“I am not sure if most realize the impact that this program has had on our soldiers, and more importantly, the ripple effect it has on the future of our country,” Fort Carson Garrison Command Sergeant Major Clinton Reiss announced at the most-recent Veterans in Piping® (VIP®) graduation on July 9, 2014, held at Plumbers and Pipefitters and Service Technicians Local 58, Colorado Springs, Colorado.
This graduation guarantees the placement and employment of 13 brothers-in-arms, and they couldn’t be more grateful. Staff Sergeant Bill Mikschl referred to it as a “privilege” just to attend. He said, “Shortly after Afghanistan, I came to the realization that after nine years of service, I wished to separate from the Army for a craft that would lead to a normal life. I’m recently married and originally had aspirations of college, but they were mixed with anxiety over whether or not I would be able to make it in the civilian world. I attended a briefing with a buddy who was already in the program. After the briefing, I was convinced this is what I wanted to do. It put my mind at ease, while I separated from the military, that the United Association (UA) would teach me a new trade and guarantee me a job on day one of getting out of the military.”
VIP participants come from all facets of the military, and in this case different sectors of the Army. Bill Huestis is retiring from the Army after a long and distinguished career in Special Forces [180A, Special Forces Warrant Officer]. He started at Fort Hood in Texas in 1986 as a military police officer, and then left the Army for three years and joined the National Guard. In 1992, Bill re-enlisted for Special Forces training and served with the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) since January 1994, with short tours to Fort Bragg, North Carolina; Fort Polk, Louisiana; Al Udeid, Qatar; and deployments throughout Europe, the Balkans, Iraq, Africa, and the Middle East. He served at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, and from 1995, at Fort Carson in Colorado on and off.
“I wanted a trade,” he shared after the graduation. “I think a trade is more valuable right now than a college education. A lot of the contract work for guys like me is drying up, and I wanted to move back home to upstate New York. I’m headed to Local 773 in Glens Falls, New York, and from what I understand there is at least 10 years of work ahead of me.
“I’ve been a Special Ops Officer for 20 years, and this is the Special Ops of welding. Everything in the military comes down to training. What separates us from everyone else is the advanced training we get. This program—the level of training—is above and beyond anything else I looked into. Aaron Schultz and Bowie Gregg are excellent instructors. They both have a ton of certifications and know how to get their point across. Having been an instructor in my past, I can tell you, they are very, very good.”
Staff Sergeant Bill Mikschl gave the graduate testimony, where he paid a special tribute to their class’s top performer. “I want to especially recognize James Wester, King James we call him, who currently holds the record in our class for the most certifications.”
Sergeant Wester laughed at the recognition and remarked, “I am slotted to report to Chattanooga, Tennessee, Local 43 on September 2. I have a wife and a 10-year-old son, and we are going back home. I grew up in Summerville, Georgia, and I am going to be proud to be a union member. It’s nice to have advocates; you’re not in it alone.”
The VIP program’s benefits extend to family members, as well. Marissa Stanley, Joel Stanley Jr.’s wife, who is an independent contractor, is especially grateful for the healthcare benefits for herself and their son. “Being as I am self-employed, the healthcare benefits will be a huge plus for our family,” she said. “When he mentioned the program, I was delighted. I felt it was a solution to providing a career for him, so he could support our family. We have a new baby boy. It was a huge weight off of both of our shoulders. He is very talented, but when you get out of the military, they don’t automatically channel you to a career. I knew this was something he loved and was something that made him happy. If he’s happy, I’m happy.”
Joel Stanley Jr. was a medic for 10 years in the Army. “In 2001, when the World Trade Center was attacked, I remember where I was sitting,” he said. “I was in 10th grade; it was then that I decided I would join the military. I wanted to support my country to defend our freedoms and make the people responsible pay. I signed my first contract in June, three months after we invaded Iraq. I was still in high school, going into my senior year. I became active duty June 14, 2004, in Houston, was deployed to Iraq twice, and then to Afghanistan. I came home June 2012.
“I served 10 years, and I have watched a lot of soldiers getting out, and I had heard horror stories of soldiers getting out and not being able to get a job because their military training wasn’t transferrable. I did not want to go into the healthcare field. My entire life, I always wanted to learn to weld. I never had the opportunity. I was in transition classes to leave the Army, and I got a flyer about the VIP program, and the first thing it said was, ‘We will teach you how to weld,’ and that was it—I was sold.”
Joel, Marissa and their baby boy will be moving to Houston, Texas, and Joel will be starting at Pipefitters Local 211 in Houston on August 4. “We are excited,” Joel said. “It’s been 10 years since I’ve been home, and my wife is ready to settle down. It feels like a clean slate.”
As the 13 participants prepare to move to their prospective local unions throughout the country, they are all looking forward to a fresh start. The local union officers are waiting for them, and the memberships are primed to welcome them into the fold. Meanwhile, VIP instructors Aaron Schultz and Bowie Gregg are preparing for the next class, which will begin in approximately two weeks. “It feels good,” they both said, “to see these guys moving on to bigger and better things.”