Inside DOD   Partnerships

Air Force Program Helps Disqualified Trainees With Jobs, Education

Aug. 30, 2021 | BY Katie Lange , DOD News

Not everyone who joins the military makes it past training, and not all service members get to stay in as long as they would like due to various health issues. 

Medical conditions that can disqualify a person include eczema, psoriasis, chronic sinusitis, asthma, anemia, hearing loss — even dietary intolerances. Many of the issues don't surface until basic training or shortly thereafter.

Gold and blue balloons spell the word "drive" on office windows.
DRIVE program
Balloons spell the word "drive" at the DRIVE program’s new office at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, Nov. 16, 2020. DRIVE gives motivated but disqualified airmen a chance to serve their country in ways other than in uniform.
Photo By: Annette Crawford, Air Force
VIRIN: 201116-F-DK070-0005A

Nearly 2,200 enlisted trainees have to separate from the Air Force and Space Force every year for various reasons during basic training, said Air Force Lt. Col. Joseph Harris. Those folks are sent to the 737th Training Support Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, where officials look through their skill sets and backgrounds. Harris said many of them still have great potential. 

"Some of the folks we've had come through our space speak five languages; others have two master's degrees … or have been accepted into Ph.D. programs," said Harris, the 737 TRSS's director of operations. "A lot of these members have a heart to serve. … so why wouldn't you want to get a return on investment on a group you've already invested in?"

New Opportunities

That thinking is what led to the 737 TRSS's DRIVE program, which started in July 2020. DRIVE helps medically discharged trainees — even disqualified airmen and guardians who made it through tech school — gain further education and get hired in civilian positions. Many of the candidates don't know that the jobs they wanted to do in the military can also be done in a civilian capacity.

A woman pours dog kibble into large metal bowls.
DRIVE program
Elizabeth Ross prepares food for service dogs at the Military Working Dog Center at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, Sept. 25, 2020. Ross is an animal caretaker with the 341st Training Squadron and was the first candidate successfully placed into a civilian job through the DRIVE program. DRIVE is a collaborative effort between the Air Force's Personnel Center and the 737th Training Support Squadron to help highly qualified and motivated airmen who are medically disqualified from service at Basic Military Training to continue serving the Air Force through civilian service.
Photo By: Sarayuth Pinthong, Air Force
VIRIN: 200925-F-GY993-005
A woman and service dog walk past large containers.
DRIVE program
Elizabeth Ross checks her kennel at the Military Working Dog Center at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, Sept. 25, 2020. Ross is an animal caretaker with the 341st Training Squadron and was the first candidate successfully placed into a civilian job through the DRIVE program. DRIVE is a collaborative effort between the Air Force's Personnel Center and the 737th Training Support Squadron to help highly qualified and motivated airmen who are medically disqualified from service at Basic Military Training to continue serving the Air Force through civilian service.
Photo By: Sarayuth Pinthong, Air Force
VIRIN: 200925-F-GY993-002A

Here's how the DRIVE program works: Those trainees who are transitioning out fill out a questionnaire, which goes to the DRIVE program's coordinator, Kelli Williams. Then, with help from the Air Force Personnel Command, Williams gives the applicants options to boost their chances of being hired.

Educational Advancement

A year into the program, Williams said DRIVE has already assisted more than 1,500 people in creating resumes and earning certifications, college credits and college scholarships. DRIVE recently partnered with certified life coaches, too, to offer sessions to help participants find their direction. These processes can help build resiliency. 

"A lot of times, these trainees and airmen are in a negative mood. They're not happy," Williams said. "So, getting that mindset in them to move on to plan B — to know that they are someone inside the Air Force or outside the Air Force — it's really rewarding."

A man walks a dog. Right: A man mops a kennel floor.
DRIVE program
Donovan Evans, an animal caretaker with the Air Force's 341st Training Squadron, takes care of military working dogs and their living quarters at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. Evans was placed in this position through the 737th Training Support Squadron DRIVE program, which helps medically disqualified trainees continue to work with the Air Force in a civilian capacity.
Photo By: Air Force
VIRIN: 210825-F-D0439-075

Job Placement

DRIVE partners with the Air Force Personnel Center to place applicants in federal jobs at any Air Force or Space Force installation. The JBSA Workforce and Transition Alliance helps others find jobs outside of government. 

For hiring managers, it's like the candidate has already been vetted. 

"They're going to get someone who has work ethic and discipline ... someone dedicated to serve," said Stacy Nelson, the AFPC DRIVE program manager. "That reassures the hiring manager that they're going to get somebody who'll come to work every day wanting to be there — someone who's going to show up on time and do a good job. So far, that's proven to be true."

Williams said DRIVE has helped place 15 people into federal positions, while 20 more are awaiting offers. Six others have obtained employment in nongovernmental jobs. DRIVE has even helped six non-U.S. citizens with the naturalization process.

As DRIVE grows in popularity, many of its leaders said they would like to partner with other service branches and agencies to solidify the program as a DOD standard practice. 

"This can greatly benefit the DOD overall," Harris said.