With his Army separation day looming, Spc. James Turner recently found himself face-to-face with a timeless conundrum for any soldier: What would he do when he left the Army?

“The biggest fear of any soldier is being unsure: ‘Where am I going to go?’” said Turner, a communications specialist with the Division Signal Company, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division. “I was really worried.”

Thanks to the Army’s new apprenticeship program with General Motors and Raytheon Company, Turner’s fears have been assuaged. He is one of 24 soldiers participating in The Shifting Gears: Automotive Technician Training Program, a 12-week course at Fort Hood that includes classroom, online and hands-on technical training.

Students were allowed to practice on state-of-the-art vehicles directly from the GM factory in Detroit. The soldiers are expected to graduate in late October and Cadillac dealerships in the Delaware area are already inquiring about hiring graduates, said Charlie Green, director of Fort Hood’s Directorate of Human Resources.

“Soldiers have characteristics you can’t get anywhere else,” Green said. “I don’t think many jobs are going to turn them away.”

As a 30-year veteran of the Army who retired from Fort Hood in 2003, Green said he remembers all too well the stress that accompanied his impending separation date. He said programs like this are all the more crucial in the wake of recent budget cuts.

“For 30 years, I didn’t have to look for a job,” Green said. “Now, soldiers are having to make these choices. Any time we can take care of soldiers and their families, it makes my day. There’s a face now to the signs that say, ‘We support our troops.’”

Fort Hood — home to about one-tenth of the Army’s population — was a natural choice to host the pilot program that, if successful, can expand to other posts, said Sgt. Maj. Diana Broussard with Fort Hood’s Directorate of Human Resources.

“Fort Hood is the pilot for a lot of programs, and rightfully so,” Broussard said. “We get better each time they throw something at us. They know we’ll do it, or if we can’t, we’ll figure it out.”

Raytheon sees the partnership with GM and the Army as an opportunity to reduce “alarming” statistics,” said Lynn Dugle, president of Raytheon Intelligence, Information and Services. “Young Army veterans face unemployment rates that are more than double the national average,” he said.

“We look forward to helping train veterans through the Shifting Gears program, and continuing the work we do with the Army including our role in training almost every active service soldier,” he added.

The benefits to the Army are obvious, but GM and Raytheon also stand to profit from the deal. Typically, GM has to pay for a new hire’s schooling, but these soldiers have already received the proper training. Indeed, after just two weeks, Turner said he has already received training that has proved invaluable even for him, a lifelong car fanatic.

“I’ve been turning wrenches since I could pick one up, but this is stuff you don’t learn even if you’re at home working with a wrench,” Turner said. “The class is like a self-resume. It gives you something to do other than job fairs.”

Conta​ct Erinn Callahan at ecallahan@kdhnews.com or 254-501-7464.

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