Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo
Supporting Idaho servicemen and women during their transition from military service back to civilian life is a meaningful way to help launch these dedicated men and women into the next phase of their lives to Idaho’s great benefit. I have been a longtime advocate for more seamlessly connecting military servicemembers with Idaho employers. The recently enacted Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) takes a big step in achieving this goal by permanently authorizing the SkillBridge program, which offers servicemembers in their initial stages of separation from the military the opportunity to gain experience in a career field of their interest. In Idaho, where the issue of workforce retention and recruitment has been a topic for years, SkillBridge also gives employers an opportunity to recruit from a gifted and committed pool of our citizenry.
SkillBridge connects servicemembers with industry partners through real-world job experience during their last 180 days of service. As described on the SkillBridge website (skillbridge.osd.mil), “SkillBridge matches civilian opportunities to your job training and work experience at the end of your military duty.” And the SkillBridge program enables employers to “tap into the expertise” of former servicemembers.
The SkillBridge program has grown exponentially over the last three years. In 2019, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) had approximately 150 SkillBridge partner employers, and that number grew to more than 2,500 in 2022. Mountain Home Air Force Base has accelerated use of SkillBridge, especially as opportunities for local use of the program increase.
Major Matthew Martinez, a Weapons System Officer on the F-15Es at Mountain Home Air Force Base, recently wrapped up a more than 20-year military career and set up the SkillBridge program with Silverhawk Aviation Academy that he been utilizing to help ease the transition into the civilian workforce. Maj. Martinez wrote, “SkillBridge allows servicemembers to train and work with civilian companies to learn new skills/trades while still receiving all their normal military benefits. For myself, the peace of mind this has provided is invaluable. I can focus on learning a new job without worrying about how the bills are going to get paid at the end of each month. Moreover, at the end of the program, I have a job already set up that I can seamlessly transition into while continuing to earn income. As for Silverhawk Aviation Academy (or any SkillBridge business for that matter), they get access to a new source of highly trained, reliable veteran employees. I strongly encourage any military member who is thinking about leaving, and who isn't quite sure what they're going to do when they get out, to look into companies that have SkillBridge programs set up.”
In addition to permanent authorization for the DOD SkillBridge program, the FY 2023 NDAA:
Working with fellow U.S. Senator for Idaho Jim Risch and others to successfully enact these and other provisions that support servicemembers and their families was a needed part of fulfilling Congress’s constitutional duty to “provide for the common defense.” Idaho is made even greater by the more than 116,000 veterans, the 4,063 active-duty servicemembers and the 8,367 National Guard and Reserve members who live here. Permanency of the SkillBridge program can make it easier for them to live and thrive here in Idaho. I look forward to the future growth of this partnership program for the benefit of Idaho servicemembers, military families, employers and Idaho’s economy.
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