A program of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation
Fort Leonard Wood is an unusual backdrop for a love story — unless you are Donald and Nicole VanVelzer.
These two soldiers met when they were stationed in Missouri. Donald said he was attracted to Nicole’s ambitious attitude. Nicole said it was Donald’s charismatic charm that caught her eye. But it was their mutual love of dogs that sealed their romantic fate.
This Army couple, which now lives near Fort Hood, Texas, with their three fur babies, likes to prepare and plan. That’s why they both utilized Hiring Our Heroes’ Corporate Fellowship Program during their transitions from soldiers to civilians.
Nicole completed the 12-week program in 2018 and after leaving the Army, she works as a counselor for a nonprofit organization. Donald is currently participating in a CFP cohort and doing his fellowship as a project engineer with the commercial contractor Flintco.
Nicole said the Corporate Fellowship Program gives service members a preview of post-military life.
“The Corporate Fellowship Program helps ease the transition, especially the cultural transition from military to civilian life, such as new routines, commutes, wardrobe, and social environments,” Nicole said. “It also gives you a preview of a certain industry, which is really helpful if you’re not exactly sure what career path you want next. There is plenty of opportunity to learn about yourself and figure out what you really want to do next in life.”
In 2019, roughly 200,000 service members will transition from military service to civilian life. According to the Department of Defense, this results in approximately 1,300 new veterans and their families returning to civilian life every single day. The majority of these men and women were enlisted in the military and don’t have a job offer when they are handed their DD-214s. Many times their spouses are also looking for employment because the couple decided to move to a new location after leaving the Armed Forces.
Between 65% and 80% of veterans surveyed left the military without a job from 20014 to 2016, according to a 2017 research paper titled “U.S. Military Veterans’ Difficult Transitions Back to Civilian Life and the VA’s Response” written by Anna Zogas. Zogas wrote “Veterans who are looking for work also report being continuously referred to online hiring initiatives that ultimately ‘did not lead to substantial job prospects.’ These dead-ends and frustrations lead veterans to name lack of employment as one of these greatest post-military concerns.”
For example, of post-9/11 veterans surveyed in Los Angeles, 65% said that they needed substantial help finding a job. This is a higher number than those surveyed who reported needing physical health care (56%) and mental health care (47%), Zogas wrote.
The Corporate Fellowship Program helps to ease the transition for military couples by providing veterans and military spouses with the opportunity to work in the civilian world before they leave the military.
Service members are paired up with companies that match their skill sets and desired career path. They then work four days a week for that company and attend a weekly class with their fellowship cohort. Many service members are offered a job following their internship, either with the same company or with another participating company.
“The HOH Corporate Fellowship Program is giving us a great foundation,” said LaQuai Knoble, an airman who is participating in the program with her husband, who is also active duty. “It’s allowing us to get our feet wet in the civilian world and making our transitions not as stressful.”
After a combined 43 years of service, LaQuai Knoble and her husband Jared are planning to retire from the Air Force this year. They have been married for 15 years and are currently stationed at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. LaQuai said they’ve been planning for their retirement for the past two years and decided to apply to the Corporate Fellowship Program together. Now, they are analyst fellows at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.
“We are excited that we are able to retire together and use the corporate fellowship together,” LaQuai said.
Army veteran Reinaldo and his wife Milena Sanchez became co-workers at Prudential after Reinaldo completed the Corporate Fellowship Program at Fort Bliss, Texas. Reinaldo, a retired signal officer, was hired to be a senior associate application security engineer with Prudential in El Paso. During his time as a fellow, Milena connected with Prudential through one of the company’s supportive programs for military spouses. Milena is now working as a senior data analysis associate.
“Hiring Our Heroes has given us the opportunity to work together at Prudential,” Reinaldo said. “Working together has allowed us to connect on a whole other level, in a professional way. We now have more things in common and have a better relationship.”
The Hiring Our Heroes’ Corporate Fellowship Program is coming off a banner year. In 2018, the program served 729 corporate fellows in three cohorts across 15 locations. More than 200 companies have participated in the program including Amazon, CarMax, Compass Group, Cushman & Wakefield, Dell, Hangar, Hospital Corporation of America (HCA), IBM, La Quinta by Wyndham, Lockheed Martin, Prudential, Ryder, Starbucks, Simplilearn, and UPS.
Joel Dillon and Jen Zais went from Army officers to “Amazonians” thanks to the Corporate Fellowship Program in the National Capital Region. Joel completed his fellowship with Amazon Web Services before being hired as a senior technical program manager.
“Watching Joel go through the Hiring Our Heroes experience reinforced for me how important it is to have a support network of other people experiencing the same thing,” Jen said. “I’ve known for the last two years how much I desired a similar opportunity as the program enabled him to move on to the next chapter with great confidence and a multitude of resources.”
Jen is currently doing her fellowship as a technical program manager in Amazon’s Reliability, Maintenance and Engineering Division.
“I feel incredibly lucky and honored to have this chance for growth and support during a time of transition, and I learned more about how to optimize the HOH experience based on his participation,” Jen said. “Doing this (Corporate Fellowship Program) together gives us yet another shared experience that is really fulfilling.”
The fellowship features a 12-week syllabus and runs three times a year at select military installations and in host cities around the country. Each cohort consists of 15 to 30 active duty service members and may also include veterans and military spouses in select locations.
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A Program of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation