One of the most challenging turning points in a service member’s career is making the transition from active duty to civilian life. The prospect is not unlike choosing — or being compelled — to shed a familiar, comfortable, even protective, skin, to assume a strange new one that is in no way guaranteed to be a smooth fit.
To help military personnel at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM), Wash., prepare to meet this challenge, Col. H. Charles Hodges Jr., the installation’s commander, has worked to develop resources and cultivate contacts in the surrounding community and at the state and federal levels that separating personnel can tap to pursue private or government job training and career opportunities.
The process begins with JBLM’s comprehensive transition assistance program that helps soldiers and airmen to chart their educational goals, retrain themselves for high-demand jobs and start new businesses. To engage agencies and organizations from beyond JBLM’s gates, Hodges launched the 2014 Washington State Service Member for Life national-level transition summit during which representatives from federal and state agencies and throughout the private sector met with transitioning service members, veterans and their families. The largest event of its kind, the summit became the model for similar events throughout the nation.
Hodges’ efforts to improve and expand professional relationships among JBLM, the business community and unions led to the establishment of apprenticeship and job training programs. JBLM partnered with the city of Tacoma, for example, to provide fellowships and internships for active-duty personnel who can apply for permanent jobs with the city government.
He also supported efforts to initiate career training and counseling programs for active-duty personnel that have become national military transition models, such as the Microsoft Software & Systems Academy, the Cammo2Commerce program, and the Veterans in Piping apprenticeship program for the plumbing and pipe fitting industry, among others. In addition, he pioneered the formation of a statewide, governor-sponsored military transition council to spur all state agencies’ participation in efforts to help any departing JBLM personnel who wish to remain in the state transition to civilian careers.
Hodges also has placed a high priority on ensuring that JBLM is a good neighbor to the surrounding community by working with civilian agencies and departments to complete the construction of a connector road and overpass project this year that will allow motorists to drive from one side of the base to another without traveling on the crowded Interstate 5 or secondary roads. JBLM also works with surrounding communities to expand and improve youth service and recreational activities and negotiate mutual aid agreements with surrounding communities to improve emergency services and response on and off the base. In addition Hodges ensured the base consulted with local partners to devise a new master plan for the base and an air installation compatible use zone, and conduct a joint land use study to ensure that land use around the base is compatible with the installation’s mission and activities.
Hodges’ dedication to the next chapter in the lives of the service members stationed at JBLM has helped about 19,000 individuals successfully adjust to their new civilian “skin” and earned him ADC’s Military Leadership Award. Hodges will be recognized along with the other Defense Community Awards winners at the ADC Awards Breakfast Wednesday on Capitol Hill.