VIPER teaches veterans job skills, while aiming to help reduce suicides
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - A veteran-run workforce training program has announced a new career program for aircraft maintenance that will be run at the airport in Anchorage, with the goal of giving veterans more chances to succeed after leaving the military.
It’s not been an easy time lately for David Hyde.
“I’ve had seven veterans that I know personally in the last six months commit suicide,” said Hyde, who admitted he thought about suicide after he came home from a deployment to Afghanistan.
He retired in 2015 after four years as a mechanic in the Marine Corps. These days find Hyde with a renewed purpose, as he pursues a career in aviation maintenance with VIPER Transitions, which stands for Veteran Internships Providing Employment Readiness.
“That really is the biggest downfall for vets getting out of the military,” said VIPER President Kyle Kaiser, who created the program in 2018 to reduce suicides among veterans. “You come in thinking you’re going to have a smooth transition to the civilian world. It’s just not there.”
According to the 2019 numbers from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 25 veterans committed suicide around Alaska that year. According to a National Veteran Suicide Prevention annual report from the department, that’s 399 fewer compared to 2018. Still, 6,261 veterans nationwide took their own lives in 2019, the report found.
In partnership with AAR Corp., an aviation company, VIPER now trains veterans for careers in aircraft maintenance, and as electricians. According to a press release from VIPER, the program will be conducted in a hangar at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport until it finds a permanent home. The first cohort of 10-15 students is slated to begin in May.
They use a DC-3, a propeller-driven plane used in the 1930s and ‘40s and World War II, donated by actor, producer and President of Peter Pan Seafood Company Rodger May.
“You take a look at what they stand for, and what they’ve through and sacrifices they made,” May said. “It was an opportunity that ... we could not say no to.”
Kaiser said he enrolled in the U.S. Army shortly after the 9/11 Attacks. He served seven years as an infantryman and sniper. Kaiser admitted his service took a toll on him emotionally, but, he never considered suicide.
“I lost one of my friends that I served with to suicide,” Kaiser said, as he also created VIPER to give veterans a place to share their experiences. “A lot of times you might talk to a counselor that maybe has never been in your shoes, and you don’t feel like you can connect with them.”
Kaiser aims to give veterans a place to do that, while training for a new career.
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