The Quentin Burdick Job Corps Center in Minot feels familiar to a lot of its staff members, maybe because between a third and half of the employees are military veterans.
"We're used to how the military runs," said Cynthia Schwandt, the single parent program supervisor and a National Guard veteran. "It's kind of like going home to us."
Schwandt, who is originally from Mott, attended Minot State University and stayed on in Minot after she graduated, but other staff are transplants from farther away.
Andrea Johnson/MDN • From Left, Ron Garcia, Cynthia Schwandt and Don Hamm, all on staff at the Quentin Burdick Job Corps Center in Minot, are among many military veterans employed at the center.
Arthur Moore, the residential supervisor, an Air Force veteran, is originally from South Bend, Ind. He stayed on in the Minot community after he left the Air Force because he had children in school at the time and liked the area. Now his grandchildren are here and that gives him a strong tie to Minot. Ron Garcia, a security officer and Air Force veteran, said he stayed in Minot after retirement for similar reasons: his children were in school, his wife was teaching there and he had formed community ties. Bob Herrington, a Vietnam veteran and security officer at the Job Corps Center, married a woman from Minot and has lived in Minot on and off since the 1960s.
Moore said the proximity of the Air Force base makes local veterans feel a bit more connected to the rhythms of military life than they might if they lived in other towns. Minot Air Force Base has programs that cater to veterans.
Herrington said the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, also heightened the national awareness of the sacrifices made by military families and patriotism, making it easier on returning vets than it was for Vietnam vets when they returned from war 40 years ago. The patriotism seems particularly heightened on Memorial Day. He is very aware of all of the U.S. military deployed overseas, some of them fighting or living in difficult conditions. Many of them would be happy to trade places with Minot residents who are worried about flooding, said Herrington.
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Working with so many other veterans probably helps them stay connected to the military life as well, the group said.
When someone new is hired and Herrington hears that that person comes from a military background, Herrington said he instinctively trusts that the person will have a strong work ethic and a certain way of doing things. Herrington said he feels that he can trust a fellow military veteran. That may not always be the case, but it often is.
The Job Corps center is a highly structured environment that feels familiar to people who have served for so long in the regimented world of the military.
Students new to the center, most of whom are between the ages of 16 and 24, might come from environments where they are used to doing exactly what they want, when they want to do it. At the Job Corps center, there are rules, such as getting up at 6 a.m., earlier than most are used to, and making sure that one's shirt tail is tucked into one's pants during classroom hours. Students are graded on how clean their residential living area is and are sent to bed before the sun sets in the summer because they need a full eight hours of sleep.
Don Hamm, who is the Career Preparation Period instructor, said the first six weeks a new student is at the center is a little like basic training in the military, though it's not exactly the same.
"I think we're easier on them," said Schwandt, and Moore said students at the Job Corps center always have the option of leaving, unlike in the military where it is harder to resign a commission.
Some students do find the rules not to their liking and end up leaving, but most of them regret it, said Garcia, who sometimes gets calls from students who have left and wish they could come back. The center has a policy that students who quit can't return for a year and then their reenrollment has to be approved by the center director. Moore said some students might end up enrolling at other Job Corps centers elsewhere in the United States.
For the students who stay, the experience can be life changing.
"For some of these students I see it as a second chance," said Garcia. "Yes, it's a challenge but it's very rewarding."
It can be like the moment the light bulb comes on in a student's head and Herrington can see the student thinking, "Wow, now I understand why you're kicking my butt! I get it now."
The staff said that the discipline students learn at the center, along with their trade studies, will help them to go on to be successful in future jobs and in family life.