The military has a tight hold on Oklahoma’s heartstrings. Governor Fallin’s first official act after being sworn in on January 10th was to recognize the cost of Freedom to Oklahoma and to thank our veterans and active duty military men and women for their service and sacrifice. Exactly ten months later, on Veterans Day, she was joined in those sentiments by Oklahomans from all across the state.
When we think of the contributions of military personnel and veterans to the state of Oklahoma, many times we think of their service overseas. Oklahoma is home to multiple generations of brave men and women who have left their families and homes and risked their lives to keep their loved ones safe and defend freedom both here and abroad. Many have made the ultimate sacrifice for those causes.
But one contribution that should not be overlooked is the enormous boon the military represents for Oklahoma’s economy and the economies of so many local communities. Oklahoma’s five major military installations support a total of 133,800 jobs statewide and add a total of over $9.6 billion in the state’s GDP.
With that said, it’s clear the military in Oklahoma touches more than just our heart; it also touches our pocketbook. As Governor Fallin has said many times, her number one priority is to help create jobs. As the numbers show, the military creates a great many of them. It also creates a workforce that is highly dedicated, trained and skilled. We have pilots, engineers, medics, truck drivers and a host of other vocations within the military with direct applications to the private sector.
Governor Fallin recognizes the direct relationship between the military and the cultivation of our private sector workforce, as veterans leave the military to seek out specialized work in the private sector. That’s why I am especially excited to report two new initiatives that recognize the unique relationship between the military and workforce needs in Oklahoma that will ultimately help both our veterans and the state economy.
OK Career Tech Helps Returning Warriors: The Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education will be the first in the nation to develop a system to give civilian credentials for military training and skills. For example, Oklahoma desperately needs 800 heavy truck drivers. Some military personnel have hundreds of hours of experience driving vehicles with similar weight and size specifications as their civilian truck counterparts.
When our newly released military veterans return from duty, Oklahoma CareerTech will be ready to help provide certificates recognized by civilian employers and connect them with jobs matching their unique skill sets. Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT), jet engine mechanics and a number of other skilled military employees can benefit from this new initiative, which Career Tech hopes to launch in partnership with the private sector and other government agencies by Spring of 2012. This will be a boon for our state’s economy and a way to connect our vets with good, high paying jobs. Dr. Phil Berkenbile, Director of Oklahoma Career Technology, has been a leader on this issue and should be applauded for his efforts.
VeteransCentral.com: VeteransCentral.com is a new way for veterans to find each other and every service that is offered to veterans locally and nationally. It’s also a great way for employers and potential employees in the veterans community to connect and find appropriate jobs for their skill-set. VeteransCentral was designed by an OU graduate and functions as a national social network for veterans. Oklahoma will take the lead in testing this new site, which will be launched in the last week of November 2011.
Both the VeteransCentral initiative and the Career Tech Returning Warriors program are good examples of how private citizens, businesses and the public sector can work together to reach out and help our veterans in Oklahoma. These two initiatives are just some of the many things we are doing as a state to show our support for the military community.
Please thank those who have given so much to keep our nation free, our state prosperous, and our hearts mindful of the real cost of freedom. Then let’s move forward with initiatives to support those who served us!
About the author:
General Rita Aragon is Oklahoma’s Secretary of Veterans Affairs and may be reached at Secretary@odva.state.ok.us. Your mail is especially welcome if you have ideas of ways to better support veterans in Oklahoma.