Katie Peterson | Staff Writer

Twenty-six service members graduated from the 2018 Hiring Our Heroes Corporate Fellowship Program during a ceremony April 12 in Marshall Lecture Hall of the Lewis and Clark Center.

“It’s a process,” said Ursla McCarthy, program manager for Fort Leavenworth. “It can be quite intimidating and scary for these service members to leave a career when sometimes that’s all they’ve ever known. Finding where they fit, that’s a big part of this journey.”

The 12-week Corporate Fellowship Program, sponsored by the Hiring Our Heroes U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, allows transitioning soldiers within 180 days of separating from the Army to gain experience in the corporate business world through internships in hopes of providing a smoother transition into the civilian world. Of the 26 fellows who graduated, 86 percent were offered jobs with their host companies and 77 percent accepted.

Garrison Commander Col. Marne Sutten said the transition process is different for each individual, making the program a key component in finding the right place.

“This program is the perfect transition for service members as they choose new and exciting paths for their families and choose to go to new and exciting businesses and locations,” Sutten said. “This is what we should be providing to our vets — a great program that gives them a great opportunity.”

Sutten said the companies benefit, too.

“When service members choose the companies and the companies choose them, what they get is somebody that will be on time at work, understands the importance of being loyal to an organization, understands hard work,” she said. “(These service members) have been deployed around the world and served their country and they are a perfect fit for any organization.”

Kansas Secretary of Labor Lana Gordon served as guest speaker.

“I commend you for participating in the Hiring Our Heroes program to help with the transition from military duty to civilian service and utilize skills from experiences that can be applied to a new job,” she said. “Although we may not realize it at the time, each step that we take along our journey through life helps prepare us for what lies ahead.”

Gordon said she’s had experience transitioning from one job to another throughout her life, causing her to be unsure if she would be able to do well in each new position. Her positions have included teaching third grade, running a janitorial business with her husband and his family, serving as president of the Junior League of Topeka and serving a term in the Kansas House of Representatives.

“Each time I have been challenged to learn something new, I’ve had to overcome a fear of not knowing enough about the job — essentially, a fear of failure,” she said. “However, once into the job, I realized that optimal learning is from on-the-job training much like in Hiring Our Heroes.”

Gordon said with the fellowship program, the graduates have no reason to fear failure.

“You have each been offered a unique learning experience designed to prepare you for your specific new job,” she said. “Combined with your previous life experiences, you are equipped for the new roles you may be asked to fill as you continue your journey. With your skills, you have no reason to fear the unknown.”

CFP Class leader Lt. Col. Todd Alston, deputy chief of operations for Operations Group Sierra, Mission Command Training Program, who will join Georgia-Pacific Corporation, also addressed the cohort.

“During our tenure, we learned a great deal about ourselves, the fear of doing something new and fitting into unchartered land,” Alston said. “The first thing we had to tell ourselves is ‘I don’t know it all anymore. I am no longer a mentor as I step into a new career and I definitely speak another language.’”

Alston said the transition will be a challenge but that perseverance is the key.

“Over time, sparks will fly lighting the path you need to navigate the strange and interesting new landscape,” he said. “I urge you to let things happen and those things will happen if we’re taking care of our self. Take a step back, look at the ground around you. Initially, you’ll see a fractured landscape. Over time, this landscape forms an intriguing puzzle that needs time and reflection to build.”

Several of the fellows shared words of reflection on their time in the program with Alston that he then shared in his speech. One such reflection was from Capt. Stephanie Rodriguez, Medical Department Activity, who interned with Cerner.

“My time at Cerner has been very rewarding,” he quoted. “My manager and coworkers were very appreciative of my military service and medical experience. The bond that I created with the team will forever remain in my heart.”

Sgt. Eric Wentworth, Fort Riley, Kan., who interned with Aramark Uniform Services, said he was able to experience roles of several managers and team members at Aramark, Alston said.

“I have taken so many lessons from my experience that it’s sure to follow me through my future endeavors,” Alston quoted.

Staff Sgt. Oscar Guevara, 500th Military Police Detachment, Special Troops Battalion, said the fellowship and his time with The Rucker Group – RE/MAX 1st Choice calmed his fears.

“(They) made me not scared to transition,” Alston quoted. “I owe everything to this fellowship program.”

Alston told the fellows to always be themselves and learn from those around them.

“Be true to yourself, have a plan, involve your family and map all the roads you can. The one crossroad you forgot to map may be the path to something you have always been looking for,” he said.

“Engage with others on the team. You will find that most are good, hardworking people who value guiding principles in life. Learn from them, value their input and craft it into your DNA.

“Use your colleagues and families as sounding boards as they probably know you best,” he said. “Run with the opportunity given to you and do a good job, and I will see you on the high ground.”

The Hiring Our Heroes Corporate Fellowship Program is taking applications for the second and third cohort of 2018. Selection for the program is competitive but placement rates average 80 percent per cohort. For information, visit https://www.uschamberfoundation.org/corporate-fellowship-program-0, call 684-8999 or attend the informational briefing at noon on Mondays in room 277 of the Resiliency Center, 600 Thomas Ave.