- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 15, 2012

When Tom Tarantino left the Army as a captain in 2007, he was uncertain how his jobs skills as a mortar and cavalry platoon leader in Iraq and his Bronze Star might be marketable when he entered the workforce back home.

“A good part of it was me not understanding how to sell myself,” he recalls of his initial job hunt. “It’s not like I did nothing for the 10 years I was in the military, but I had nothing to go by, to understand what a civilian market needs and how to transition from that.”

He eventually found his way: Mr. Tarantino now works as a senior legislative associate for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA.org), where he sees the challenges other returning veterans face as an increasing number look for work in a tight job market.

For American troops, the Iraq conflict has ended and the Afghanistan War is winding down at a time when the U.S. economy is struggling and unemployment statistics for veterans are stark.

The latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics put the jobless rate for Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans at 13.1 percent, up from 11.1 percent a year ago. The December unemployment rate for those recent veterans was 4.5 percentage points higher than the national jobless rate.

Mr. Tarantino, mindful of the high numbers, calls it a structural issue. While many corporations nationwide are invested in hiring veterans, “this is the first generation of business leaders in this country who have never served in the military,” he said. “Prior to this generation, almost everyone had served … and the military resume was something easy to translate.

“But leadership skills, being an officer, are not understood by the current employment climate. What we had to do was go back and figure out ways to do quantitative analysis so that we can effectively transition people without losing the valuable skills they got in the military.”

Business groups are stepping into the breach as well.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce last year initiated a “Hiring Our Heroes” drive designed to help returning service members and their spouses find jobs. Chamber officials said last week that the Washington-based business group and its local affiliates have hosted 83 hiring fairs in 41 states, putting an estimated 81,000 military veterans and spouses into contact with more than 4,000 employers.

On Friday, the chamber partnered with NBC News, its local affiliate and the Military Spouse Employment Partnership for what was billed as the largest career forum of its kind at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center dedicated exclusively to helping military spouses get jobs. The gathering featured free makeovers, interview and resume coaching, and interview rooms for applicants to meet with employers.

Getting help

Steven Karl, 28, left his intelligence job in the Air Force in 2010 after serving two years supporting Operation Enduring Freedom in Southwest Asia. The University of Florida graduate was rehired quickly as a civilian contractor and is serving a two-year stint doing similar work in Afghanistan. Mindful of his future, he spent much of the past year earning his master’s degree.

Most of his military friends, he added, had little trouble picking up civilian work for the military, but they are the ones who have been flexible.

“I think the Air Force does a good job of setting people up for success as they are headed out the door,” Mr. Karl said. “They provide classes and numerous resources, but just like after college or high school, getting a job will be dependent on the level of motivation of the individual and the level of sacrifice they are willing to make to ensure their ability to be employed.”

Added Mr. Karl: “The sad fact is, some members of the military depart because they lacked qualities that made them a good member of the armed forces. This is a tiny minority of vets, and they tend to be vocal about their situation. The only person I know who was completely unable to get a job was very picky about where he ended up and did not exit the military under the best of circumstances, which is a luxury that can’t be taken in the current market.”

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