Sgt. Miguel Angel: Getting “SMART” about the future

Sgt. Miguel Angel: Getting “SMART” about the future Courtesy Photo | Sgt. Miguel Angel is all smiles after graduating from the Smart Heroes Program on June 26, 2018. (Photo courtesy of Sgt. Miguel Angel)

By Annette Gomes Warrior Care and Transition


ARLINGTON, Va. – A simple headline this past spring said it all, “HVAC: Big Industry. Big demand.” For retired U.S. Army Sgt. Miguel Angel, those words are exactly what he needed to see as he headed into retirement.

“Preparing for the future is something that is always in my mind and it’s important other Soldiers think about it, their livelihood depends on it,” Angel said.

The former cable systems installer enrolled in the Sheet Metal Workers Apprenticeship Heroes Program, or SMART, a component of the Career Skills Program at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. The program is a seven week course geared towards providing skills and opportunity in the sheet metal industry. JBLM is the only military installation that offers the SMART HEROES program.

Angel says it was a match made in heaven.

“The program has taught me the basics of the craft and opened my opportunities to explore other job skills. The great thing about this program is that they will help you find a job. In my class, we had some students who went right to work the day after graduation. For others like me who were pending completion of service, we have jobs waiting for us,” Angel said.

Kevin Thomas, an instructor with Western Washington Sheet Metal which is a partner with the SMART HEROES Program, was impressed with Angel’s determination to succeed.

“I can’t say enough about Miguel. His transformation was huge, he never struggled or became discouraged, and he tested very well. He scored a 94 percent overall which was the third highest grade. That speaks volumes to me,” Thomas said.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the demand for sheet metal workers will increase substantially as commercial and residential construction is expected to rise by the end of 2018. Thomas says providing career options for many is an essential effort to keeping up with the changing demand in the industry. He also believes that former military personnel can help the industry with the assets and qualities they bring to the workforce that can’t be taught in a classroom.

“In our facility we like to say if you’re not moving forward, you’re falling behind. This simply means we as union sheet metal workers must advance our apprenticeship program and our industry through the integration of technology and quality workers.” Thomas said [Former military personnel] make the best students. They show up with life skills you can’t train, have an eagerness to learn and show up every day on time and this is very important. They work hard all day and when you layer those skills with quality education you end up with a quality sheet metal worker,” Thomas added.

Angel retired on August 30, 2018 after nine years of military service, and says he’s ready to start the next part of his journey as a sheet metal worker in New Jersey.

“I don’t usually live my life by a certain motto, but what I’ve learned is that transitioning [out of the military] can be difficult. However, if you put one foot in front of the other, the universe will take care of the rest. There’s a wealth of opportunity out there, you just have to be open to the possibilities presented to you.”