“We’re trying to create a collaboration between transitioning members of the military and the community,” USO (United Service Organizations) director Regina Wages said at the USO’s first Lunch and Learn on Aug. 21. The lunch highlighted the new USO Pathfinder program, a program that advocates for transitioning service members. It helps ease members back into civilian life by providing vital resources to simplify the process.
Held at the new Ft. Stewart/HAAF USO center, the lunch brought local companies such as Gulfstream, WorkSource Georgia, and DOT Transportation, Inc. to speak about opportunities offered outside of the military for those transitioning. Pathfinder officially launched in May 2018.
“The program is designed to take the complexity and stress out of the service members’ transitions,” Wages said. “They have to adapt to the civilian world again, and they have to learn how to speak civil language.”
Wages served for seven years overseas at Jalalabad Airfield, commonly referred to as OB Fenty (Forward Operating Base Fenty) as the USO director in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Resolute Support (2009-2016). Wages built the USO at OB Fenty in 2010 and provided morale support and supplies to all Forward Operating Bases and Outpost- TAAC (Train Advise Assist Command) East in Northern Afghanistan, she said. Back on Fort Stewart, she knew that a USO facility could benefit many in both Georgia and South Carolina.
USO Ft. Stewart/HAAF opened in February 2018, Wages said. Since opening, they have served 119 service members, veterans and spouses—with clients in South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida and Puerto Rico, she continued.
“We support any and all installations in need of USO support in southeast Georgia — covering USO needs at Parris Island, all the way to Brunswick,” Wages said. “The Pathfinder Transition program covers Georgia and South Carolina.”
Sgt. 1st Class Mike Holguin, who’s served for 20 years, is close to retirement and is currently in the Pathfinder program. He said it offers a way for soldiers to re-learn the civilian lingo and habits without having to figure it out by themselves once they’re out of the service.
“Being in the military is a full-time mindset that is hard to let go of when you have finished serving your time,” Holguin said.
Holguin is on his second tour with the 3rd Infantry Division here in the Hinesville/Savannah area. The Pathfinder program, he said, has opened his eyes to several employment opportunities that allow him to maintain his current lifestyle. “There’s a lot of potential here if everyone puts in a little time and research,” he continued. “The program has helped us develop our resumes into a product to give employers, provided extensive lists of contacts and helped sort through jobs based on interest,” he said.
“The staff members have gotten to know me on a personal level and remain in constant contact providing updates and possible job opportunities,” he said. “My advisor has assured me that he will do his best to help me find a comfortable job, either local or abroad, and will remain with me until I do so, and for that, I can’t be more thankful.”
Holguin’s wife volunteers with the USO, so he’s been with the program since the beginning, he said. When asked if he encourages others in the transition process to utilize the Pathfinder program, it was a resounding yes.
“I have been and will continue to push this out to every soldier I come into contact with,” Holguin said. “If nothing else, this is a great opportunity to establish that solid resume that everyone needs once you start transitioning back to civilian life.”
The USO’s Pathfinder program has partnered with companies in and around the area that hire veterans, in order to provide a starting point to those leaving the service.
David Purdom, the military outreach and recruiting analyst with Gulfstream Aerospace in Pooler, said that Gulfstream takes an active approach when reaching out and hiring service members.
“We know that all service members are exiting the military with a strong sense of leadership skills and our efforts usually go specifically to their previous experience and how that translates into the culture and workforce of our company,” Purdom said.
Representatives from Gulfstream travel all over the country to different job and career fairs speaking to veterans on and off installations, he said. They also visit several TAP (Transition Assistance Program) classes to speak with them about resume writing and interview skills, Purdom continued.
Gulfstream’s current yearly hiring ratio consistently stays around 18 percent of veterans yearly, Purdom said. Right now, there is a 26 percent veteran workforce population. Partnering with the USO to help veterans seemed natural, and Gulfstream is currently in the process of creating a full partnership within the new Pathfinder program, he said.
Megan Earle, Program Manager for WorkSource Georgia, spoke about some of the services they offer veterans, including resume building and tuition assistance.
“We assist with basic skills, like resumes and interviews,” Earle said. “All services are free, but our most popular service is we can help pay for college tuition.”
Specifically, they will cover part of an associate or bachelor’s degree, as long as all pre-requisites have been previously completed, she said. Short-term certifications are normally covered, she continued.
“It has to be something that’s in demand in this area,” Earle said. “Something that we know someone’s going to leave our program and gain employment really quickly and easily.”
Or, they can assist with other costs associated with earning degrees — like books, supplies, uniforms and graduation applications.
“We don’t want them to face barriers,” she said. “We want them to go to school and get that degree and enter the workforce.”
There is also a youth program, which assists 16-24 year olds, Earle said. It encourages them to earn their GEDs with free classes, and will provide monetary assistance with test costs and other expenses. WorkSource Georgia also offers on the job training and experience, Earle said, because school isn’t for everyone.
There are currently two Pathfinder scouts located at Fort Stewart/HAAF USO, Tammy Duke and AJ Veal. These scouts are the ones to contact about entering into the Pathfinder program, Wages said. The USO is currently increasing staff with a site manager, and will eventually cover the entirety of Georgia and South Carolina.“We want the civilian world to know that veterans are trained individuals with special skills beyond their MOS (military occupational specialty),” Wages said. “They are leaders who adapt to any and every environment and will find a way to always complete the mission, even when times are tough or stressful. They have integrity, they are accountable and they are professional.”