Caliber Collision graduated 12 students from its Changing Lanes program Friday, its 21st cohort since the program came to Fort Hood in April 2017, before presenting two newly rebuilt cars to Gold Star families – cars the class themselves rebuilt from the ground up.
“The core values the Army instills in them – if you break it down, they build it back,” Douglas Wilberg, director of technical training for Caliber Collision, said is what makes service members great employees.
Changing Lanes is a program within Fort Hood’s Army Career Skills Program, designed to train transitioning Soldiers and provide them a livable wage upon their departure from the military. The program trains the Soldiers on auto body repair, with hands-on experience throughout the course, rebuilding vehicles as part of Caliber’s Recycled Rides program.
“I come from six sisters and none of them were into auto body,” former Spc. Zalma Ortiz said. “The instructors were very hands-on and they didn’t belittle you if you didn’t know something. They sat you down and really explained why they do it that way.”
The former 13th Expeditionary Sustainment Command cook said she decided to go through the Changing Lanes program because she wanted do something good in her life. She said she never imagined how big the program actually was until she had seen the looks on the faces of the two families who received the cars the students rebuilt.
“It was emotional,” Ortiz said. “It was a bigger purpose than what we thought.”
Luiz Aleman, a military dependent and graduate of the program, said the program was a little overwhelming at first, but they were taught to sit down and plan out every step of the repair process.
“We became very close,” Aleman said. “It honestly feels like a family.”
As they repaired and rebuilt the vehicles throughout the program, Aleman admitted he had his doubts they would finish on time, but that just made them work harder.
“The damage was horrible and we didn’t know if we could finish,” he said. “But seeing the reactions today … it made it 100% worth it, knowing we’re helping people in a time of need.”
The two Gold Star families, identified as having a need of transportation by Fort Hood’s Survivor Outreach Services, were presented with the cars in a special unveiling ceremony, which included the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders and the Cowboys’ mascot Rowdy.
Tears of joy fell as Anita Cabral and Jaylin Henry-Means were presented their new cars, which came at just the right time for both families.
Cabral, the widow of Cpl. Juan Cabral Banuelos, said the new vehicle will help provide her livelihood, as she drives to and from work.
“I’m absolutely speechless,” she said. “My truck, my only transportation, the transmission is about to go out and I don’t have any other vehicle.”
Henry-Means, the widower of Pvt. Jacques Means from Killeen, said the last two years have been difficult, which makes Caliber Collision’s generosity even more special.
“Thank y’all so much. There’s not enough words to show my gratitude,” Henry-Means said. “I truly thank every single one of you.”
Since Caliber Collision developed the Changing Lanes program at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in 2016, they have graduated more than 200 people across the country. Changing Lanes cohorts take place at Fort Hood, Fort Bragg and Fort Carson, Colorado.
“Caliber’s purpose is to restore the lives of our teammates, of our customers,” Todd Dillender, executive vice president of operations for Caliber Collision – West Coast, said. “That’s why I wake up every day. We’re especially devoted to the men and women of the armed forces.”
Caliber Collision will continue its partnership with the Dallas Cowboys by helping sponsor the Cowboys’ annual combine at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. Just like the NFL Scouting Combine, it will test the athleticism and resilience of the competitors, which brings together troops and first responders from across the states of Texas and Oklahoma. The preliminary combine will be held on March 20. The event will culminate with the fourth annual Heroes Day, April 4. Competing to announce a draft pick for the Dallas Cowboys, 50 finalists will test their athletic ability through a series of drills, before a male and female winner is chosen.