through a buddy of mine who is a pipefitter in Chicago with Pipefitters Local 597,” Ryan Gilmere said. “He was a welder before the Army, and he had heard about the Veterans in Piping® (VIP®) program and told me to apply. I had no welding experience. When I got selected, I thought, I have to take advantage of this. Transitioning is such an odd notion. You feel really lost.” Ryan graduated from the VIP program at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State, and opted to head home to Wichita, KS, to continue with his apprenticeship with Plumbers and Pipefit- ters Local 441 in Wichita. Today, he is a fourth- year apprentice, and he has spent his entire apprenticeship working for the same contractor, Kruse Corporation. “e company I work for is a mechanical con- tractor that does a lot of commercial work, so I’ve been exposed to a lot of plumbing and pipefitting,” Ryan said. “Right now we’re at Johnson Controls, and we’re running small boilers into a room where they are doing testing on air-conditioning units. We’re producing steam for their testing. It’s pretty cool. ere’s so much to this trade that you can’t really narrow it down to a specific thing you would like to do, but of course, I love to weld. Being an apprentice, you go where you’re assigned, so you are exposed to a lot.” Ryan has worked full time since he graduated from the program. He said many of his military brothers and sisters have not been as fortunate. “It’s tough out there,” he said. Because Local 441 is a combination [plumbing and pipefitting] local, Ryan feels like he is well rounded, and that down the road, this will prove to be a real benefit. “When I le the VIP program, I was a much more experienced welder than the other apprentices in my class, because we spent so much time welding. at is such an advantage, but I had a lot to learn in school. Welding is still my favorite thing. You get a lot of pride and satisfaction from a good weld. I remember how hard it was in the beginning, and to see where I am now—it’s incredible.” Ryan’s worked on a couple of big jobs, including the construction of a new high school and a hospital remodel where he ran all the water lines. ere is another large hospital re- model planned in Wichita that is scheduled to be completed in two nine-month increments, so he sees employment there for a solid 18 months. He stated, “Hands down, this is the highest-paying job I’ve ever had. I joined the Army when I was 21 years old and got out when I was 25, almost 26. I didn’t have any family members who were union members, so this was all new to me. I knew it was a good thing, and that I needed to see it through. As far as insurance goes, it’s unbelievable. My friends show me their checks, and I see what’s taken out. Long-term, I don’t think you can get a better deal anywhere, with the pension and all.” Ryan said when he got out of the Army, he bought an old Jeep that he still drives, but since he’s been employed with the UA, he’s added a prized Camaro that stays garaged a lot of the time. He’s saving to buy a house. “I would like to eventu- ally travel and get on some big jobs,” he added, “but I’m in a great spot right now. I will always be thankful. When you’re with the UA, you have that advantage to be able to travel if work gets slow in your area. It’s comforting to know I have a brother- hood where guys are doing the same thing I’m doing in other cities. What I like about this job is seeing something from start to finish. As a fourth- year apprentice, I can see the end of the tunnel, the day where I turn out as a journeyman. I have to complete my weld certifications to become a jour- neyman welder. I received one certification right out of the VIP program, and I am working on my second. I’ll be able to get that other certification, and I thank the VIP program for that, because I’m seeing other guys struggle. I didn’t come to school being a hotshot welder, that was all from the VIP program. I remember we were 10 hours in the booth under the hood each day, and sometimes I hated it, but boy has it paid off.” “I heard about the program CAREERops 12 The VIP Program Accelerated My Career as a Welder/Pipefitter Ryan Gilmere “The company I work for is a mechanical contractor that does a lot of commercial work, so I’ve been exposed to a lot of plumbing and pipefitting.” – Ryan Gilmere