Internship Program at Columbia Airport Transitions Military Members to Private Sector


After 22 years in the Air Force, with command experience in airport operations, Chris Davis looked to transition to civilian life in 2021.

He did so at the Columbia Metropolitan Airport in West Columbia, in an internship as part of the federal Department of Defense’s SkillBridge program, which pairs service members leaving the military with companies where they can get workplace experience in the private sector.

“SkillBridge gives us the opportunity to go anywhere in the continental United States that we want in an area of interest that we would like,” Davis told the Chronicle. 

“It gives you free will to do what you want to do on the outside. I think that helped out a lot,” he said of his entry into the private sector.

It worked out for Davis, who, thanks to a previous master's degree in human resources, was hired at the airport as a human resources manager at the end of his internship. 

And it worked out for the airport, which subsequently applied and was accepted as an industry partner for the SkillBridge program.

Through the program, members of the U.S. Armed Forces serve up to their final 180 days interning at a private company. According to the airport, there are more than 250 SkillBridge industry partners, including Home Depot, Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

“Opening the doors of CAE and welcoming in members of the military after they’ve served our country is a special privilege,” Airport Executive Director Mike Gula is quoted in a press release. “So far, two participants have successfully completed the SkillBridge program at CAE. This mutually beneficial program is one CAE is proud to support.”

Kim Crafton, the airport’s director of marketing and air service development, told the Chronicle that two SkillBridge participants have completed their internships there so far, and two more interns started in the program last week, 

She added that the airport has had several inquiries from others looking to participate in SkillBridge.

“Davis inquired about an internship through the SkillBridge program and that’s how we learned of the opportunity to be involved and participate,” Crafton recounted. “From there, and after working with Davis, we applied to be an industry partner with [the] SkillBridge program. The application process involved showing that CAE [has] opportunities available for interns, the hands-on work they would be doing, the qualifications and training we could provide, etc.

“We’re thrilled that so many servicemen and servicewomen are interested in future careers in aviation and look to CAE as a leader in the industry,” she offered.

Beyond the fact that he found his current job through his SkillBridge internship, Davis said the airport was a good place to transition from military to civilian life.

“Coming from the Air Force and being in the aviation career field, at the heart of it, the airport operations, you get accustomed to this,” he offered. “We were kind of speaking the same language. So I kind of eased into it. It made it better. It would have been kind of weird transitioning from an aviation career field in the Air Force and coming into a whole different career field or organization on the civilian side.”

The size and culture of the staff helped, too, Davis added.

“Everyone knows everyone,” he said. “It's not like 600 people, where you don't know your co-workers. I would say that definitely helped a lot as well. Just a welcoming feeling that everybody gave me.”

columbia metropolitan airport, military transition, public sector, lexington county business


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