A dozen Fort Stewart soldiers were recognized Thursday afternoon at the Sfc. Paul R. Smith Education Center for having completed a six-month apprenticeship program with Georgia Power.
Two of the soldiers already are Georgia Power employees, while 10 others will leave the Army in coming weeks through retirement or expiration of term of service and work for the company in Georgia.
According to Patrick W. Bean Sr., Fort Stewart’s transition-service manager for its Army Career Alumni Program, Georgia Power provided the instructors, who trained them for specific tasks and necessary safety precautions for their new careers.
Linda Sykes, military recruiter program specialist for Georgia Power, welcomed family members and numerous soldiers interested in learning about the program.
"I want you all to know that veterans account for 10 percent of our workforce," Sykes said, explaining that Georgia Power is one of seven companies that are part of the Southern Company. "Since 2012, veterans have made up 12-15 percent of our new hires."
She congratulated the soldiers on completing the apprenticeship program, saying the dedication they demonstrated in uniform was one of the reasons Georgia Power is so willing to hire veterans.
Sykes was followed by the U.S. Army garrison commander for Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield, Col. Kevin Gregory, who reminded soldiers and guests that the Army is reducing its force. Just because the Army is getting smaller is no reason to forget about the soldiers who’ve served, he said.
"We’re taking soldiers who’ve served honorably and preparing them for new careers," Gregory said. "It’s our goal for every one of you — whether you’re ETS-ing or retiring — to make sure we set you up for success."
Apprenticeship programs like the one they just completed are only the beginning, the garrison commander said. Georgia Power would be back to start a new class cycle, as would other industries looking to hire veterans.
Danny Lindsay, vice president of transmissions for Georgia Power, told graduating soldiers that they are joining a large company, and starting an apprenticeship program usually takes time. The fact that they had gotten through the program in only six months was an exciting, major accomplishment, he said.
Lindsay commended his new employees and the other soldiers in the room for their Army values, taking particular notice of the Army’s diversity. He said corporate America mostly talks about diversity, but the Army makes it work.
Following his comments, the 12 soldiers received their "hard hats" and graduation certificates.
"I first learned about it through the Army Career Alumni Program," said Spc. Christopher Casper, a military policeman from Athens. "They said Georgia Power was coming out. I went to their briefing, signed up and stuck with it."
Casper and Sgt. Tyler Kalbach, an infantryman from Buffalo, New York, said they spent the last six months learning to construct electrical substations. Both soldiers have served multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, but said learning to function as a civilian employee was something of a culture shock.
Casper said he will leave the service Aug. 31, and Kalbach will leave Sept. 5. Both men will begin their new careers Sept. 8. Casper said he will be working near Fort Gordon, while Kalbach said he’ll be working in Tifton.
"They’ve given us the initial skills we need to get started when we get to our crews," Casper said. "Then we’ll get more on-the-job training."