U.S. Marine Cpl. John Gourde joined the United Association Veterans in Piping (UA VIP) program to become the best welder he could be and hone his skills before he joined a union.
Now that graduation day has arrived for Gourde, and the other UA VIP students in Camp Pendleton Welding Class 37, he has done exactly that. He has learned foundational skills that will help him when he begins a UA registered apprenticeship at Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 716 in Maine.
He and the other graduates learned to weld over the course of the 18-week program. They learned alongside an experienced journeyman, doing classroom coursework as well as hands-on training. They earned industry recognized certifications that expanded their skills.
Gourde learned stick welding, TIG, MIG and how to fit pipes for when he goes into the field. It was the opportunity to earn welding certifications without the need to use his G.I. Bill that convinced Gourde to give the UA VIP program a try.
“I enjoyed learning a trade through the UA VIP program,” Gourde said. “It will really help my transition by providing me with a guaranteed job when I get out of the military.”
Transitioning active-duty service members are eligible to apply for the UA VIP program during their last 18 months of military commitment. Training takes place while they are still in the armed forces and is considered part of their military duties.
The UA VIP program offers training in welding, HVACR and fire sprinkler fitting at select military bases across the country.
A memorable ceremony for the graduates of Camp Pendleton Welding Class 37
The graduation ceremony for Camp Pendleton Welding Class 37 was held May 26 at the Marine Memorial Golf Course.
UA VIP Lead Instructor Jason Culkin noted that Camp Pendleton has trained and graduated 536 Marines from the UA VIP program. About 160 of these graduates completed the program over five years ago and have completed their UA registered apprenticeship programs and earned journeyman status with Local Unions.
“Your future work in the trade will continue to impact us all through your contributions to rebuild the infrastructure across our great nation,” Culkin said in a speech. “I am honored to be here celebrating this milestone with you as you embark on your new journey as UA apprentices.”
Camp Pendleton’s Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 39 Executive Officer Maj. Melissa DePriest also shared her remarks.
Keoni (Sean) Ellis, a former UA VIP Camp Pendleton Welding student, graduate, Local 230 Apprentice turned learned welding instructor and program advocate who is now the Plumbers, Steamfitters, Refrigeration & HVAC Service Technicians Local Union 230 Political Organizer, also spoke at the ceremony.
With Ellis’ background and in-depth knowledge of the transition process and the program, his keynote speech at the graduation ceremony provided positive direction and assurance of the success all graduates can find in careers with the United Association.
A guaranteed job in the pipe trades after the military
Once the graduates transition out of the military and begin a UA registered apprenticeship at an agreed upon location, they will earn good union pay and quickly become eligible for quality healthcare for their family. They will start earning a pension and a 401K for their retirement.
“My goal is to continue learning every day so I can be proficient in the trade. And one day, I’ll become a journeyman and keep going from there,” said fellow UA VIP Welding Class 37 graduate Marine Cpl. Jalen Nason. “I want to soak in as much knowledge as possible, ask questions and really take my time to learn so I'm ready to do the job and be the best I can be.”
The UA VIP program is a Career Skills Program that provides guaranteed job placement to transitioning active-duty service members after they get out of the military.
“I wanted a career as a pipe welder, and there is no better way to get into the trade,” said Marine Cpl. Nathan Beermann, another student in Class 37. “The UA VIP program gave me the knowledge and the skills necessary to help me excel when I start my career as a pipe welder in the UA.”