- Associated Press - Monday, November 9, 2015

DECATUR, Ala. (AP) - Ask Decatur veteran Chris Dutton about his business skills and he will proudly give you a verbal resume of how he helped manage the military business for 24 years.

As a U.S. Navy chief petty officer who specialized as a gunner’s mate, Dutton maintained, operated and tinkered with multibillion dollar weapons systems and small arms. He exercised his diplomatic skills after learning about different religions, languages and customs while also fighting the Gulf War and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But Dutton, 48, wasn’t prepared for the battles he would face getting jobs at home after retiring from the military in February 2014. With more than two decades worth of project, personnel and mission management experience, starting a career in the civilian world should be easy, he thought. A year and nine months later, he still struggles to translate the skills that earned him medals into the workforce.

“You feel a little betrayed,” Dutton said. “You go from everyone slapping you on the back, telling you how good you are, then you think, ‘Maybe I’m not so good.’ “

Dutton can relate to the 573,000 U.S. veterans who, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, are adjusting to the world of unemployment. The experiences that taught him teamwork, discipline and how to handle assignments in tough situations have become words on a resume that get overlooked during job interviews, he said.

The Decatur Career Center is trying to help veterans readjust to civilian life by hosting a job workshop Tuesday at American Legion Post 15 from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. The jobs are there, Disabled Veterans Outreach Program Specialist Carl Flemons said, but a college degree is becoming a must for most of them.

Dutton may have handled multimillion dollar equipment, but he doesn’t have a certificate to operate heavy machinery. He may have been focused in intense environments, but he doesn’t have a business degree.

Flemons said education requirements back veterans who went into the military out of high school into two corners: They can either be underqualified without a degree or be overqualified for entry-level jobs, he said.

“It’s almost insulting to be working for a manager that’s five, 10, 15 years younger than you and doesn’t respect your qualifications,” Flemons said. “I don’t want to discard the education requirement, but their military training should be given more credibility. They have years of experience in adverse environments.”

Former U.S. Marine Corps Squad Leader William Thackston developed, planned and executed solutions as he supervised 12 marines in Panama while on the front lines. During those four years, he said, he had to pay attention to detail and give specific commands. If he wasn’t specific enough, he ran the risk of losing someone’s life.

After leaving combat in 1991, he worked as an inventory control manager with a company in North Carolina. As he communicated with staff members who had degrees, he said, some coworkers felt intimidated by his military background.

“They fear you’re going to come in and try to rewrite everything because of your attention to detail and that you’re not trainable,” Thackston said. “You tend to step on toes instead of them taking constructive criticism. I felt like they wouldn’t listen to me until I got my degree.”

He received a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice by taking online classes. Next is a master’s degree in public administration. The education created a one-year gap of unemployment in his resume, which raises red flags during a job interview.

“They look at that and ask you, ‘Why were you unemployed?’ ” Thackston said. “They don’t understand that you’re in school, but they say, ‘Oh, you still could have had a job.’ “

Dutton is two classes from finishing his workforce education and development degree online. He tried to finish the courses while he was in the Navy, but being deployed 220 days out of the year made studying difficult.

“While you’re on deployment, you have to do a little at a time. You don’t have the opportunity to finish it all at one time,” Dutton said. “Because I don’t have a four-year degree, they won’t even look at my resume. The fact that I have all this experience is frustrating.”

Local Veterans Employment Representative Jerry Sasnette said the lack of understanding could come from lack of military experience. He said the job market a generation ago was a bit more favorable to military men because most of them were drafted and the potential employers most likely served in the trenches themselves.

Now less than 1 percent of Americans are active in the military, according to the Department of Defense. Sasnette said while employers used to connect through their experiences in Korea and Vietnam, people now have developed a misconception of military life.

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Information from: The Decatur Daily, http://www.decaturdaily.com/decaturdaily/index.shtml

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