Operation Next: Helping our Nation’s Veterans and Industry

In my role as the Fort Campbell Soldier Transition Program Manager, and as a 26 -year veteran of the U.S. Army, I know for certain that separating out of the military is a source of great stress for many soldiers—and understandably so.

Last year, our country had an estimated 370,000 unemployed veterans –  far too many in this land of opportunity, particularly when there are so many jobs available right now.

Many of those jobs are in the world of advanced manufacturing. In fact, it is projected there will be an estimated 3.5 million jobs available in advanced manufacturing over the next ten years, and 2 million of those jobs will go unfilled due to the shortage of qualified workers.

To help combat the issue of veteran unemployment and better prepare our separating military with the skills and abilities necessary to fill those most in-demand civilian jobs, LIFT – Lightweight Innovations For Tomorrow, a Manufacturing USA institute, launched Operation Next in 2017 as a pilot program here at Ft. Campbell. The program was developed in partnership with the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS), Amatrol – a leading provider of on-line and simulation-based Advanced Manufacturing training, the Tennessee Department of Workforce, Tennessee College of Applied Technology, Hopkinsville Community College, Workforce Essentials and the Gene Haas Foundation.

Operation Next provides transitioning soldiers with the foundational training needed to prepare them for two of the most in-demand manufacturing jobs in the country.  OpNext provides the opportunity for them to earn industry recognized, nationally portable credentials which they can use to find employment anywhere in the country once their military service is complete. Right now, the available credentials are in CNC machining and Industrial Technology Maintenance (ITM),

The program begins, ideally, by identifying soldiers interested in the program 180 days ahead of their exit from service, allowing plenty of time to complete the courses.  The program includes both virtual online training as well as hands-on activities in a lab environment followed by a certification test.  A critical component of Operation Next is that soldiers get credit for what they already know or can do – Operation Next is a competency-based program.  So, there’s no sitting through classes to learn what they already know.

Once a soldier has earned their certification we assist them with their resume and job search. To date, about 30 soldiers have completed the program, including our very first graduate Tim Short, who was hired at LIFT Headquarters in Detroit as a Manufacturing Process Technician II.

Our goal for the Ft. Campbell pilot –  home to the 101st Airborne Division – is to have 101 soldiers successfully complete and find meaningful work in the manufacturing industry.  Once on their way, soldiers will have the opportunity to advance within these jobs or expand to other areas of manufacturing operations such as engineering, marketing and sales, or even become entrepreneurs.

As one of the founding institutes of Manufacturing USA, LIFT’s employer members include some of the largest manufacturers in the country along with their suppliers—making them an optimal partner of Operation Next.

The true value of Operation Next is that it takes care of our veterans while ensuring manufacturing jobs stay in this country, building our nation’s defense industrial base.

For more information on the program and its graduates, please visit

Eric Horton
American Job Center Tennessee | Operation Next Program Manager