When the former sergeant found out about the Army Corps of Engineers' new Veterans Curation Project, he discovered a career path.
"I've always been interested in history," said Mr. Berkman, who has an associate's degree in history. "This is like Christmas every day. You never know what you're going to see."
The program is a collaborative effort to provide training, employment and job skills for wounded veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan by working with archaeological collections.
The project, which is the first of its kind in the nation, opened in a storefront in West Town shopping center more than two weeks ago.
Mr. Berkman, a Purple Heart recipient who served two tours in Iraq, lives in an apartment in Augusta with his wife and 15-month-old son.
He said he looks forward to gaining skills he can apply to other jobs. He also plans to go back to college.
"It's very interesting," he said. "I'm very happy to have it."
A large group gathered Oct. 20 at the Martinez building that houses the project for an open house and ribbon-cutting ceremony.
"This is an exciting program that will contribute to the nation's stewardship of its national archeological treasures and provide skills in archaeology, archival collections and record management to this generation of American heroes," said Jo-Ellen Darcy, the assistant secretary of the Army for civil works. "I look forward to watching our veterans learn new skills and help us to save the past for America's future."
The project is the result of a team effort, said Sonny Trimble, the director of the Army Corps of Engineers' St. Louis District's Mandatory Center of Expertise for the Curation and Management of Archaeological Collections.
Dr. Trimble said he hopes each veteran takes advantage of the program.
"For these guys, there is no metric on how many boxes (of artifacts) they get done," he said. "The metric is how well did they learn and how many people come out of here successfully trained and then go into this community and get a job."
The program, funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, is designed to help ease the veterans' transition into the nation's work force. Through their work, participants will gain experience in digital assets management, records digitizing and management, photography and scanning, objects inventory, and tracking and processing.
In the Augusta area, service members from the CSRA Wounded Warrior Care Project, the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center, the Fort Gordon Warrior Transition Battalion and the Georgia Department of Labor will get assistance through the program.
The Veterans Curation Project not only challenges participants but also gives them a sense of belonging, said Laurie Ott, the executive director of the CSRA Wounded Warrior Care Project.
"I think that we can't underestimate how important it is for our veterans to feel that sense of camaraderie and friendship among folks who understand them, who have been there and done that," she said.
Ten veterans are working with artifacts from an American Indian site in southwestern Georgia, said Dr. Paul Brockington, the president of Brockington Cultural Resources Consulting, the firm selected to work with the project. The veterans will be employed for a six-month span.
"The wounded veterans are so great," he said. "They're just so excited about doing this. They have questions. They're learning really fast."
Mrs. Ott said that providing returning veterans with this service is a way to ensure that they have a smooth transition into civilian life.
"By making sure our past is properly categorized, it's helping these veterans build a future, and I think that's the most important thing of all," she said.
Veterans interested in the program can call Simone Brown, of the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center, at (706) 733-0188, ext. 7382; or Senita Thorne, of the Department of Labor, at (706) 650-5611.