- The Washington Times - Friday, August 11, 2006

FORT GORDON, Ga. (AP) — Staff Sgt. Martin Jones is hunting for a new job after 18 years in the Army — but not by choice.

Sgt. Jones, 35, of Atlanta, planned to complete 20 years of service and retire. That plan was cut short in October after he deployed to help train the Iraqi army. Four roadside bomb explosions over a month left him with hearing loss in both ears, shrapnel in his right side, crushed bones in his left arm and nerve damage to his hand.

Facing a medical discharge and still recovering, Sgt. Jones traded his fatigues for a dark suit Wednesday to impress private-sector and government recruiters at a job fair aimed at giving wounded warriors an edge in entering the work force.

“It’s extremely frightening,” he said. “It’s been a hard transition, with the reality setting in that life as I knew it is changing.”

With more than 20,000 U.S. troops wounded in action in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army and the Office of the Secretary of Defense have been working to help find civilian jobs for those no longer able to serve.

The job fair at Fort Gordon in Augusta was the agencies’ sixth since last year.

More than 200 soldiers from Army posts in Georgia and South Carolina attended classes on writing resumes and preparing for job interviews before meeting with recruiters from companies such as IBM and BellSouth as well as the CIA, the Treasury Department and other federal agencies.

“Even if we placed just one, to me it would be paying off,” said Karen Hannah, program manager for the series of job fairs.

About 85 soldiers have received job offers out of more than 1,000 attending the job fairs, Miss Hannah said.

Job hunters Wednesday included many from the National Guard, who held civilian jobs before being wounded in Iraq but worry that their injuries won’t allow them to return to those careers.

Sgt. Jeff Harper, 45, of Hiram, Ga., drove a truck route stocking vending machines in Atlanta before he deployed to Iraq last year with the 48th Infantry Brigade of the Georgia National Guard. Last August, a roadside bomb shredded the flesh and nerves in his left forearm.

“This is something we need,” he said. “A lot of these guys, like me, are probably not going to be able to continue with the military. But I’d like to still feel like I’m doing my part.”

Sgt. Robert Waples, 31, of the Maryland National Guard, undergoing treatment at Fort Gordon’s Eisenhower Army Medical Center, wasn’t impressed with the job fair.

After suffering nerve damage to his face from a bomb blast in Iraq, Sgt. Waples doubts he’ll be able to return to his job as a policeman in Waldorf. But he said most recruiters he spoke with wanted applicants with college degrees.

“I’m sure this is put together with very good intentions,” he said. “But these aren’t the right companies to be here recruiting.”

Job recruiter Phil Prevatte said military experience is often more important to his employer — defense contractor Lockheed Martin — than a college diploma.

“In a lot of cases where the military is concerned, we will trade off experience for a degree,” Mr. Prevatte said.

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