Microsoft announced Thursday the expansion of its IT training program to five Army installations, bringing the total to 12 locations.

The Microsoft Software & Systems Academy provides service members with the skills to transition into the IT industry before they separate from the military.

The five posts are:

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  • Fort Campbell, Kentucky (2016)
  • Fort Benning, Georgia (2016)
  • Fort Bragg, North Carolina (2016)
  • Fort Carson, Colorado (2016)
  • Fort Bliss, Texas (2017)

Chris Cortez, retired Marine major general and vice president of military affairs at Microsoft, said the program was created to fill the gap in open IT roles.

The 18-week program started at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, in 2013 before expanding to Fort Hood, Texas, and Camp Pendleton, California. The program has had 319 graduates, and Cortez said the expansion will bump that number up to 1,000 each year. As Microsoft's education partner, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University provides the infrastructure that delivers the curriculum and coursework.

Of the 319 graduates, "84 percent are employed in the IT industry with an average starting salary of over $70,000," Cortez said. "We're so committed to this that our goal is to hire 25 percent directly into Microsoft."

Other employers that have hired MSSA graduates include Dell, Amazon Web Services, Accenture and the Defense Department.

Cortez said service members are eligible for the program if they have declared they're leaving active duty and fall within six months of transitioning out.

Former Army Special Forces Sgt. Bernard Bergan joined the program when it was in its first stages at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.

Photo Credit: Microsoft

Former Army Special Forces Sgt. Bernard Bergan joined the program when it was in its first stages at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

"I learned how agile and cutting-edge our current technology world is going forward," said Bergan, who graduated from MSSA in December 2013 and was hired by Microsoft as a technical account manager a month later.

Bergan discovered an MSSA booth during his out-processing from the military, and even though the program was brand new, he said the Microsoft brand name helped mitigate any nerves he had.

"If there's a program like the MSSA, really go take a look," Bergan said. "You hear Microsoft and you say, 'Wow, I'm not prepared to work there.' That's what the MSSA does. It prepares you."

The program helped him make a more stable transition from the military to the civilian world, which both he and his family appreciated, he said.

Cortez said when service members who are leaving the military go through a program like this, it's a much smoother transition.

"They're in a much better position," he said.

Every service member who participates in the program is guaranteed an interview at Microsoft, which Bergan said was a clincher for him.

"That's the best-case scenario that's not always available to people," he said.

Travis Myers, a former chief warrant officer two in the Army, graduated from the program last spring.

"It gave me a really broad, vast perspective of all the different emerging technologies," said Myers, who was hired by Microsoft as a service engineer.

"One of the other key things is the MSSA program teaches the candidates to translate who you are, what you love to do and what you're capable of into something that others can understand, too," he said.