Nonprofit offers essential job training opportunities to military members transitioning out of active duty

Outside the Gates: Kyle Kaiser started Viper Transitions after dealing with his own struggles leaving the Army in 2011
Kyle Kaiser started Viper Transitions after dealing with his own struggles leaving the Army in 2011
Published: Oct. 6, 2022 at 8:58 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Inside the NECA-IBEW Electrical Training Center off Potter Drive, active-duty military members work toward obtaining the skills they need to become certified electrical workers. It’s under the umbrella of the Veteran Electrical Entry Program (VEEP), a program Army Veteran Kyle Kaiser helped bring to life.

“I had lost one of my soldiers from Afghanistan to suicide and it really shook me. I was upset and angry,” Kaiser said. “How did I find my way into an apprenticeship, become a journeyman electrician, and have the career path that I did but, you know, he didn’t.”

Getting VEEP off the ground inspired Kaiser to expand on transitional training opportunities, leading him to start the nonprofit organization VIPER Transitions. It’s designed to help soon-to-be, and current, veterans navigate the process of returning to civilian life by providing them with training opportunities in a trades career field they’re interested in.

“I think the biggest misconception people have is that you step out of the military, you walk right into your next job,” Kaiser said. “The owner is all about the military and super patriotic and great, but it doesn’t mean he’s gonna hire me as an infantry guy with no skills for doing what he needs done.”

Kaiser struggled with his own transition out of the Army in 2011. His VA benefits didn’t kick in right away and he got to the point where he, his wife, and their newborn baby were on the brink of being homeless when he reached out to Senator Lisa Murkowski. Thankfully, Murkowski was able to push his disability rating through, though she admits it shouldn’t have to be this way.

“At the end of the day, that veteran that you’re working for deserves to have his or her benefits that they have earned and deserves to have them in a timely manner,” Murkowski said.

“It shouldn’t have to take an act of congress — literally — to get your benefits, and sometimes I think that’s the way it feels for our veterans.”

While servicemembers cut pipes and pull wires at the training facility, across town on Merrill Field, Marine Corps Veteran Neal Hambleton is checking the spark plugs on an aircraft inside the hangar of Pratt Aviation Services. Hambleton is working as an apprentice to get his Airframe and Powerplant certification.

“The trades seem to be where a lot of veterans end up going, just because it’s more comfortable for us,” Hambleton said.

“Metal workers, iron workers, welders, carpenters - lot of veterans - because we can just kind of be ourselves.”

Neal Hambleton - a Marine Corps Veteran - works on an aircraft as part of his apprenticeship at...
Neal Hambleton - a Marine Corps Veteran - works on an aircraft as part of his apprenticeship at Pratt Aviation Services on Merrill Field.(AKNS)

Hambleton left the Marine Corps in 2012. He worked in law enforcement for a while, but it felt more like something he was supposed to do instead of something he wanted.

“I was Amphibious Assault,” Hambleton stated. “There’s not a huge market for that in the civilian world.”

It wasn’t until joining aviation through Kaiser’s organization that Hambleton found a career path he could see himself in long term. VIPER Transitions connected with John Pratt, President of Pratt Aviation Services, and a Vietnam Veteran himself.

“Veterans are a resource that are seldom totally used,” Pratt said.

“What people look for when you’re looking for someone to work for you, you look for integrity, you look for people who are willing to learn, you look for all those sorts of things — the things that make a good employee — and I find that veterans do that.”

Pratt has guided a number of veterans already through work opportunities in his hangar.

“The thing that is important to me is they’ve had the chance,” Pratt said.

It’s a chance Kaiser is committed to giving active-duty military members, by training them during their last days in so they’re set up with a successful career opportunity once they’re out.

“When you get out of the military everything, everything changes about your life. You go from knowing exactly what you’re going to get paid every two weeks to nothing,” Kaiser said.

“When they transition out and they step into that job, there’s no surprises. You know what you’re getting into, you know what the career is, you know what the benefits are, you know what you’re gonna get paid — you can plan for life.”