With the skills gap widening and projecting to increase, Construction and Maintenance Education Foundation (CMEF) will open up a new doorway for veterans to enter a career in construction, providing training for free.
CMEF will be offering a free jumpstart training course for veterans at Camp Hope in the beginning of summer 2015. This course will provide a Heavy Equipment Operators (HEO) certification. Director of Education Glen O’Mary said the demand for an equipment operator will make the certification more valuable, making it easier for veterans to begin their career in the construction industry. O’Mary, a veteran himself, said training in the military is very similar for training on the jobsite. There are parallels, he described, in the continuation of education and training, safety, procedures, hours and overall work.
“It can be a natural transition for the veterans entering the construction industry; they just need to acquire the proper certifications. We’re offering those classes for free because the certifications will benefit everyone, the industry and the individual,” O’Mary said.
Camp Hope will act as the class’ campus, a location graciously extended to CMEF by Founder & President Gene Birdwell of Camp Hope and President of G.R. Birdwell Construction. The opportunity of a certification is just a small fraction of what Camp Hope offers to veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Camp Hope’s mission is to help combat veterans and their families cope with post-traumatic stress. Many warriors are coming home with visible wounds; countless others are coming home with scars we cannot see, wounded souls from witnessing the horrors of war over and over again.
Camp Hope contains three housing facilities, an office building, a gym, a recreational building, a playground and a fire pit. They’ve had 115 residents since opening three years ago. Upon entering the campus, it’s clear that the work is not yet completed. There’s still room to double the housing initiative. In fact, Birdwell said they’re nearly clear to begin a two-story building for housing.
“We’re officially the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Foundation of America,” Birdwell said. “The reason we’re in business is because a friend told me the horrors of PTSD ten years ago. I had never heard just how bad it is. If a soldier is wounded, medicine can fix their body, but it can’t fix what’s inside. And we call it the deadliest wounds of war. We can’t cure them; we’re teaching them how to live with it. We teach the families how to help them live with it.”
Executive Director David Maulsby said they help individual residents find more productive coping skills, finding their “new normal”.
“So what we can say is that it’s a really dark forest, but there is a pathway out of that forest. We can help you find it. We can walk that path with you. There can be a positive purpose. It’s very empowering and getting through the process.”
A positive purpose could be beginning a new career. Camp Hope received donated machinery and decided that hosting a class on campus would offer a competitive advantage for many of their residents. CMEF and two other companies will be hosting classes for residents, veterans and others.
“We want to give them a skill when they leave so they can go out and get a job. We want to help them find a job, and if they don’t have skills we’ll help them get training. And [the industry] can’t get enough trained operators.”
Camp Hope Director of Operations Chuck Lightle is a veteran who, when asked whether he would’ve benefited from Camp Hope’s services, vehemently agreed.
“We hope to be able to provide continued therapy. They’re not finished after they’ve graduated. I’m 66 and I still battle my PTSD demons. What’s great about this program is no one will sit there and poke fun – a lot of us have walked in their shoes. I did not want to see these young men and women go through the same thing I went through in Vietnam. We didn’t get any help at all. We didn’t even get recognized as PTSD. I would’ve loved to have something like this,” Lightle said.
“We want to do right by the veteran’s coming home,” O’Mary said. “We have failed in the past to welcome them home with open arms. We’re hoping by offering an accessible career opportunity, veterans will have an easier transition home.”