A San Diego-based nonprofit organization that trains U.S. military veterans with job skills for manufacturing careers is not only giving vets a fresh start – it’s helping them find their purpose again.
“It’s been a blast, all around,” said U.S. Marine veteran Brian Riley, referring to his courses and certifications received from the nonprofit school, Workshops for Warriors (WFW). “And kind of give back a purpose again. [This is] breathing a spot of fresh life back into my plans.”
Founded in 2008, WFW is a state-licensed, free, nonprofit school that helps train, certify and place U.S. military veterans, wounded warriors and transitioning service members into advanced manufacturing careers. Vets can take courses and obtain nationally-recognized credentials in 62 trades including welding and machining and CAD/CAM programming.
On Friday, the school held its spring graduation ceremony for 57 veterans who had completed programs. A Marine Color Guard marked the milestone.
The graduating class included Riley, an amputee who proudly walked across the stage to receive his certification in machining. The vet is a two-time graduate of WFW; in May 2016, he earned his certification in welding.
For Riley, the school has been instrumental to helping him back on his feet as he transitioned from being an active duty service member to life as a civilian.
Riley said he served as a reconnaissance man in the Marines. While deployed in Afghanistan, he was wounded by a gunshot. The bullet left the young service member with a permanent injury that eventually led to the amputation of his left leg below his knee.
He was discharged in 2012.
While recovering in San Diego, Riley worried about where his new life would take him. Luckily, in a military town like San Diego, he didn’t have to look too far for a little bit of help.
“There are a lot of friendly veteran organizations out here in San Diego,” he said.
Soon, he found WFW and began taking courses in the trades that were of interest to him.
Riley said he sought to learn something that would pave the path for gainful employment.
“Something where it feels like you’re contributing to society,” he told NBC 7.
He’s grateful to the nonprofit for helping him on his way to just that.
For veterans moving into civilian life like Riley, the transition can be tough. Riley said that sometimes, service members only have about a week to prepare for the major life change.
Like anything new, it can be scary and difficult.
“For some guys, that’s going to be the first time that they’ve had to worry about paying rent, the electric bill, life insurance,” he explained. “That’s a lot to take in in seven days.”
Riley said the WFW courses include both longtime veterans and recently-discharged vets. He said the longtime vets are often able to help the new civilians during that tough time, which, in a way, builds a camaraderie much like those days as active duty service members.
“I’m really glad for the opportunity,” he added.
Each semester at WFW runs for 16 weeks. The nonprofit said more than 350 U.S. veterans have been trained and certified through its courses. In 2015, the WFW said 94 percent of its graduates were able to get jobs in the manufacturing field after completing the school’s programs.
New classes for WFW's summer session begin on May 1. To learn more about the nonprofit, click here.