JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas –
A new program at the 737th Training Support Squadron’s Transition Flight is giving motivated, but disqualified, Airmen a chance to serve their country in ways other than in uniform.
Known as DRIVE – Develop, Redistribute, Improve, Vault, Expose – the program is designed to transform medically disqualified Airmen with unique skill sets into viable civil service applicants, thereby keeping the talent within the Air Force.
“The DRIVE program’s mission provides these individuals a Plan B for their careers,” said Capt. Tho K. Dang, Assistant Director of Operations and Transition Flight Commander for the 737th TRSS.
“Not wanting to let their skills go to waste, we’ve seen an opportunity to help them and the Department of Defense by finding them jobs, facilitating total force recruiting,” Dang added.
“Many of these individuals have such a passion to serve their country, but they’re not able to because of a medical issue,” said Master Sgt. Paul Lamelin, a military training instructor who was one of the program’s original founders. Lamelin was a guest speaker when DRIVE held its official kickoff in its new offices at the base education center at building 5725 at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland Nov. 16.
Medical issues that disqualify an individual from joining the Air Force include asthma, eczema, psoriasis, stress fractures, hearing loss and anemia. Often these issues don’t manifest themselves until a person is in Basic Military Training, or BMT. Before DRIVE came around, these conditions meant dreams of serving in the military stopped before they even began. Now, they have a second chance.
Individuals considered for DRIVE are in BMT, in their first enlistment, and within their first 180 days of service. However, any trainee who has a behavioral diagnosis or who is being separated for disciplinary concerns will not be considered for DRIVE.
Kelli Williams joined the 737th TRSS in September as the DRIVE program manager. She explained that when trainees arrive at the Training In-processing Center, or TIC, they complete a survey which asks them about their work history, education background (to include degrees, certificates, and licenses), security clearances and college credits. Williams collects and reviews those surveys on a daily basis, and then does an in-person interview and assessment with the trainee to see if they want to participate.
“From there I work to fit and match these individuals with potential jobs,” Williams said.
The first step is creating a profile and resume on the USAJOBS website. The resume and any supporting documentation are then uploaded into the Air Force Civilian Service website where the Air Force Personnel Center DRIVE program manager vets the candidates. Williams and the AFPC DRIVE program manager work together to arrange interviews between selected candidates and direct hiring agencies.
Elizabeth Ross, an animal caretaker with the Military Working Dog Center, 341st Training Squadron, is the first candidate successfully placed through the DRIVE program. Once she decided to join the Air Force, she said it never occurred to her that she wouldn’t become an Airman.
“I didn’t have a Plan B,” she admitted.
Due to a stress fracture, she wasn’t able to graduate with her basic training flight. She spent several months on medical hold and only had a week before her entry level separation was signed when she learned about DRIVE.
With a degree in zoology from Oklahoma State University, she was an ideal candidate for the program. Ross separated from the Air Force and went home to Virginia, but the DRIVE process had already begun. After several interviews, emails and phone calls back and forth, Ross returned to JBSA-Lackland in August to start her new career.
“This is one of the highlights of my command, and greatest memories of my Air Force career,” Lt. Col. Cheo Stallworth, 737th TRSS commander, said of DRIVE. “It is very rare to see an idea become reality in only a few short months. Although it is in its infancy stages now, I cannot wait to see it grow and take off from here.”
Col. Michael Newsom, commander of the 737th Training Group, spoke of the enthusiasm surrounding the DRIVE program.
“What we’re talking about here is dreams. It’s about hopes and opportunities,” Newsom said. “BMT is a pool of knowledge, and I look forward to seeing this program go beyond our boundaries.”
Col. Rockie K. Wilson, 37th Training Wing commander, echoed Newsom’s comments.
“I don’t think our process [to separate individuals] was always compassionate. We’re getting better,” Wilson said. “We’re employing common sense. DRIVE is just the tip of the iceberg. The connections that start here will just grow. When you see things like this happen, it leaves you full of hope.”
Since DRIVE began in July 2020, 144 trainees/Airmen has been assisted, 58 resumes created, and 33 certifications awarded. Four individuals have been placed in civilian jobs, and two have been placed in civil service positions.