When Brandon Drawdy, who served in the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne, first heard about a five-month program created by the Army Corps of Engineers that uses archaeological collections to help train veterans, he honestly didn’t know what to think about it.
“I go to Georgia Military College and one of my buddies told me about it,” Drawdy said. “He said it’s called the Veterans Curation Program and they help train you with stuff like records processing, data entry and database management and they even help you find a job.”
Even though Drawdy was unfamiliar with the Veterans Curation Program, he thought it sounded like a good opportunity to help develop skills that would make him a stronger candidate for jobs in the private sector, federal agencies or defense contractors.
Not only did he apply, but he convinced his brother and fellow veteran, Richard Drawdy, to submit an application as well.
“And it was incredible because we both got hired on at the same time,” Brandon Drawdy said. “And it has been a great experience for both of us because working with veterans is a lot different than working with civilians. Veterans know where you’ve been and what you’ve been through. They understand.”
Ever since 2009, the Army Corps of Engineer’s Veterans Curation Program has employed and trained across this nation more than 370 veterans, primarily those who served during the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts, through both part-time and full-time positions dealing with archaeological collections processing.
Of the veterans working in the program, 73 percent have received permanent employment and 17 percent have continued their education at colleges and universities.
Specifically, the Augusta laboratory began back in 2009 in a strip mall on Washington Road in Martinez, but moved to Enterprise Mill in downtown Augusta late last year.
Over the past seven years, a total of 172 veterans have participated in the Augusta laboratory. After graduating the program, 121 have either obtained employment or enrolled in college.
“Everyone here has such great resources and contacts that are so helpful,” Brandon Drawdy said. “For instance, when I came here, I was told about the Augusta Warrior Project. I had never heard of that before. So this has been an awesome program and I would suggest it to anyone.”
Not only do the veterans benefit from the program, but Army Corps of Engineers also receives skilled employees to help curate one of the largest archaeological assemblages in the country, explained Alison Shepherd, the artifacts laboratory manager and an archaeologist with the Veterans Curation Program.
“We are not training them to be archeologists, but what we are trying to do instead is give them the skills that we use regularly in archeology which are easily transferable to any civilian sector,” Shepherd said. “Skills such as word processing, database creation, database management and attention to detail. They also learn how to do digital photography and the digitization of records.”
Inside the Augusta laboratory are thousands and thousands of artifacts waiting to be recorded and properly stored, Shepherd said.
“Everything we are working with right now is from Mississippi. We are working with what’s called the Mobile District Collections,” Shepherd explained, pointing to letters and numbers identifying each box of artifacts. “This one is from East Aberdeen in Mississippi. It was an historic site in Mississippi that was destroyed in the process of building the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. It was a huge project that started in the late 1950s. This site was actually excavated back in 1978. So, basically, the site was excavated, the artifacts were put in these boxes and they sat on the shelf for years.”
Veterans working at the Augusta facility have processed more than 390 boxes of artifacts, preserved more than 13 linear feet of documents and taken more than 3,055 photographs of historic and prehistoric artifacts, according to the Veterans Curation Program.
“There are about 10,000 years of history in these boxes,” Shepherd said. “Everything from the Middle Archaic Period all the way up to the 1950s. So, you never know what is going to be inside each of the boxes.”
Shepherd said that the Veterans Curation Program typically hires 12 to 15 veterans each session to assist with archaeological collections.
“And in addition to working with us, the veterans — depending on how many hours a week they work with us — get what’s called personal growth and development time,” Shepherd said. “For example, if they work 40 hours a week, they also get three hours a week – that is, paid time – where they can look for jobs, go to job interviews or job fairs, and we bring in people to provide resume workshops, financial planning or anything that they need to advance themselves personally and professionally.”
The Veterans Curation Program was created to address two needs with one single solution, Shepherd said.
“Very soon researchers, educators and the general public will have access to the digital collections created by this program through the work performed by these veterans,” she said. “And our goal is, when the veterans graduate this program, they will have meaningful employment or they will continue their education.”
For more information about the Veterans Curation Program, visit VeteransCurationProgram.org