Task Force Movement continues to evolve
A diverse group of stakeholders from industry, government, academia, the military, VA and organized labor met June 20 at the White House to review recent developments in the Task Force Movement mission to help veterans fill critical needs in the U.S. economy. Photo by Jeff Stoffer

Task Force Movement continues to evolve

An American Legion-supported presidential task force directed to fast-track veterans, transitioning military personnel and their spouses into careers of need in the U.S. economy continues to make headway on its mission.

Task Force Movement met June 20 at the White House to review the effort, launched in April 2022, at first to speed up the process for veterans and servicemembers nearing transition to obtain commercial driver’s licenses and enter a trucking industry hungry to fill positions and strengthen the nation’s supply chain, which was severely weakened during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the months that followed, TFM expanded to address critical shortages in cybersecurity, health care and more.

“Task Force Movement has really been a crucial organization that stepped up during a time of crisis in our country and a time of acute supply-chain disruptions but has really now evolved and grown into an organization that can help us strategically in so many of these critical sectors where we need to build long-term resilience,” said Special Assistant to the President for Manufacturing and Industry Policy Monica Gorman. “We need you.”

TFM has broadened its scope to include aviation and maritime shipping. Reframed as Task Force Movement – Transportation, the initiative credentialed and placed into the trucking industry approximately 750 veterans and transitioning members of the U.S. Armed Forces in 2023.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, explained Gorman, Americans realized how fragile the supply chain is “to daily life, and we experienced unprecedented disruption, and a lot of that was caused by demand for goods. People were working from home. They were ordering things, and we had to keep the goods moving. It became clear that we had not paid attention to the people who kept goods moving in this country. Trucking moves 70% of all goods here. And truck drivers keep America moving, literally carrying on their backs the products that everyday Americans need.”

Working various collaborations, TFM was able to secure $300,000 that year in scholarships for veterans and Afghan refugees and generated $3.2 million in funding through the U.S. Department of Transportation for CDL training programs at community colleges. TFM also assisted the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in its Drive for Success program that provided 500 scholarships for veterans, military spouses and members of the National Guard and Reserves.

Industry leaders in trucking understand “the importance of transitioning military personnel and veterans as a key pipeline of people who are perfect for these types of roles, who know safety culture,” Gorman said. “A quote from the president that I love, ‘If you can handle a tank, if you can handle an armored personnel carrier, you sure as hell can handle a commercial truck.’”

Vinn White, a senior adviser in the Department of Transportation, told meeting attendees that the work of TFM is important and appreciated, as DOT works to “increase the number of states that allow military driver’s exemptions to pass the knowledge test for CDLs” and, “we’re working with the Department of Veterans Affairs to expand medical examiners to certify military members who can go out and get their CDLs … we are engaged in military outreach.”

The aviation industry, which is facing critical shortages of qualified mechanics, is now a point of emphasis for TFM-Transportation, which is planning to work with the Teamsters to develop a six-week Aviation Basics Course that would serve as a pre-apprenticeship opportunity in technical aviation fields, many of which pay more than $100,000 a year, for transitioning military personnel and veterans.

Seafarers, port workers, shipbuilders and maritime engineers are also in short supply, which impacts the U.S. supply chain, and TFM is now conducting research and working with government agencies, training institutions, labor unions, industry associations and the military to identify ways to break down barriers to employment.

TFM Cybersecurity is working to leverage its growing list of collaborators to offer scholarships and accelerated training programs for veterans, transitioning servicemembers and military spouses. TFM reports that some 650,000 jobs in cybersecurity were unfilled in 2023.

TFM Healthcare aligns employers, industry associations, unions, academic institutions, training providers and veterans groups to put more military-trained medical personnel to work across the country.

Task Force Movement has also expanded to establish its first state-based program, working with universities and community colleges in Illinois to put more veterans to work in medical fields there. “What we’re trying to do in Illinois is not trying to put people in jobs; we’re trying to put people in careers,” said Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity Deputy Director Julio Rodriguez. “So, we’ve been very focused on apprenticeship models, learn and earn models. What we have found – and I think this is true of the military community – people can’t just go to training for the sake of going to training. They have families. They have to earn a living. And they have to earn it from the minute they hit the ground. What we’ve learned about the apprenticeship movement, it’s a way to not only grow your own, but to really build real retention. In industries like I.T. and healthcare, oftentimes employers overlook the very people who are already working for them, and I would venture to say we have a lot of veterans and their spouses who are under-employed in this country.”

From working to fill gaps in the U.S. economy to connections among diverse stakeholders, on the national and state levels alike, TFM is getting its arms around much more than its initial mission to train more truck drivers.

“We’re doing an awful lot with an organization that just has a few people to staff it,” TFM Executive Director Elizabeth Belcaster said at the meeting. “It comes from the partners. The partners are passionate about the work that they are doing. I think everybody on our board, everybody that’s a partner at some level, has had a relationship with a program for veterans or transitioning servicemembers. That’s really what makes us grow and makes the work continue.”

TFM Treasurer Brandon McPherson said a key aspect of the task force’s progress is “being able to speak different languages. Universities and corporations – they have their languages – and inside some of these organizations, we all have our different languages that we speak. How do you navigate that? What’s led us to success thus far, and what has to continue to happen at the state level, is to have a large group of interpreters. Illinois is different from Michigan, which is different from Pennsylvania. There’s no manual. It’s just kind of up to us, in our groups and cohorts, to bring that out.”

American Legion member Patrick Murphy, the 32nd Under Secretary of the Army and the first veteran from the war in Iraq to be elected to Congress, is chairman of TFM, and American Legion Employment & Education Division Director Joseph Sharpe serves on the steering committee.

“One of the reasons The American Legion supports Task Force Movement is that out of about 200,000-plus veterans who leave the military every year, only about 30,000 actually have jobs,” Sharpe told the task force. “So, you have about 170,000 who are unemployed. And after six years, 60% of those individuals are under-employed. That’s why it is so important that we do what we can to ensure these veterans are gainfully employed. It helps with recruitment and retention, as well.”