans in Piping (UA VIP) program.
The UA VIP program is a Career Skills Program (CSP) for transitioning active-duty service members. Over the course of 18 weeks, the seven students learned basic welding skills alongside an experienced journeyman instructor through a combination of classroom instruction and hands-on training. They earned industry recognized certifications that will accelerate their progress into UA apprenticeships after leaving the military.
The graduates earned certifications in oxy fuel cutting, SMAW plate welding, SPAW and GTAW pipe welding and SMAW pipe spooling.
The students have made amazing progress, considering some had never welded before they started the UA VIP program. For Army Sgt. 1st Class Sean Blackburn, it was the hands-on experience that made the course.
“I loved that there was very little classroom setting to this course,” Blackburn said. “It’s a crawl, walk and run type of structure. It’s self-paced, which was very beneficial to someone like me who had never welded before.”
UA VIP Graduation Day: A celebration of achievement
The graduation celebration was held at Freedom Performing Arts Center in Fort Carson, Colo. Special guests at the celebration included Fort Carson Garrison Commander Col. Nate Springer, Transition Services Manager Sherry Jenkins and Col. Sam Whitehurst.
UA VIP Program Manager Mike Hazard introduced Blackburn as the UA VIP Student Speaker. After enlisting in the Army in 2001 as a Maintenance Supervisor and completing three overseas employments, Blackburn is retiring from the military with over 20 years of service. He is joining UA Local 354 in Latrobe, Pa. for the next stage in his civilian career.
In his speech, Hazard commended the UA VIP graduates for their hard work and wished them the best of luck in their future civilian careers in the pipe trades.
“It is your hard work and dedication that has brought you success in your military career and to the start of your new career in the UA,” Hazard said. “Your selfless service as soldiers and veterans of the United States Army has improved the quality of life for all of us. Your future work in the trade will continue to impact us all through your contributions to rebuild the infrastructure across our great nation.”
Hazard urged the UA VIP grads to continue to live by the values they learned in the Army, maintain an open mind and continue to take advantage of the learning opportunities life provides along the way.
Like the Army, union members look out for each other
After graduating from the UA VIP program and transitioning out of the military, the Class 22 graduates will go on to start UA registered apprenticeship programs at an agreed upon location. They are guaranteed job placement and the start of a good paying career.
Some of the unions the students have chosen to join are located in Buffalo, Washington D.C. and Colorado Springs.
For Army Sgt. Christopher Lockman, the UA VIP eases the transition out of the military by providing a pathway to a culture that is similar to the Army.
“To my understanding, entering a UA apprenticeship is similar to being enlisted in the military,” Lockman said. “People look out for one another. Those with experience enjoy sharing their knowledge with apprentices, much like I experienced in the Army. I look forward to the opportunity to be part of another great organization. It’s a chance to be in a position to pass down what I have learned in the trade to others as well.”
During their UA registered apprenticeship, the students will earn good union wages and gradual pay raises as they progress through the program. They quickly become eligible for quality healthcare for their family. They will start earning a pension and a 401K for their retirement.
“I have family that work in the union, so I knew this was something I wanted to do,” Army Spc. Jonathan Austin said. “In my UA apprenticeship program, I expect to learn from my journeymen and learn the good habits of being in the pipe trades. The UA VIP program is a great option as long as you stay open to learning the trade.”
The United Association Veterans in Piping program offers training in welding, HVACR and fire sprinkler fitting. Similar courses are happening at select military bases around the country.