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SkillBridge aids transition to civilian life for separating service members

The Department of Defense SkillBridge program offers separating service members with opportunities to complete apprenticeships or internships with civilian organizations up to six months before their separation. More than 500 companies participate in the program. (U.S. Space Force graphic by Michael Frye)

The Department of Defense SkillBridge program offers separating service members with opportunities to complete apprenticeships or internships with civilian organizations up to six months before their separation. More than 500 companies participate in the program. (U.S. Space Force graphic by Michael Frye)

PATRICK SPACE FORCE BASE, Fla. – Would you like to work for a civilian organization for up to six months prior to your separation from the armed services at the government’s expense?

If you answered yes to that question, then you may want to look into the Department of Defense SkillBridge program. The program provides separating service members with opportunities to gain civilian work experience through industry training, apprenticeships or internships during the last 180 days of their service.

“SkillBridge is a great opportunity for organizations,” said Mark Watford, 45th Force Support Squadron chief of education and training. “The companies are not paying anything to participate in the program and the program gives businesses the opportunity to decide if the service member they are working with is someone they want to offer a position.”

The program also offers several benefits for service members, Watford said.

“It gives them a head start and allows them to begin their transition to the civilian world,” he said. “It also allows them the time necessary to acclimate to the civilian business world. That process can take up to six months. This program allows service members an opportunity to get familiar with the people they’ll be working with and learn the business practices of organizations. This often leads to many SkillBridge participants being hired in full-time positions.”

As of Aug. 18, 2021, 90 Airmen and Guardians at Patrick Space Force Base and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida, have participated in the SkillBridge program. Those individuals completed apprenticeships and internships in 14 states including Washington and New York.

According to the DOD SkillBridge website, more than 500 companies across the United States are approved to participate in the SkillBridge program. While service members work with civilian companies and organizations, they continue to receive their full military pay, along with all their benefits and entitlements.

Service members can apply for the SkillBridge program up to a year from their date of separation. Those who are approved by their commanders for program participation, are granted up to six months of permissive temporary duty to focus on training full-time with approved industry partners.

U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. John Quinley, 45th Security Forces Squadron operations superintendent, who hails from Niceville, Florida, began a SkillBridge internship with the Walton County Tax Collector in DeFuniak Springs, Florida, on Aug. 16.

“I knew I wanted to work for Walton County but all I’ve ever known has been the military,” Quinely said. “The SkillBridge program helped me figure things out. I had to submit a resume, application, background check and complete an interview for this position.”

After more than two decades in the Air Force, Quinley now finds himself assisting Florida residents file paperwork for their property taxes, vehicle registrations, weapon permits and driver’s licenses.

He said the transition to working in the civilian community has been interesting and that he is thankful for the support he received from Watford along his journey to Walton County.

“I feared the unknown and needed to ensure I could find something with a steady paycheck so I could provide for my family,” Quinley said. “The civilian workforce is much different than that of the military. It’s a different culture and it takes time to get used to that. Any time I had a question Mr. Watford was on the spot with the information I needed. He is amazing.”

Quinley encourages service members take advantage of the SkillBridge program and start their application process early.

“Transitioning service members should research the program and find something they’re interested in and pursue that, but they should start the process early,” Quinley said. “You may have to submit a resume, application, background check and complete an interview like I did and that will take time. Prepare for this as you would prepare for a job.”

To participate in the SkillBridge program, service members must have 180 days of service or fewer remaining prior to their date of separation and they must have at least 180 continuous days of active service. They must also obtain approval from their unit commander and understand that their internship or apprenticeship could be terminated at any moment due to mission requirements.

For more information about the SkillBridge program, contact the Patrick SFB Education and Training Office at 321-494-2071. Inquiries can also be submitted by email at 45fssdph@us.af.mil. Additional information can be found on the SkillBridge website at https://dodskillbridge.usalearning.gov/.