Transitioning veterans better prepared for post-pandemic job market thanks to Jacksonville non-profit

A new group of trained veterans are now entering the workforce with the skills they need to succeed outside the military.

Action News Jax was allowed into a Southside classroom in April that was anything but typical.

The class was a highly specialized training session for a highly specialized group of students.

The pupils are all veterans making the switch to civilian life after retiring from the service.

It’s a big change for retired Navy Master Chief Ryan Tomlinson.

“After 30 years, it’s almost like you’re in a different society and you’re really not but it’s just there’s a lot of fear of the unknown when transitioning,” said Tomlinson.

For many service members transitioning into the civilian world can be a scary thing but that’s where Operation New Uniform comes in.

Since launching in 2014, 312 veterans have graduated from ONU. According to the non-profit, 97 percent of them have gained employment within four months of completing the program.

Aaron Bonner enrolled about a month before officially retiring from the Navy.

“ONU has broadened my horizons,” he said. “This has gone far, far above and beyond what the military gives us.”

Despite entering the civilian world during a pandemic, Bonner said he’s not worried.

“I think it would be more concerning if I was unprepared,” he said.

ONU goes beyond the basics of acing the interview, the program also focuses on a simple yet often overlooked concept.

“Self-esteem. We talk about it in the class and understanding that your self-worth is up here period point blank,” said Bonner.

After two-and-a half weeks of instruction, the students of ONU class number 40 got to celebrate their graduation.

“Next step is just like the ONU taught us, I’m going to build a network and do some informational interviews put myself out there,” said Tomlinson.

Bonner plans to open his own business and give back by hiring veterans.

“When you have a burning desire like that then you take ONU who helps you build that confidence to transition from the military into the civilian workforce, ain’t nobody that can stop you but you,” said Bonner.

Bonner’s wife, Kristina, who is also a service member was there to cheer him on.

“He’s always been pretty confident, now he just has better direction and more of a plan to achieve his goals,” she said.

Now that they’re ONU trained, the transition isn’t so scary especially knowing you’ve got your own civilian platoon watching your six.