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A Teamsters Apprenticeship Through Helmets to Hardhats Turned an Afghanistan War Vet’s Life Around

The Helmets to Hardhats program, which helps returning service veterans find careers in the construction trades, is often cited as a government program that lives up to its goals. The program is a feature of many Project Labor Agreements, the pre-hire contracts frequently entered into between federal, state and local municipalities when building large-scale public works. H2H, as the program is referred to in shorthand, gives veterans a chance to build careers that will help them remain productive citizens post-deployment.

The great recession, sadly, has created some rocky societal reintegration for the young men and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Luckily, folks like Ross Bowlin, featured in a Las Vegas Review-Journal piece, have found H2H.

Bowlin, who was in boot camp at the time of the 9/11 attacks, recently told his story of returning home in 2006:

“I worked for a civil service company for a couple of years and then after that, in 2008, I got laid off and was on unemployment, working for my father-in-law, just trying to scrape by once the economy went bad,” said Bowlin, who has a wife and four children.

Finally, a friend and fellow Marine told Bowlin about a program called Helmets to Hardhats that helps veterans gain apprenticeships in the construction trades. Bowlin decided to give it a try and eventually found himself enrolled in an apprenticeship program with Teamsters Union Local 166 out of Bloomington, Calif.

“To be honest I was almost trying anything at that point. I joined the Marine Corps when I was 18, left for boot camp three weeks after high school, so during normal college time I was overseas and serving in the Marine Corps so I was, you know, almost a step behind or whatnot,” Bowlin said.

“I turned to Helmets to Hardhats and they immediately started sending me to some job fairs and are the ones who got me eventually linked up with the Teamsters, the union that I’m a part of.”

The structure and brotherhood of a local union is a perfect fit for someone returning from war as it demands the same level of discipline and accountability as military service. Bowlin began his apprenticeship in 2010 and will likely earn his journeyman’s license this year:

“I can’t say where I would be today (without Helmets to Hardhats) but they set me up on the path, they connected me with the people I needed to, and I believe, even if it hadn’t worked with the Teamsters, they would have kept helping me to get me placed somewhere, to get me back on my feet,” Bowlin said.

Veterans are going to continue returning home from war. They can only hope that more politicians will see the benefits of Helmets to Hardhats and increase its funding to enable more returning servicemen a chance at a solid career in construction.


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