Army Reserve leverages private sector money to train soldiers

Thursday - 8/29/2013, 5:16pm EDT

Jared Serbu reports.

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Through its Employer Partnership Office, the Army Reserve has long had programs in place to develop relationships with the private sector to build the military readiness and civilian careers of individual soldiers.

But a new initiative the reserve began to formally roll out Wednesday aims to expand those partnerships to increase the readiness of entire military units using, in-part, private sector money to conduct large scale training exercises.

To launch and promote the idea, known as the Private Public Partnership Initiative (P3I), reserve leaders invited 29 corporate leaders from around the country for a series of events Wednesday, including a ride-along on the Potomac River with the 359th Transportation Battalion, a unit of mechanized landing craft and support ships headquartered at Fort Belvoir, Va., — an effort, officials said, to give partnering companies a glimpse at one of the training missions reservists perform when they're in uniform.

"Most people don't know there are vessels in the Army," said Lt. Col. Angela Wannamaker, the battalion commander. "So hopefully we're here to share the Army vessel experience."

In an interview aboard one of the unit's command and control boats, Lt. Gen. Jeff Talley, the chief of the Army Reserve, said the P3I initiative was meant to capitalize on what he sees as one of the component's strengths: its members' connection to private employers.

"It's what makes the reserve such a great deal: We're 6 percent of the Army's budget and 20 percent of the force, and that's because of our civilian-acquired skills. What we do in the civilian sector tends to correlate very closely with what we do in uniform," he said. "I started thinking, we've got these great employers who already support our programs. Why don't we take it to the next level?"

For starters, the next level is in Africa, where the P3I initiative will launch its first project, partnering with that continent's largest civilian employer, the Coca-Cola Company as well as USAID, the State Department and the nonprofit U.S. Water Partnership.

"Coca-Cola spent more than $200 million on water projects in the last few years, so they're very interested in water," he said. "We recently joined the Water Partnership, and Coca-Cola provides money to them to do water projects. The Army Reserve, we go over and do our Title 10 training and I pay the salary for the soldiers, but all the building materials, all the supplies, all the stuff you need to do the project can be paid for by the partnership. So my folks get great training building a water project, but most of the bill is not paid by the Department of Defense. It just seemed like a natural fit, because any solution you have that's going to involve more money from the government is probably a bad idea, because the government isn't going to have more money."

The Africa project has not officially started and no soldiers have deployed thus far, but the reserve and the water partnership signed a memorandum of agreement on the way forward in March, and Talley said the reserve was already drawing up plans for training projects built on the same concept in South and Central America. Leaders see the projects as not just a chance to boost training opportunities for soldiers, but to continue to develop relationships with corporations who can provide those soldiers with civilian jobs.

Bill Andre, a participant on the Wednesday boat trip who leads the veterans and reservists employee interest group at Proctor and Gamble, said his company doesn't need convincing. He said Army reservists are a good fit at his company, in part because they're available across the country.

"We're looking for technical people who want to be in, let's say, Mehoopany, Penn. Most people say, 'okay, where's that?' But a small percentage say, 'Oh my God, that's where I'm from. I want to live there for the rest of my life,'" he said. "We're looking for people who want to live near our manufacturing facilities for the long term, because we don't hire for a job, we hire for a career. It's very similar to the military: we promote from within. It's a very similar environment."

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