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Program offers path from military to civilian careers

Elbert County director of administration is big supporter of fellowship

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Douglas Chimenti guided 650 soldiers and their families across three countries. His annual budget was about $3 million. He knows how to calculate trajectory.

Chimenti recently applied to about 90 jobs and heard back from two.

His problem is shared by thousands of military retirees, who are often young enough to establish a second career while middle-aged.

“I had to account for Earth's rotation when I shot around,” Chimenti said of his field artillery experience. “I know ballistics, but it doesn't do me a lick of good.”

He just retired from the Army at age 43. The Falcon resident signed up for a veteran transition program and the results have been positive on multiple fronts. The Veterans Local Government Management Fellowship eases military personnel from one life of service to another. Though the inner workings may differ, the motivation in helping the general public stays the same.

“We love to continue to serve the general public,” Chimenti said on behalf of himself and other veterans. “We've been doing it for over 20-something years. We just like to serve. The veterans program is a great transition program to get the experience and a taste of what the job really is.”

He said that through the fellowship he is learning to rephrase his resume, make connections within Elbert County government and network with other counties. He is also learning to apply his skills in a new setting. Since beginning the 16- to 20-week program in January, he has undertaken a number of tasks, including the research and execution of industrial hemp permits.

The county's new director of administration, Justin Klassen, supports the transition program fervently, especially coming from a full-time position in the Air Force National Guard. He finds that the transition to civilian life is also difficult because the military gears you toward a life of military duties. His associate's degree is in parachute fabrication, he deadpans.

Klassen turned to Chimenti and, in their shared language, asked how often Chimenti moved: “How many times did you PCS?”

“Psh, lost count,” replied Chimenti.

After working on a notepad for a few minutes, Chimenti announced his moves and deployments during his 22-year career. But he quickly realized his time in Korea didn't meet the minimum to be considered an official deployment, so he ducked down and re-figured his answer, settling on a total of “14 moves and four deployments.”

“That's insane,” Klassen said. “How do you take somebody with that much skill set, who's seen that much of the world, and bring that into a usable workplace? In all reality you would think he'd throw his resume down and,” Klassen mimics an explosion, “`We want his guy.'”

Chimenti, a Xavier graduate, said this opportunity has improved his quality of life and his family dynamic and reduced his stress levels. He said his wife, Janet, noticed his job satisfaction as soon as he came home. The Falcon resident and dad to 9-year-old Isabel had saved up four months of vacation days. Though this isn't necessary for the fellowship, Chimenti decided that spending his vacation on this program would further his new career path better than his previous routine of applying to jobs. His ultimate goal is to become a county manager for a small community like Elbert County.

“That would probably be the position that most correlates to being at a battalion commander level,” Chimenti said. “I'm getting the experience of a civilian workforce, and building a resume.”

The fellowship is unusual for the military. Before this, the only transition program was the Transition Assistance Program (TAP). Supported by the Department of Defense, TAP sends airmen and soldiers through a mandatory five-day program. After that, education and work opportunity programs are available, but the Veterans Local Government Management Fellowship has proven that it has eased the troubles of a small, rural government while also setting up an honored commander for a new success.

After Klassen's summary of Chimenti's skills and accomplishments, he simply said, “We love Doug.”

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