After being injured while serving a tour in Iraq, Benjamin Berkman was discharged from the Army and found himself shifting from job to job.
When the former sergeant found out about the Army Corps of Engineer's new Veterans Curation Project, he discovered a new career path.
"I've always been interested in history," said Berkman, who has an associates degree in history. "This is like Christmas every day. You never know what you're going to see."
The program is a collaborative effort to provide training, employment and job skills for wounded veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan by working with archeological collections. The project, which is the first of its kind in the nation, opened in a storefront in the West Town shopping center more than two weeks ago.
A Purple Heart recipient who served two tours in Iraq, Berkman lives in an apartment in Augusta with his wife and 15-month-old son. He said he looks forward to gaining skills he can apply to other jobs and plans on going back to college.
"It's very interesting," he said. "I'm very happy to have it."
A large group gathered at the Martinez building Tuesday for an open house and ribbon-cutting ceremony.
"This is an exciting program that will contribute to the nation's stewardship of its national archeological treasures and provide skills in archeology, archival collections and record management to this generation of American heroes," said Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works. "I look forward to watching our veterans learn new skills and help us to save the past for America's future."
The project is the result of a team effort, said Dr. Sonny Trimble, director of the Army Corps of Engineers St. Louis District's Mandatory Center of Expertise for the Curation and Management of Archeological Collections.
Trimble said he hopes each veteran takes advantage of the program.
"For these guys, there is no metric on how many boxes (of artifacts) they get done," he said. "The metric is how well did they learn and how many people come out of here successfully trained and then go into this community and get a job."
The program, funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, is designed to help ease the veterans' transition into the nation's workforce. Through their work, participants will gain training experience in digital assets management, records digitizing and management, photography and scanning, as well as objects inventory, and tracking and processing.
In the Augusta area, service members with the CSRA Wounded Warrior Care Project, the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center, the Fort Gordon Warrior Transition Battalion and the Georgia Department of Labor will be assisted through the program.
Not only does the Veterans Curation Project challenge participants, it also gives them a sense of belonging, said Laurie Ott, executive director of the CSRA Wounded Warrior Care Project.
"I think that we can't underestimate how important it is for our veterans to feel that sense of camaraderie and friendship among folks who understand them, who have been there and done that," she said.
A group of 10 veterans currently are working with artifacts from a pre-contact American Indian site in southwestern Georgia, said Dr. Paul Brockington, president of Brockington Cultural Resources Consulting, the firm selected to work with the project. The veterans will be employed for a six-month span.
"The wounded veterans are so great," he said. "They're just so excited about doing this. They have questions. They're learning really fast."
Ott said that providing returning veterans with this service is a way to ensure that they have a smooth transition into civilian life.
"By making sure our past is properly categorized, it's helping these veterans build a future, and I think that's the most important thing of all," she said.
Veterans interested in the program can call Simone Brown, of the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center, at (706) 733-0188, ext. 7382, or Senita Thorne, of the Department of Labor, at (706) 650-5611.
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