LEESBURG – After eight years as an Army Ranger, earning a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star and a sense of gratitude for having all his limbs intact, Casey Traxler didn’t know what to do next.
“When I was transitioning out [in 2010] I said, ‘Man, what am I gonna do now?’” Traxler told FedScoop News in an interview. “The skills I have now, there’s no civilian equivalency.”
Potential employers either asked Trexler about his medals or were wary of him. One woman, he said, asked whether he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“They think we’re a liability,” said the 34-year-old Minnesota native, the only one in his unit who suffered severe internal injuries and underwent 13 surgeries after getting hit by an explosive in Balad, Iraq.
He wanted a career, so he applied to become an SAP Software & Solutions certified application associate through NS2 Serves, a program that teaches him about top data management systems used by major corporations and will likely help him land him a high-paying job. To date, the program has graduated nearly 60 veterans, almost all of them landing jobs afterwards with a $60,000-a-year starting salary.
Traxler is one of about 22 veterans currently enrolled in the three-month course, which trains them in software solutions used by companies like Pepsi, contractors like Lockheed Martin and government agencies like the Department of Agriculture. They also get free life- and career-building skills, room and board, and meals at the National Conference Center, a 113-acre, maze-like campus that is part hotel, part convention center.
SAP NS2, an independent subsidiary of SAP that offers national security and software services, spends up to $35,000 per veteran for the intensive training and add-ons, company officials said.
On a recent day, Nicole Duffy, education practice manager for analytics at the software giant, was taking the students, ranging in age from 22 to 46, through data warehouse processes. She could have been speaking another language, but the vets all looked at her intently as they sat in rows of four or five, looking from their laptops to the projector.
Most were dressed in sharp business attire.
“When I teach a typical class [of non-veterans], I have people that come late or they’re on Facebook,” Duffy said later. “But these guys are totally dedicated. Somebody might be struggling, and nobody needs to tell anyone to help that person. It was such a refreshing view of the world.
“When they say no man left behind, they mean it,” she added.
Marvin Rodriguez, who goes by his middle name, Noel, said he would likely still be transporting hazmat materials in a truck if he were not in this program. The 28-year-old was a cargo specialist in the Army for three years, “which is a fancy name for a forklift operator,” he said.
“This program offered me the opportunity to not only get certified in a field that’s in very high demand, but also to give you hands-on training,” said the Bronx, New York native. “That’s what brought me here.”
He admitted that he had to make a bit of a mental leap to understand the software and programming.
“This is the most complicated program that I’ve ever been in,” he said. “It’s frustrating, but you’re the only person getting in the way of yourself.”
For Alpha Germain, 31, picking up highly technical skills in this course – which typically costs a few thousand dollars – means she can finally reunite with her 8-year-old daughter, Daliyah, who is living in Florida with Germain’s aunt.
The Air Force reservist started crying as she talked about the struggle to support her daughter on a measly salary as a transportation specialist at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
“There is no growth there at all for me,” she said. “You can’t get promoted unless someone dies or retires.”
Germain left Florida and her daughter for Virginia, where she stayed at a friend’s house for several months. The chaplain in her reserve unit told her about NS2 Serve’s program for vets, and she applied.
“I was like, ‘God just answered my prayers,’” she said.
Germain plans to reunite with her daughter on the graduation day, Nov. 20, when she gets her certification.
“I’m hoping to take care of my child without any help, and to never have to leave her for that long again because I can’t take care of her,” she said.
Correction: Sept. 21, 2015 — Due to outdated information from SAP NS2 Serves, an earlier version of this article mis-stated the current cost of the training program. It is up to $35,000 per veteran, not $55,000.
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @clestch.