At the height of the U.S. military’s drawdown in the past decade, between 10,000 and 12,000 service members were transitioning out of the armed forces Washington State. The challenge? Connecting those veterans with jobs that could support their families while filling workforce needs for regional businesses.
Into that void came Camo2Commerce (C2C), a PacMtn program funded by a Department of Labor grant. Initially, funding was scheduled to expire in 2015; instead, three years and three extensions later, C2C is finally wrapping up at the end of this year, leaving a lasting impact on how the U.S. military conducts the transition process.
“PacMtn has changed the entire conversation about how to get a service member ready for transition, what best practices look like, and how we engage those members and their families from the moment they come on to the installation to the time they leave,” says Chris Gentz, Transition Services Specialist at Joint Base Lewis McChord (JBLM).
Key pieces of C2C’s legacy include the first America’s Job Center in the nation to be integrated on a military base; strong and ongoing connections between regional corporations and non-profits and transition services at JBLM; a program specifically designed to help military spouses in transition; and a model that has drawn national attention, aspects of which are being replicated at military installations around the country.
C2C facilitated direct employment connections for over 1,400 people. Placements for another 1,500 people have occurred nationally through a fellowship initially launched at JBLM in partnership with the U.S. Chamber Foundation, according to Sean Murphy, Associate Director of Strategic Initiatives at PacMtn. “We’ve set a lot of trends here locally,” he says. “With the job center being formalized on base, it’s expanded the number of people being served there.” The AJC will remain in place with WorkSource, rather than C2C, being the primary service provider for job seekers on JBLM.
Business and industry have also benefited from the program, says Lourdes ‘Alfie’ Alvarado-Ramos, Director of the Washington Department of Veterans Affairs and Chair of the Washington State Military Transition Council. “C2C showed the value of hiring veterans,” she says. “All those corporations and not-for-profits will continue engaging our service members and their families.”
Another aspect continuing is the Spouse Ambassador program, which provides resources and support for spouses of transitioning service members. “We’re a small office of three,” says Kim Fallen, Employment Readiness Manager for Personnel and Family Readiness at JBLM. “C2C gave us a lot more resources to provide and a portfolio spouses could choose from to find the right career path.”
The success of the model garnered national attention, says Alvarado-Ramos, heightening the reputation of JBLM in the process. “Everybody came to Washington State to see the model that we had put in place at work because it was unlike anything else in the country.”
Ultimately, C2C served its target population, she notes. “It’s one of the best things that could have happened for our service members and their families during some of the most challenging times we’ve had.”