About 15 minutes north of the Clarksville, Tenn. regional airport, on Kentucky’s southern border, is the sprawling Army base of Fort Campbell, one of the largest army installations in the world. More than 30,000 active duty military service members call the base home, including the 101st Airborne Division, a light infantry division, specializing in air assault operations and made famous by Saving Private Ryan, Hamburger Hill and Band of Brothers.

Wes Wood, program director of INvets, Conexus Indiana’s initiative focused on recruiting veterans to live and work in Indiana, says the size and impact of Fort Campbell and the 101st Airborne Division are two of the primary reasons that he suggested the base for a recent delegation visit from Indiana public sector and industry leaders.

“Within a two-hour drive of Indiana, we have a huge population of active duty service members with valuable leadership and technical skills leaving the military each year,” says Wood. “I thought a visit would bring to life the complexities of what service members do on a daily basis and the struggles they face translating those experiences into a civilian career.”

In December 2018, Indiana Lt. Governor Suzanne Crouch led a group, organized by Wood and including executives from Honda, Rolls-Royce, ArcelorMittal and other Indiana employers on a trip to interact with active duty units on Fort Campbell to see for themselves how a wide variety of military personnel can provide value within Hoosier companies.

The trip started with a presentation from Deputy Garrison Commander Jon Hunter to give an overview of the basics about the post, what they do there, the scale and how it functions. Hunter emphasized the value of public private partnerships in helping to provide an education about the type of opportunities available to the 5,000+ veterans leaving the service each year at Fort Campbell.

From there the Indiana delegation heard from 5th Special Forces Group that also calls Fort Campbell home. This included a presentation followed by informal discussions with an Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) which is a twelve-person team of special force members who can serve a variety of roles. This elite group of military showcased equipment and provided the delegation a walk-through of what their specialized skills include.

The group then heard from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, an elite aviation unit based at Fort Campbell that provides helicopter support for special operations forces from all branches of the military throughout the world.

Lunch was served in the military dining facility where the Acting Commanding General of the 101st Airborne joined them, as well as a number of senior military leaders, each in charge of about 1,000-person teams.

The afternoon included time with a 101st infantry platoon that was preparing to deploy to Iraq. The platoon allowed the Indiana delegation to participate in a “Call for Fire” exercise which simulates the process of calling for, and adjusting, artillery support. The young team who was about to be deployed explained the simulation and process to the Indiana delegation in small groups.

The day concluded with a visit to the Transition Assistance Program where all service members participate in employment workshops as they prepare to leave the military. This center is where Wood and the INvets team regularly visits to interact with transitioning service members each month. A female logistics officer and her husband, a marine, who are in the process of relocating to Indiana, shared their experience of trying to find careers after leaving the military.

The trip proved to be a useful exercise for the industry representatives. Andrew Baker of Rolls-Royce commented, “Rolls-Royce was honored to support the INvets initiative and participate in the trip to witness first-hand the amazing experiences, skills and capabilities our veterans possess. This program and the associated activities really helps build effective relationships between industry and the military and deliver a pipeline of highly-skilled talent.”

Wood plans to organize another similar trip in 2019. If you are interested in learning more about the work of INvets, please contact Wood at wwood@conexusindiana.com.