UberMilitary announced Thursday that it has reached its goal of signing up 50,000 members of the military community to become drivers, the company announced Thursday.
The initiative began launched in September 2014, and half of the 50,000 have taken their first ride so far. To celebrate, the company is donating $1 million to veterans service organizations on behalf of its UberMilitary Advisory Board.
Todd Bowers, Marine veteran and UberMilitary director, told Military Times that working for Uber helps veterans and their families transition back into civilian life. He said the military drivers he’s spoken to name say the flexibility is as the biggest selling point: They can earn an income while they continue the job hunt or save up money to go back to school.
"I compare it to the lance corporal who's just getting out of the service in February and wants to go back to college," Bowers said. "He has that awkward six to eight months until classes start. Uber helps him fill that gap and helps with the transition."
Robert Isaac, a Marine veteran in the San Francisco area, said he started driving for Uber when he decided to change careers. He needed $10,000 for a 10-week tech bootcamp and realized how lucrative Uber was for him.
"Uber frees that time and space so I can do what I need to do but still be able to have an income," said Isaac, who is able to apply to jobs and go on interviews during the day.
Meeting different people also helps him with networking, he said, and he can get career tips and find out which companies are veteran-friendly.
"If you don't have your exact reentry plan to go back into being a civilian, Uber is a perfect way to get back in there," Isaac said. "Not everyone is ready to put on a suit and get back out there."
Bowers said it provides a good opportunity for military families as well.
Smartphones display Uber car availability in New York on Nov. 21, 2014.
Photo Credit: Julio Cortez/AP
"I enlisted, but my family got drafted," he said. "[Military families] find themselves in these places where over the space of a 20-year career, they might move up to eight times."
Bowers said it's easy for the service member to keep their job, but it's tougher for the spouse.
Kia Hamel, a Navy veteran who's married to an active-duty sailor, said she was trying to get back into the job market after her husband was transferred to the Washington, D.C., area.
"There were not a lot of government jobs because of sequestration, so I started looking at various opportunities that would afford me the flexibility to make my schedule," said Hamel, who has been with Uber since 2014.
Hamel is considering going to law school, and she said it’s helpful to have the extra income.
"It's a very good fit for veterans who are transitioning into other careers and are still trying to make up their mind on what they want to do," she said.
Bowers said UberMilitary’s next goal is to help military drivers earn $500 million by 2020, Bowers said.
"This is going to be a tough one to go for, but we're going to go for it," he said. "It comes down to the earning opportunity and potential of these individuals that we really want to focus on."
Another focus is increasing improving reliable transportation for military communities and lowering decreasing the number of alcohol-related incidents near military installations, Bowers said.
"Having served, you're always just one degree away from someone who's had an incident," he said. "We want to create a safe environment."
UberMilitary is also working on allowing drivers to earn more money when they start or end a trip at a military installation.
"Never before have we had this type of economic independence available to veterans and their families," Bowers said.
Charlsy Panzino covers veterans education, employment and transition issues, as well as travel, entertainment and fitness. Email her at email@example.com.