Josh Eaker was saving up $8,000 to go to school to become a professional hunting guide in Wyoming, New Mexico and Colorado. He had quit his job as a welder before deer hunting season began last year so he could start hunting full time.
"In the Marines," he said, "I was the point man. I took everybody everywhere."
His wife had a little different idea, however, after seeing a newspaper story about the Veterans Workforce Investment Program being offered on the East Central University campus.
Former Marine Josh Eaker (left) of Ada receives a certificate from Dr. Doug Weirick, chair of the Environmental Health Science Department at East Central University, for completing the basic Environmental Science Course in the Veterans Workforce Investment Program based at ECU. The next round of free training begins Monday [APRIL 5]. Applications are still being accepted. For information, call 580-559-5852.
"While you're doing nothing," Eaker remembered his wife telling him, "we're going to put you in VWIP."
So he enrolled in the free program that prepares and certifies veterans for "green jobs" in fields such as energy efficiency and renewable energy. He graduated in March, but that's not the end of the story.
The VWIP program at ECU is one of only 17 in the nation which trains veterans for green jobs and certifies them for weatherization and blower door use, infrared science use and analysis, solar energy system and basic environmental science, as well as paid Class "D" licenses for entry-level positions in water and wastewater.
The next training begins Monday [APRIL 5], but applications will be accepted after that date. Any veteran who is interested should call 580-559-5852 as soon as possible.
Veterans can participate in all four weeks of training or attend individual training modules. The first week and April 30 will be required for everyone. Training includes Weatherization Science/Blower Door, April 5-14 and April 30; Photovoltaic Systems (Solar Panels), April 5-9, 15, 16 and 30; Building Thermography (Infrared Technology) April 5-9, 19-22 and 3; and a Water/Waste Water Class D, April 5-9 and 26-30.
Eaker said he was not worried or scared about starting the training after being out of school for so long.
"I was kind of pumped up to go," he said. "I was excited about it. I just had a wonderful time. Dr. (Guy) Sewell and Dr. (Doug) Weirick were very, very good. I really enjoyed their class. They kind of got my brain to working again. They kind of got me motivated to go back to school."
Through VWIP he learned about grants that help veterans go to college. He also found Veterans Upward Bound at ECU.
"They're working with me. They're helping me find grants and helping with books and tuition. They will pay for me taking the ACT test. So I was very excited about that. I'm trying to get back in school this summer."
He said VWIP motivated him to do something he would really like to do. He wants to pursue kinesiology, possibly sports medicine, and become a teacher and maybe a coach.
"I love working with kids," he said. "I coached T-ball, basketball, baseball and football. I have three kids and have taken them through all the sports. I've never had a parent mad at me. When you're coaching T-ball, it's hard to keep the kids interested and the parents happy," he said.
Eaker also trains dogs for hunting, but said he's had "a whole 180-degree turnaround" after the veterans training program.
"I would much rather be teaching and coaching instead of chasing dogs all night," he said. "VWIP motivates you to see what you want to do. I still have an opportunity from what I learned from VWIP to pursue my own business. It motivated me to do something I would really like to do."
Eaker said veterans getting out of the service need to look at their options.
"There is money for veterans to go to school for free," he said.
Meanwhile, the VUB program helps veterans get back in school, refresh their skills and get in the routine of school, he explained.
"It's a big step to get back and start cold turkey, I think," he said. "ECU is a very good school for veterans. They really try to look out for veterans. Veterans Upward Bound is awesome."
After graduating from Ada High School in 1994, Eaker served four years in the Marines. He was stationed at Camp Pendleton in California and completed two tours oversees, including three months in Kuwait for Operation Desert Fox in 1998.
He returned to Ada in 1998 and served four more years with the Oklahoma National Guard.
Eaker and his wife Oriana have three children, Colby, Makinna and Triston.
"They think it's neat that they're going to school and their dad is, too," he said.
Space is limited in the upcoming VWIP program. To qualify, a veteran must have served more than 180 days of active service or have a service-connected disability. Veterans who were dishonorably discharged are not eligible.
The four weeks of training also help veterans develop resumes, prepare for job interviews, search for jobs, develop life skills and improve skills. Once a veteran is certified, he or she receives assistance with job placement. Room and board for the VWIP program can be arranged, if needed.
For more information or to apply for the Veterans Workforce Investment Program, call 580-559-5852. Information about the Veterans Upward Bound program is available at 580-559-5459.
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