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Posted: February 23, 2018 4:10 p.m.
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HBI supports Soldier for Life, transition assistance

Jeff Whitten/

United States Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Kurt Stein, right, checks out a framed house Feb. 13 at the Home Building Initiative workshop on Fort Stewart with Richard Williams, career skills program coordinator for Fort Stewart's Soldier for Life Transition Assistance Program, and USMC Sgt. Maj. Shawn Isaacson.

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United States Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Kurt Stein flew more than 100 combat missions during his time as a Naval aviator. 

Last week, Stein was on Fort Stewart in another role – to help Marines transitioning to the civilian world find success. 

During his Feb. 13 visit, Stein, who serves as director of Marine and Family Programs, met with representatives of the Army’s Soldier For Life Program and Home Building Initiative, a private contractor that provides apprenticeship training to Soldiers leaving the Army. 

Though Steiner isn’t the decider on whether HBI will be able to set up on a Marine Corps base – that’s up to individual base commanders, he said – he was on Fort Stewart to evaluate what HBI offers. 

Stein apparently came away impressed. 

“I like what I see,” Stein said. “It’s a great program for Soldiers, and HBI is obviously a good partner.”

The need for job skills training for Marines getting out of the service is apparently a constant. Though the smallest military service with only 180,000 on active duty at any given time, the Corps loses approximately 30,000 Marines annually.

“We have almost an entirely new Marine Corps about every four years,” Steiner said. 

But offering such transition programs also is about making sure the Corps lives up to its pledge to return Marines to the civilian world ready to contribute. 

 “Obviously, we want be here for our Marines and help set them up for success. One of the bumper stickers you often see around Marine Corps bases reads ‘We make Marines who win battles. We return our Marines to society as better citizens,’” Stein said. “This is part of that. It’s giving our Marines something to be proud of after they get out, they have self-worth because they’re contributing in the civilian work space.”

To that end, Stein said the USMC already partners with Microsoft and Embry Riddle to provide IT training to Marines at Quantico Marine Corps Base in Virginia, where Stein is stationed, and they take part in Department of Defense SkillBridge programs, for example, at one Marine base there is a program for pipefitters.

Similarly, HBI, which runs training programs on Fort Bliss, Fort Bragg and Fort Carson and is preparing to launch its first Marine Corps program at Camp Pendleton, provides service members with training in carpentry, electrical wiring, building construction, plumbing, HVAC and more, according to HBI President and CEO John Courson, who noted that workers in residential construction are an aging demographic, and that’s one reason demand in such trades is high.

“If there’s a new subdivision going up in Savannah and a framing subcontractor is framing 10 houses and needs help, he needs someone this week not two months from now.” 

The training such as that offered at Fort Stewart comes at no cost to Soldiers or taxpayers and is funded by corporations such as Home Depot, Prudential, Bank of America and various foundations, according to Courson. 

Stein said Soldiers and Marines are “high performers who contributed to a bigger mission where it was about more than themselves, and being able to translate that into the civilian sector is important,” he said. “They want to have a reason to get out of bed in the morning, and that ties in with all the ad statics we know we have with veterans, whether it’s PTSD or homelessness. This is truly, at the ground level, attacking that problem.”

There’s apparently no shortage of Soldiers on Fort Stewart taking advantage of the program. Richard Williams, a career skills program coordinator for the Soldier For Life Transition Assistance Program, said Soldiers who express an interest in the HBI program are interviewed. 

If they’re accepted, commanders have to sign a memorandum of agreement that the Soldier’s place of duty after PT will be at the HBI workshop on post in what was once an old motor pool.

The program then lasts the Soldier’s last six months in the Army, so that once they ETS they’re ready to go to work.

“We want them to receive the training, then receive job placement so the connecting piece is there,” Williams said. “They exit the Army and start working right away so their skills won’t be perishable.”

The HBI program has a 90 percent success rate, according to Courson, who called the opportunity preventive maintenance.

“We can train them later after they get out and have trouble finding work, or we can train them here and get them a job when they get out,” he said. 

The program doesn’t cost Soldiers anything, and it doesn’t require them to use their GI bill. Word of mouth is its best advertiser, Courson said, and Soldiers who go through the program and find work are tracked in order to gauge the effectiveness of HBI’s training.

Steiner said Marines already have three tracks open to them as they leave – they can pursue more education, such as an undergraduate degree; or look at learning a trade or becoming entrepreneurs. The general said any program the Marine Corps approves has to pass two measures – performance and effectiveness.

“One measure of performance can how many people get their bachelor’s degree as undergraduates,” Stein said. “But the measure of effectiveness is ‘how many of those people got a job? A degree is not any good if you don’t have a job.”

The value of HBI is that it offers service members opportunity to learn “all the elements of basic construction,” choose what interests them, gain experience and later use either Veterans Affairs or the Small Business Administration to start their own business, Stein said. 

“We’re trying to find those skill sets most applicable to our Marines, so when they transition to the civilian sector they have a skill that is in high demand,” he said. “It’s got to be a program that’s relevant today. Like carpentry or electrical wiring. You can’t outsource those skills to some third party outside the United States like a call center. Somebody still has to come physically build a home.”

Courson said Marines and Soldiers are perfect for residential construction.

“They work well as a team, they work well with their hands and they’ve worked in environments a lot less pleasant than a building site,” he said. “But the key for that is that builders don’t want to have to do on the job training. They want somebody ready to come to work the first day.”

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