Virginia company may build veterans transition center in Pendleton

A “woman-owned, service-disabled, veteran-owned company” has approached local government and Navy base officials with a plan to repurpose the Sugar Grove Navy Base.

The Ambit Group, LLC, located in Reston, Va., proposes to build a Veterans Transition Center that would provide veterans and their families with vocational education programs and support services, such as physical and mental health services and housing.

Ambit wants to use the Sugar Grove facility to establish a prototype umbrella organization and facility through which private and government funds could be channelled to improve benefits for veterans and also provide communities with new opportunities and resources, Pendleton County Commission President Gene McConnell said.

“The center also would serve nonveterans throughout the region. Any program would be available to local residents. This project would be perfected at Sugar Grove and then possibly replicated at other locations throughout the country,” McConnell added.

To support both veterans and communities, the government is investing more than $130 billion annually that comes from a “myriad of programs and agencies; however, a lack of cohesion limits the impact of the support provided,” said Ambit spokesman Tom Oates.

A transition center that unites the services for veterans and the community creates a unique opportunity.

“We can better serve both groups – and our nation as a whole – by better using the funds already allocated,” Oates said.

Pendleton County would have no money or liability invested in this project.

“If the project would not work, the county would shut the project down,” said McConnell, who emphasized this is just one of the projects being pursued. The base is still under the control of the Department of Defense, which has priority over all future use of the Navy base.

Currently, Ambit provides management consulting services to the public and private sectors and specializes in technology, telecommunications and information management, program and project management, and communications, McConnell said.

Kim Hayes, Ambit CEO and co-founder with John Condon, enlisted in the U.S. Army at age 18 and came home disabled.

“I went in healthy and came home wounded,” Hayes said. “It was a long wait even then for help from the Veterans Administration. It took 27 months, and I didn’t know what to do during that time, what options I had or jobs I could do. I was home and hurt.”

Hayes took advantage of the VA programs, got her college degree and became a successful business owner. “I always said when my day came, I had a dream to do something for these kids … build a safe landing zone, so as they came out, they could get help and education. I wanted to have a single point of process while they wait for the VA in no man’s land,” she said

Hayes also is passionate about linking her help for veterans with communities who are struggling with closures and lost job opportunities.

“I’m from a small town in North Carolina and fell in love with Pendleton County, the base and the people I have met,” she said. “I want to link the two together by combining our resources to help both. I think it’s the right answer for the veterans, the community and their families.”

First steps toward building the center are likely to begin no later than Oct.1 in order to solicit commitments from corporations and government agencies interested in participating.

“In the unlikely event there would be insufficient commitment from these agencies by January 2014, this would represent a go/no-go decision point and would leave time to pursue alternate solutions,” McConnell said.

A decision to go forward would result in the initiation of a pilot project early in 2014. The results of the pilot program would provide another “go/no-go decision point.”

“If the pilot goes well and the Veterans Transition Center seems sustainable, recruitment of companies and government partners would ramp up starting in October 2014 to prepare for the Navy’s departure from Sugar Grove in October 2015,” McConnell said.

A critical component of the base closure is a gradual well-planned transition, not allowing the base to become closed for a significant period of time, as the cost of re-opening would be substantial, McConnell added.

“Ambit has a well thought-out plan with a lot of potential. It also has connections to companies and can raise funds to make it happen. But before moving forward, we need to engage the community in the discussion and hear what others think of this opportunity,” he said.

The County Commission will hold a public hearing on Ambit’s proposal in the near future.

“We need to get the community behind this project,” Hayes said. “Together we’re going to do it.”