GIs return to fight new war to get jobs

By Kelly Kennedy
Tribune staff reporter
Published August 12, 2005

After months of raiding homes in search of bad guys, driving over booby-trapped streets and
teaching Iraqis how to defend themselves, the 1,000 veterans entering the U.S. job market every
day have one question:

How do they translate "good with a grenade launcher" on a resume?

At a panel discussion at the Fairmont Hotel in downtown Chicago Monday, sponsored by the
federal HireVetsFirst program, recently discharged veterans called for jobs that pay as well as the
military did. They wanted more time to look for jobs before they left the service. And, after at
least four years in the armed forces, they wanted to know how civilian life works.

"I really have no idea of what working at Home Depot is like," said Capt. Peter Lohman, who
caught a bullet in the shoulder in December while leading a scout team in Iraq. "I have the feeling
it's going to be incredibly boring."

But HireVetsFirst representatives said veterans are good employees because of their leadership
and experience. The group cited several examples of programs that work and presented statistics
and success stories to business people who might be wary of hiring a veteran.

And, the group said, more needs to be done to teach veterans what is available to them.

The Government Accountability Office released a report June 29 on the Transition Assistance
Program--a set of courses designed to teach service members how to dress for an interview, put
together a resume and look for a job. The agency found it can be helpful if soldiers and Marines
can get away from other duties to attend and if it is held far enough in advance of their release
from the military to have time to search for a job.

Cody Green of Blue Island attended the program in Norfolk, Va., as he was leaving the Navy in
December. He did not find a job until Monday, when he learned about a job at Burlington
Northern Santa Fe Railway through the federal One-Stop Career Center with the help of a
veterans representative.

"A lot of people told me I would have a hard time finding a job after I got out," he said. "But I
was under the impression being a veteran at a time of war I would be able to find a job pretty
quickly."

The report recommends making the program mandatory, emphasizing the importance of veterans'
benefits, sending people overseas to deliver job counseling, making sure the program includes the
same information from base to base and using Internet access to get information out.

Sometimes the program works well. Lt. LaTosha Mayes of Chicago had an advantage because
she had a job in the Naval Reserves that translated easily to civilian terms: pharmacist. When she
got out of the service, she used the information she gained in the Transition Assistance Program to
go to a One-Stop Career Center and talk with a veterans representative, who showed her how to
look up pharmacy jobs on the Internet.

"It's not hard to find a job," she said. "They need pharmacists."

Angel Alvarez, a veterans program specialist with the U.S. Department of Labor, said veterans
are excellent employees because they get up early, get to work on time, figure out what needs to
be done and do it.

The business world is beginning to notice.

MacTools is offering a $140,000 distributorship to one qualified veteran, saying it has a 90
percent success rate with veterans it has hired.

McDonald's recently began a program, Marines for Life, that aims to match the salaries Marines
had in the service to their new careers in entry-level middle management at the corporation.
Robert Scharringhausen, human resources manager, said the company hopes to expand the
program to all military branches.

"The blood and guts of our operation is management, so we're looking for key leadership skills,"
Scharringhausen said. "It's not as `The Tonight Show' and educators say: a dead-end career."

The U.S. Postal Service has hired veterans for years and now has 200,000 former military
employees.

Veterans have had to break through some stereotypes to prove themselves.

"People think of 80-year-old VFW veterans who you hire because you're trying to do something
nice," said Tom Aiello, vice president of marketing at Military.com. "But I see more employers
figuring it out."

He sees the problem as underemployment, rather than unemployment, because veterans are
coming home to minimum-wage jobs.

"I hire veterans myself, and I see what they can do," he said. "In four years, they gain
self-discipline, show they can be trained and have a certain maturity or worldliness that people
who haven't ever left their hometowns don't have."

Drew Meyers, president of RecruitMilitary.com, realized the military trains an excellent sales
force when he worked as a Marine recruiter. The experience inspired him to find out what
corporations need.

"The biggest complaints we get are, How do we find the right person? and, They don't have any
experience," he said.

So he hired HR Chally Group, a sales benchmark firm from Dayton, Ohio, to administer a
sales-aptitude test to veterans and to civilians interested in sales. In cordial communication style,
the vets scored 66 percent compared to civilians' 50 percent. In competitive approach, they
scored 60 percent to civilians' 43 percent. In accountability for core business results, they scored
70 percent to the civilians' 55 percent.

"Vets are able to determine problems and solve them quickly," he said. "Let's educate them about
what we've found out about them so they can explain it in interviews."

For more information about Illinois programs for veterans looking for jobs, visit
www.il.gov/iserved/employment.htm.

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kkennedy@tribune.com