By 2nd Lt. Darren Domingo, 50th Space Wing Public Affairs
/ Published December 07, 2015
SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- For a service member planning on retiring or separating, the next step can sometimes be a scary ordeal.
There are those however, whose passions include helping their brothers and sisters in arms make the transition from uniformed life to the civilian sector a successful one.
Chief Master Sgt. Alexander Hall, 50th Network Operations Group superintendent, and Chief Master Sgt. Charles Campbell, pioneered VetSuccess, an initiative that assists veterans in the information technology career field find meaningful jobs after separating from the Air Force. Their work earned them the 2015 SANS "Difference Makers" award.
"Earning this award is a huge honor, wholly unexpected, and I'm really excited to be recognized by such an illustrious group." said Hall. "But I didn't get into this to win an award, I got into this because I'm passionate about the talent and experience we gain from our military service and I want Air Force veterans to be successful. If you've served honorably for a significant part of your life, you deserve success on the outside - VetSuccess is a small way to give back to those who've made sacrifices serving in the uniform."
The SANS Institute provides information security training and security certifications through classes and training forums throughout the U.S. and internationally.
According to www.sans.org, "Since 2011, SANS has been celebrating those 'Difference Makers' whose innovation, skill and hard work have resulted in real increases in information security."
The "Difference Makers" award recognizes people who've changed the realm of cyber security-whether it's re-writing code, developing better processes to manage security and programs or improving the IT workforce the latter being where Hall and Campbell earned recognition for their VetSuccess initiative.
Before VetSuccess' current achievements, its roots could be traced back to an encounter at the White House.
Before arriving at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado, Hall's previous assignment was a cyber support assistant career field manager at the Pentagon.
On a normal workday, Hall's supervisor asked him if he would speak at the White House on behalf of veterans for the Joining Forces Initiative-a movement that supports service members, veterans and their families throughout their lives in the public and private sectors. Hall shrugged his shoulders and responded, "Why not?"
It was shortly after that moment, Hall had the chance to speak with the First Lady Michelle Obama and industry leaders about hiring veterans.
After the speaking engagement and a few months of networking, Hall met Alan Paller, SANS Institute chief executive officer who offered an opportunity to partner with SANS to offer future Air Force IT veterans a smooth transition to the civilian workforce.
Thus, VetSuccess was born.
"The initial plan was that SANS would provide training to a small cohort of veterans," said Hall. "SANS has various industry standard certifications; they would provide 2-3 certification exams free of charge, and would introduce folks who made it successfully through the process to employers who hire people based on successfully completing the SANS [certifications]. Mr. Paller proposed the idea; 'We've got several certifications,' and asked, 'Can you get us some veterans?'"
Hall found Air Force IT personnel who were either separating or retiring, had certain levels of education or experience and who would be strong candidates. Finding approximately 600 people, he personally emailed all of them.
"I said 'I know you're leaving the Air Force soon, are you interested in giving this [program] a shot?'" said Hall. "[There's] no cost to you, and if you're successful, you're going to get a job."
Eventually, the first pilot group to spearhead VetSuccess was assembled-nine Airmen in total. All passed with flying colors. In fact, one scored higher than the original writers of the SANS certification exam.
"SANS hired that individual almost immediately," Hall laughed. "He did so well. He was a staff sergeant with eight years of experience in the Air Force."
The success of VetSuccess has only flourished to this day. During the last training cohort, every successful participant was negotiating for jobs making $70,000 to $120,000, just four months after leaving the service.
"I know that IT veterans have all the things that the industry wants, what we're missing though, is the opportunity to put ourselves on display," explained Hall. "That's what VetSuccess allows us to do-we go through industry standards, to show ourselves off. Through this training we have proven that we know everything that our civilian counterparts know, and the IT industry is ready to hire us now."
Besides having the technical forte to be eligible for competitive IT positions, Airmen bring something extra to the table-leadership.
"That leadership piece is what the industry is really hungry for," said Hall. "We can train most anybody to be an IT professional, but who leads IT professionals? In more cases than not, military members have those skillsets."
Through Hall and Campbell's partnership with SANS, VetSuccess is expanding to have five more cohorts in the future.
Hall explained he was proud to have earned the "Difference Maker" award with Campbell, yet grateful for the opportunity to help his fellow Airmen.
For anyone who is separating from the military and has no idea what to do next, Hall explained those are the people he loves to engage.
"I can give you five different things you can do tomorrow that can change your professional life, if you're willing to invest the time," said Hall.
For more information on the VetSuccess program, or any of the Joining Forces initiatives, contact Hall.