Area nonprofit a one-stop shop for those leaving military

Bernard Bergan didn’t have a clear idea of what he wanted to do as he wound down his Army career last summer. He figured he had some lean months ahead as he looked for work.

Then he turned to Rally Point 6, a Lakewood nonprofit, and came out with a plan that landed him a job at Microsoft before he’d even hung up his uniform.

“Sometimes you need someone to point you in the right direction. They did for me, and I ended up at Microsoft,” said Bergan, 31, a former Joint Base Lewis-McChord Special Forces communications sergeant.

He’s one of the first success stories for Rally Point 6, a new nonprofit that aims to be a one-stop shop connecting veterans with career and social services.

It distinguishes itself from other groups by its close ties to Lewis-McChord, its collaboration with other veteran support organizations and its commitment to helping military families with any problem they might face, including a job search and health care.

“Any veteran who needs help can get it here,” said Larry Saunders, the former Lakewood police chief and Army colonel who is co-chairman of the Rally Point 6 board.

“If you’re not employed and you’re looking, stay right here,” he said. “We’ll be your home.”

The organization provides a personal touch by linking veterans with case managers — known as scouts — who help former troops chart a path to their goals. If one plan fails, the scout will try again, founder Anne Sprute said.

She aims to help “the talent pool that’s coming out” of the military and help them become “the next greatest generation.”

Two weeks ago, Rally Point 6 opened its remodeled headquarters off Bridgeport Way. It’s well-stocked with computer labs and meeting rooms open to veterans and the community groups who help them.

It also has a playroom for veterans to bring their kids while they meet with counselors or work on their résumés.

The group’s work is growing more urgent now that Army downsizing is picking up speed. More than 9,000 military service members are leaving the armed forces out of Lewis-McChord every year under an Army plan to shed tens of thousands of positions from its Iraq War peak.

Some are separating from the military because they prefer to start civilian careers. Others are being pushed out by rising retention standards and more limited opportunities.

“They are wonderful, talented, skilled men and women, but we’re asking them to transition much faster than anyone ever anticipated,” Saunders said.

Sprute started forming her ideas for Rally Point 6 during one of the last stops of her Army career. The retired Army helicopter pilot served in 2008 as community outreach officer for Lewis-McChord’s Warrior Transition Battalion.

She found legions of community groups and individuals who wanted to help the battalion’s sick, injured and wounded soldiers. The trouble was, they often found barriers getting the right help to the right soldier at the right time.

For example, federal law bars troops from taking certain internships while still receiving military paychecks, even if they’re on they’re way out of the Army.

Sprute retired from the Army in 2010 and went to work for Microsoft. Her ideas kept percolating, and in 2012 she built the framework for Rally Point 6 with help from the Gary Milgard Foundation and a host of Puget Sound business, political and military leaders.

They gave money or volunteered out of a shared concern that transitioning troops would need time to reorient their lives, even if they take advantage of programs offered at Lewis-McChord.

“People who leave the military at any age, some of them aren’t of the mindset to really think about a future when they’ve been working day in and day out when they’ve been at war,” said Madeline Lanza, a Rally Point 6 supporter and wife of Lewis-McChord senior Army officer Lt. Gen. Stephen Lanza.

Anthony Sanza, 34, a former Lewis-McChord Stryker soldier from Roseville, Calif., got help when his doctors at the Department of Veterans Affairs ran out of ideas to help him fight desmoplastic sarcoma, a rare and deadly form of cancer.

Sanza mentioned his predicament to a Lewis-McChord officer he knew from their Iraq tour. The officer, Col. Jody Miller, wasn’t ready to give up.

Miller called Sprute, who connected Sanza with the Cancer Treatment Centers of America and helped him find support to pay for the care he’d receive there. Sanza’s in Phoenix now for four weeks of treatment. He’s hoping to get healthy to raise his 3-year-old daughter.

“They actually help veterans. They don’t just make all these promises,” he said of Rally Point 6.

Bergan, the former Special Forces sergeant, discovered the nonprofit as he started preparing to leave the Army in August. He was impressed that he was asked about his wife’s career goals in addition to his own.

He was connected with resources to buy professional clothes for interviews and to borrow a laptop so he could work on Microsoft courses at home.

“I think the one-stop solution is so needed,” Bergan said. “Being that I just transitioned, I clearly understand how important it is to have one point of contact instead of running around to the different support agencies.”

Adam Ashton: 253-597-8646