By T. Anthony Bell, Fort Lee Public Affairs

FORT LEE, Va. – Sgt. 1st Class Kevin Correa is an advanced individual training platoon sergeant nearing the end of his Army career and embarking on the next chapter of his life.

That brought him to the Fort Lee Job Fair that occurred July 23 at the Regimental Club, where he explored job and career opportunities among more than 65 companies, government agencies and educational institutions and provided company representatives the opportunity to meet him in person.

“It’s a pretty interesting situation here,” Correa said, standing alongside Sgt. 1st Class Kevin Brooks and voicing himself just above the loud background chatter present in the facility’s main ballroom. “You have all these companies giving us the benefit of seeing them in one place. It’s like a shortcut, more or less.”

The shortcut, provided through the installation’s Soldier for Life transition program, is the means to provide employers the brick-and-mortar opportunity to meet military, family members and civilians directly as an alternative to the online job search. It was a resounding success, Jasmine Byrne said, Soldier for Life transition assistance service specialist.

“It think it went so well,” she said, beaming about the turnout and energy present among the employers and job searchers. “I am just overwhelmed with all of the companies that showed up.”

Soldier for Life registered 67 companies, but an additional eight appeared unexpectedly, Byrne said. “It went very well,” she said. “We had great participation from our military members and civilians and a lot of spouses showed up, too.”

At around noon, more than 350 people had walked through the door for the four-hour event and more was expected, Byrne said.

The atmosphere was “bubbly,” Byrne said, and company representatives seemed positive, enthusiastic and more than willing to look at resumes and dispense job searching advice at booths and tables adorned with company displays, pamphlets and giveaways. A mix of military members in uniform and civilians in suits and business wear completed a bustling, fast-moving scene.

Sgt. Dominik Wilson, a local native and transitioning Marine who was stationed at Camp Lejuene, N.C., said he came to the fair on the advice of a relative. Clad in a suit and sporting a portfolio, he talked with representatives and handed out copies of his resume. He said interacting with company representatives can only increase his chances of landing a job.

“It’s how you start to network,” he said. “That’s how most of the jobs are done anyway, through networking.”

Job fairs, Byrne said, are a great first step for transitioning military members, who may be regimented to military life to such extent they lack the wherewithal to effectively tackle the transition experience.

“Now, all of a sudden they are retiring or leaving service and they don’t know what to do,”  Byrne said

“They didn’t know resumes have to be written a certain way and military terminology doesn’t make sense to a civilian company. What we’re providing here is all the tools they may need – the workshops, the companies, the points of contacts – to be successful out in the civilian world.”

The job fair was quite fruitful for Brooks. He said he gained a lot of information and a greater sense of what’s needed to start his second career when he retires in 18 months.

“This is the best thing going for Soldiers transitioning out of the military,” he said.

Soldier for Life is a portal program that provides mentoring opportunities, job search assistance and a number of other features meant to make career transitions smoother.

The program looms even larger on the heels of a drawdown expected to reduce military and civilian positions by the thousands. It manages six job fairs a year. This one is the only such event that is free and open to the public.