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Spouses invited to join transition program

Photo By Gail Parsons | Soldiers from Fort Riley visited JE Dunn Construction Group during the Kansas Employment Exploration Program trip to Wichita in December. The program introduces Soldiers and spouses to community leaders and employers in cities around Kansas with a goal of retaining talent in the state.
January 21, 2020

The Soldier for Life Transition Assistance Program helps Soldiers position themselves for civilian employment after separating from the Army. However, when they hang up the green suit — so does their spouse.

The Kansas Employment Exploration Program invites spouses to participate in classes and trips to visit Kansas communities to learn about job availability.
Master Sgt. Sergio Partida, 1st Infantry Division transition liaison, said KEEP formed in 2017, but had little movement until a concerted effort was made this year to increase participation. In August, the program restarted with a trip to Salina, followed by visits to McPherson, Manhattan and Wichita throughout the end of 2019.

“The job opportunities that Kansas actually offers – especially with a lot of the trade jobs – and then all the trade trainings that we have as part of the career skills programs allow (Soldiers and families) to transition very easily into the into the Kansas community,” Partida said.

Eric Brown, president and chief executive officer of the Salina Area Chamber of Commerce, said Saline county show 2,219 unique jobs posted in December.
“That ranges across 311 different occupations,” Brown said. “It represents 656 employers in Saline County.”

A Soldier who is thinking about staying in Kansas after leaving the Army at Fort Riley can sign up to visit Kansas communities to learn what kind of job opportunities are available. Partida said he wants spouses to know they are welcome and encouraged to come along.

“It’s a joint (effort),” he said. “When the service member transitions out — the spouse transitions out too.”

He said the spouse is often more stressed about the impending transition because the Soldier is out there taking classes and training, but the spouse may be unsure what’s in store for their own futures.

“The great thing is that the spouses are allowed to come to all the classes that we offer here,” he said. “The spouses are allowed to sit in on the Department of Labor workshops, the financial planning class, the Transition [Military Occupational Specialty] Crosswalk — all the classes. All those classes that Soldier For Life offers and are mandatory for the Soldier, the spouses are allowed — encouraged really – to come too.”

The next city on the KEEP schedule is Topeka. Partida said the plan is for Topeka officials and employers to come to Fort Riley. Then, in February, Soldiers and spouses will follow up with a trip to Topeka.

“The people (from Topeka) that want to hire these transitioning Soldiers are going to come here,” he said. “We’ll put on a networking event where soldiers are allowed to come talk to talk to them one-on-one — not a formal meet and greet, but just a ‘hey this is who I am as a Soldier … or spouse.’”

After that event, if a person is interested in pursuing employment, they have time to fine tune their resume.

In February, they will travel to Topeka where they can make more formal contact with potential employers.

Aside from learning about job opportunities, visiting the communities allows families to learn what the city has to offer. For example, Brown said Salina has a $300 million capital investment happening, about half of which is in downtown

“There’s a lot of different quality of life aspects that we either have now or will have shortly that we didn’t have even two years ago,” Brown said. “And we are 17% underneath the national average for cost of living.”

Visiting with the community members and not just employers allow families to get a picture of the entire town when making their transition plans, Partida said.