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Training for civil service at point of contact
By David Perry, [email protected]
Article Launched: 10/15/2008 06:35:27 AM EDT

Once their service to country was over, they hoped to be firefighters, cops or other emergency personnel.

But they came back with wounds that kept them from the jobs they wanted.

Now, thanks to a pilot program at Middlesex Community College, they can be first responders on the front lines as dispatchers and in other public-safety communications jobs. The program may expand nationwide, and including other start-ups Delaware and Washington D.C. next month. The program is open to all Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, but focuses on veterans living with disabilities, said officials. The program seeks to train and certify veterans so they will be ready when jobs open up in public safety communications.

Yesterday, representatives of agencies involved outlined the veterans career training program to a handful of veterans and said there are usually dispatcher jobs open due to a high turnover rate.

"There are challenges, and it's not for everyone," said Richard Boettcher, a Vietnam-era Army veteran, adding that the high turnover rate is due in part to advancement. "It can be a very rewarding profession."

Boettcher, 62, is the director of the Administrative Services Division for the North Andover Police Department. He said he left the service in 1971, with a service-related leg injury and "stumbled" from job to job over 20 years before finding work as a dispatcher.

He used to visit the Veterans Administration in the very downtown Lowell building where

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yesterday's meeting was held, long before it was refurbished by MCC.
"I wanted to be a firefighter but because of a back injury in the service I couldn't," said Chris Maddeford, 26, of Bedford. He joined the U.S. Army in 2000 and served in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan in 2002 and 2003. He has also been treated for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). "I want to get into being a dispatcher. My uncle did it for 35 years in Chelsea."

Lexington Police Chief Christopher Casey, a representative of the 50-agency North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council (NEMLEC), said he worked with a dispatcher for 35 years who was on crutches due to a bout with polio as a child.

"He was one of the best dispatchers we ever had, and I always felt that for someone like him, who aspired to police or firefighting work but was unable to do that, this would be a good fit."

Casey's son served three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan in the U.S. Marine Corps. He returned home 18 months ago, and initially had a hard time finding a job. He now works as an EMT.

The program combines the resources of NEMLEC with those of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO), which connects and supports more than 15,000 public-safety communications professionals around the world.

It is sponsored by Sen. John Kerry's office, and U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas was there to lend support.

"Service in war is a life-changing event," said Tsongas. "As our veterans come back, it's important to find them training opportunities like this one."

Others involved include the U.S. Department of Labor and he Massachusetts Departments of Veterans Services and Workforce Development.

The state Office of Workforce Development will pay tuition for the one-week training.

"This is a great chance to do something," said Christopher Baines, 48, of Bedford, who served in the Army from 1978-1981. "It's been a long road, but I want to give back to my community. I have so much to give."
 
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