Tate, fellow veterans, make transition from war to work

Photo/Tim Bradner/AJOC

Not long ago, Joe Tate was in Afghanistan and Iraq wielding a 50-caliber machine gun. Now he’s welding steel at ExxonMobil’s big Point Thomson project on the North Slope.

He’s pretty happy about it. Instead of shooting at bad guys — and them shooting at him — Tate is helping build something that’s pretty big, phase one of a possible $50 billion-plus Alaska gas project, and working for CH2M Hill, a major North Slope oil service company.

Tate took a medical retirement from the U.S. Air Force in April after multiple deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is a holder of a Purple Heart and Bronze Star.

In the Air Force, Tate was an equipment operator but once on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan he did combat escort, manning a machine gun while escorting convoys that sometimes came under fire.

Tate returned to Alaska, the place he wanted to live after serving at Elmendorf Air Force Base, and was able to take advantage of special training to help veterans, particularly those who were wounded, make a transition back to civilian live.

The training is actually provided by firms or institutions, in Tate’s case Northern Industrial Training in Palmer, and funded with federal grants coordinated through the state Department of Labor, and employers monitor the progress of prospective employees.

“We’re very pleased to hire veterans, first in appreciation for their service but secondly because they make very good employees,” said Tom Maloney, Alaska Area Manager for CH2M Hill.

“They are mature and disciplined, and many are familiar with working in remote locations. Many are also used to periodic rotations to field assignments which are the norm for North Slope jobs and many military assignments.”

At Point Thomson, Tate will work a four-and-two schedule, a month on with two weeks off. It is a typical North Slope construction schedule.

Tate is part of a group of 15 veterans and one dependent of a qualified veteran who were hired by CH2M Hill after successfully completing the training, according to Sara Gould, the company’s staffing resource manager for its work on the Point Thomson project.

The group includes two pipe welders, of which Tate is one, four pipefitters, one driver/equipment operator, and nine carpenters and skilled laborers, Gould said.

Trainees applied to CH2M Hill for the jobs and were then placed in the training. All those who successfully completed the courses were hired, she said.

Two groups helped the company find veterans with the right qualifications for the jobs, “Hero to Hired,” a program for veterans operated by the Alaska National Guard, and “Alaska Human Hearts,” a nonprofit that help wounded veterans find jobs.

“The training is valuable in helping veterans bridge the gap between their military skills and skills they will need in civilian jobs,” Gould said.

In Tate’s case, the training provided a valuable upgrade to skills acquired in the Air Force. Manning a 50-caliber might not be a skill transferable to many civilian occupations, but vehicle operation would be. But welding was better, Tate said.

“Once I got into the training I found I liked it, and I was good at it. If I hadn’t been able to do this I would probably have wound up being a truck driver,” he said.

Welding also pays better, and that was important given that Tate was down to his last $67 by the time he went on CH2M Hill’s payroll, after completing the training.

“I sold my motorcycle to help pay some of my expenses,” he said.

Gould said that while these new recruits will be working in CH2M Hill’s construction support division, many who work on the construction projects are able to supplement the company’s North Slope operations support when the construction projects are complete.

But there are many who just prefer working on in construction because of the periodic time off between jobs, she said.

CH2M Hill has previously offered training, also supported by the state Department of Labor, as part of an effort to recruit employees from rural communities, but the most recent program was aimed solely at veterans.

“This was dedicated training for people who had served in some of the most dangerous places in the world,” Maloney said.

“We believe, with the voters’ recent rejection of Ballot Proposition One, that there will be a lot more drilling and other projects. It’s very positive for the oil and gas industry, and for LNG. We’re finding that previously deployed military are an outstanding source of people with the right kinds of training to meet our workforce needs.”

11/22/2016 - 3:37pm