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When It’s Time to Hang Up the Uniform, Veterans Get the ‘Reboot’

NATIONAL VETERANS TRANSITION SERVICES INC.

Chairman/CEO: Ronne Froman.

President/executive director: Maurice Wilson.

Annual budget: $500,000 for 2010-2011; $2.4 million for 2011-2012.

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No. of paid staff: Five.

No. of volunteers: Eight to 10.

Headquarters: Mission Valley.

Year founded: 2010.

Mission of organization: Helping with military to civilian transition.

Talk about bootstrapping …

The Reboot Workshop, an innovative program launched by former “Navy mayor” Ronne Froman and retired Navy Master Chief Maurice Wilson to help veterans ease back into civilian life, is expanding.

National Veterans Transition Services Inc., which oversees the three-week workshops, is growing from $500,000 this fiscal year to $2.4 million next fiscal year to finance the next step toward a national rollout.

Since January 2010, Froman, the organization’s CEO and Wilson, its president, have been helping 18 veterans at a time at workshops held at the old Navy Training Center in Point Loma.

So far, the program has helped 162 veterans go from a rigidly structured military life where even clothing choices are dictated to the freewheeling civilian environment.

The need is huge.

Wilson said that each year about 28,000 veterans in San Diego leave the military — 200,000 nationwide.

More to Follow

However, with the conflict in Iraq winding down and the military poised to leave Afghanistan, he said the numbers leaving the military will increase.

It can be a frightening experience for the unprepared, especially those who have been involved in combat.

He said that statistics show that ex-military suffer from high jobless rates, not to mention higher rates of homelessness, substance abuse and other re-integration challenges.

While working with the local office of the civilian nonprofit Call of Duty Endowment, Wilson said that he became concerned when he encountered more and more former service members not adjusting to “the real world.”

He didn’t find an organization doing such work, so the classes were born.

“You have to get to the person right before a release or right after, to make it effective … to help them stay afloat.”

Wilson said he sketched out his program in December 2009.

Exit Strategy

The concept is that if you have to go through boot camp to be acculturated for the military, there should be a program when you leave the service, he said.

He said he chose a three-week period because psychological studies show that it takes that long to adjust and adopt new behaviors.

Wilson said 80 percent start class without knowing what they want to do once they leave the military.

“They haven’t really defined their career path,” he said. “So, we help them unlock their true potential based not just on aptitude but on passion.”

The classes include peer-to-peer mentoring to address common issues, such as fear, and how to deal with those issues.

“They learn how to network, how to conduct interviews, how to build their inner self-confidence, how to dress, how to get outside of their comfort zone,” he said. “We help them make the transition to today’s new world.”

Wilson said the program has experienced zero attrition.

“Everybody graduates,” he said.

He said 50 percent of the participants are being forced out due to downsizing, while 25 percent are retirees wondering how to cope.

Regional Pilot Program

The next step is the launch of a regional pilot program that will retrain about 2,500 veterans in 18 months. Then once the model is worked out, the nonprofit could go nationwide.

The program is partly funded by San Diego County Supervisors Greg Cox, Bill Horn, Ron Roberts and Pam Slater-Price through the Neighborhood Reinvestment Fund.

Froman admits that she was a bit skeptical until the first graduation, when she was able to see the positive changes on the class members.

“We’re seeing major changes in peoples’ lives,” she said.

She said the Pentagon spends thousands of dollars to train recruits how to function in the military, but spends next to nothing “for going back to the real world.”

Eric Smith, who retired from the Navy as a master chief after a 30-year career, says he found the program invaluable.

“I found the Navy quite easy — there was no secret to it,” he said. “What I liked about Reboot is that when they talked about how the thought processes, and how what you think directly impacts what you get out of life.

Tom York is a contributing editor for the San Diego Business Journal.

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