Memorial Day is a time to remember, honor and reflect on those who died while serving this country in time of war. Georgians have been serving in the military since the first colonial militia was formed in 1733, 43 years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. While the struggle along the Georgia coast in 1733 bears little resemblance to the challenges America faces in the 21st century, the common thread through those 283 years is the soldier’s duty to protect and serve others. With no active draft, all of these men and women are volunteering to serve their country.
Duty is defined as a moral or legal obligation; a responsibility. Our gratitude for the service these extraordinary Americans give to our country is the foundation of our efforts and our goal to be among the nation’s most military-friendly states. In 2012, I created the Governor’s Defense Initiative to coordinate our state-based efforts and our Congressional delegation’s work in Washington. We want to make it clear that we mean what we say when it comes to unsurpassed support for our service personnel, their families, our veterans, Department of Defense (DoD) civilian employees, and military retiree.
Georgia is home to nine major defense installations, and has a population of soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and DoD civilian employees of more than 100,000. In every component, be it the active duty ranks, our National Guard and Reserves, or the civilian employees of the Department of Defense, Georgia-based units are operating with our forces and those of our allies at the “tip of the spear.” Georgia has 13,000 National Guardsmen in both Army and Air Guard who train close to home, but are frequently deployed worldwide to support federal missions.
Through our Defense Initiative, we are focusing our efforts in several ways. It goes without saying that the military installations and the companies who support them by contracting with the DoD are an economic engine for our state. In order to help strengthen these companies’ resistance to changes in DoD spending, the Georgia Department for Economic Development sought, and was awarded, two grants from the DoD Office of Economic adjustment. These grant awards formed the foundation for the GUARD initiative: to assist companies who perform DoD contract work to identify new opportunities while retaining and sustaining DoD contract-related jobs. The next phase of the GUARD initiative will facilitate strategic planning sessions in regions where, because of the large number of defense contractors, these communities are considered to be at an increased risk of being affected by potential DoD budget adjustments.
The increasingly challenging work of sustaining complex systems and equipment ranging from Trident nuclear submarines to Air Force jets and transport aircraft to armored combat vehicles requires a highly trained, skilled workforce applying the latest in technology and maintenance processes. In order to develop Georgia’s future workforce, I launched the High Demand Career Initiative in 2014 to listen to the needs of businesses and identify paths that will effectively train the skilled workforce they need for the future. Through the efforts of this program which include a military focus, individuals can now pursue post-secondary education in critical high demand positions.
Military spouses and transitioning service members sometimes have difficulty with in-state tuition and state licensing procedures as a result of their frequent changes of residence. Working with the General Assembly on the Military Spouses and Veterans Licensure Act allows these spouses and transitioning service members temporary licensure for those who come to the state fully licensed from another state. It also provides an expedited process to obtain that state’s license so that they can begin work without delay while they complete the license application in Georgia. Working with the Board of Regents and their Director of Military Affairs, we offer in-state tuition in Georgia to military personnel, their spouses, and their dependent children stationed in or assigned to Georgia on active duty. A unique benefit for those currently serving in the military is the University System of Georgia institutions’ ability to waive mandatory fees for military members utilizing tuition assistance.
Support for our military extends seamlessly to the veterans who call Georgia home. We have a growing presence of veterans in our state who contribute their leadership, skills, and talents to our companies and in our communities. Operation: Workforce is the state’s veteran and transitioning service member employment initiative, and currently has 6,886 veterans and 997 businesses registered. This program connects current and former service members with the workforce system, and at the same time, Georgia businesses with this skilled workforce. This is accomplished through partnerships with installations, chambers of commerce, our educational institutions, nonprofits, and veteran-centric groups, as well as extensive resources at www.OperationWorkforce.com.
The Georgia Institute of Technology’s highly successful VET² program is based in Savannah, and partners with industry leaders like Gulfstream Aerospace and JCB to provide both classroom and experiential learning experiences for transitioning service members. Georgia Tech and the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s Workforce division joined forces for VET² 101 which aims to quickly build a pipeline of highly qualified transitioning service members for Georgia businesses by taking the in-class portion of VET² and providing an online format in order to serve more veterans.
The University System of Georgia and Technical College System of Georgiajoined forces to develop the Georgia Veteran Education Career Transition Resource Center (VECTR) which will open this summer in Warner Robins. The 32,000-square-foot facility will serve as an academic and workforce gateway for veterans as they prepare for civilian employment and re-enter Georgia’s workforce and systems of higher education.
These and other initiatives are part of my administration’s ongoing commitment to ensuring that the resources of our state are applied effectively and continuously to support our military community. Congress and the Defense Department will be making decisions in the months and years ahead that will surely impact our bases, personnel and the Georgia companies that support them. Although the threat of future base closures and BRAC review is not likely until 2019 or beyond, we are working now to support the military missions, commands, and installations across our state to safeguard a prosperous future for our citizens
On this upcoming Memorial Day, as we honor those service men and women who died in war to keep us safe and secure, let us also remember our duty to our living service members.
*This opinion editorial was first published by the Atlanta Business Chronicle.