After more than a decade in the Army, Walter Leeper has shipped truckloads of equipment and tons of materials around the globe thousands of times. Long distance and precipitous speed are not a problem, but what has him stymied at the moment is what looks like a one-foot length of yellow wire or cord—or more precisely, the final few inches of it.
“Twist it, come at it from a different angle,” said Demond Lofton, a senior applications engineer at Sumitomo Electric Lightwave, while eyeing the cord. “That’s it.”
At the receiving end of that comment, holding a pair of blue-handled wire strippers, Leeper is carefully cutting into a one-inch section of yellow casing. With Lofton’s guidance, Leeper, who is on the verge of retiring from the military, cleanly removes the protective cover and exposes a thin, transparent filament. He holds it up to the light to better see the glass core that is at the center of the optical fiber. Fiber optic cable is the data-transferring workhorse for data centers, commercial buildings, and increasingly, homes around the globe, enabling everything from smartphones to broadband internet.
“Connections,” Leeper said, admiring the simultaneously delicate-yet-powerful fiber. “I am all about making more of these connections.”
Transitioning out of the military
The comment is fitting, given Leeper’s background. As an Army logistics expert, his job has been to connect people and things all over the world. Now, he is very literally connecting—splicing together fiber optic cable at a free two-day course sponsored by Amazon Web Services (AWS). It’s a vital and sought-after skill in a world more and more reliant on the constant and powerful flow of data that is made possible in large part by optical fiber. The course is just one of the ways that Amazon is providing access to free skills training as part of a global commitment to help 29 million people get access to cloud computing and technical skills by 2025.
Like Leeper, the room of men and women at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state are transitioning out of their military careers. For some, it’s after decades of service, and the course is a way to prepare for the next phase of their careers. Others in the class are military spouses, keen to get experience that they can use wherever their partner’s next posting takes them—or to take on a new role and new responsibilities in their family. The course concludes with a networking session where participants can meet local and national fiber optic employers to begin career conversations.
“Technology is where the world is headed; the pandemic taught us all that,” said Yuhsiang Tse. Tse’s spouse is in the Army, and she serves in the reserves helping with medical patient services. Tse has studied software development, and wanted to round out her experience with some networking credentials.
Where leaders are made
“Skills like [the ones] this class has taught us, and my software background, are things we can bring with us and use to get work wherever we are in the world,” Tse said. “It’s sometimes hard out there for military spouses to find work, moving from place to place, but with this, [and] with the way networking is needed all over the world, I can hopefully always find a job.”
Anthony Rubio joined the Army after the September 11 attacks. His latest role is to teach and lead soldiers in artillery fire support. Rubio is retiring this summer after two decades of service. For him, the technology field broadly—and this fiber-splicing class specifically—can be summed up quite simply.
“It’s opportunity,” Rubio said. “I want as many skills as I can get, especially in the technology space, because that is where the opportunity lies.
“You always want to be learning something new, that is something I have come to believe in during my time in the military,” he continued. “It helps me not just move up in my own career, but help my soldiers in their careers. That education, and that leadership, are important parts of my life, and I will take them with me when I leave the military.”
They’re also reasons why hiring veterans like Rubio is a good bet.
“We know how to work hard, under any conditions,” said Tracy Norton, another two-decade serviceman who is retiring from the Army in about a year and hopes to start his own tech company combining networking and security. “If you haven’t been in the military, you would be surprised by all the talents people have. All I am saying is, it’s worth giving us a shot.”
AWS delivers the AWS Fiber Optic Fusion Splicing program in communities across the U.S. The course at Joint Base Lewis-McChord is the first time the program has expanded to military bases. To learn more about this program and other ways AWS is supporting communities through free skills training, visit AboutAmazon.com/29million.