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Those returning from war find new battles at home, including tight job market

Posted: Sunday, March 28, 2004

A year or so ago, when America's soldiers went off to war, boy, was there ever a clamoring about the "red-white-and-blue."

"Support our Troops" signs seemed to be everywhere.

Within weeks of the bombing of Baghdad, bushes across the land sprouted little yellow ribbons, suggesting that nearby residents had a loved one "over there" and wanted the soldier's safe return.

Groups of school kids penned letters weekly to troops they didn't even know, and folks more gifted than I am in the art of baking shipped box after box of cookies and other goodies to military personnel in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan.

As the assault bore down on Iraq's capital, military leaders began citing various units of our ground forces for heroic acts, awarding medals for valor and meritorious service.

Then, however, the war began dragging on.

Embedded journalists became un-embedded if either of those descriptives ever was a real word.

Much heralded units of the enemy's military seemed to vanish, and the role of America's armies once again became that of police officer of the world.

Back home, much like the vanishing royal-guard this or palace-guard that, the little yellow ribbons faded away and the "Support our Troops" signs became less and less ubiquitous.

Although the war in Iraq had not yet ended, many members of our military entered the service before the war began and had served there long enough to begin being shipped back to the States, where they were honorably discharged from the service.

Many had joined the military as teenagers, witnessed the ravages of war and returned as somewhat hardened adults in their early 20s.

The first few to come home were greeted with parades. News articles reported the homecoming of many.

As time went on, though, only close friends and family members were there to welcome them back and some simply returned to homes that had begun growing accustomed to their absence.

As teens, they formerly could blend into the woodwork, but now, as adults, they were fully grown people trying to assimilate into a home that somehow seemed to have shrunk.

Simply said, they grew up. They had spread their wings, gone off to war and gotten too big for the nest.

Their newfound independence could not be contained by the natural restrictions of living with mom and dad and all the siblings, so it was time to go out, get a job, find an apartment and continue the new life they had come to know in the military.

That's when another ugly reality of war hit.

There are few jobs when the soldiers return.

The position they left some three or four years earlier had been filled. The fast-food restaurant they toiled in before had shut down. The manufacturing plant they planned to work in upon their return, had experienced tough financial times and was laying off people.

So, what about support the troops? Do they no longer matter?

Even those fortunate enough to have learned a skill more transferable in civilian life than army tank operator, have difficulty finding work.

It happens every time.

A president decides to defend Americans' freedom or to protect an oppressed people from some tyrannical schmo and Congress OKs a defense-spending budget that knocks the socks off financial strategists of most small nations on the globe.

In the war's aftermath, the president asks for, and Congress approves, yet another huge expenditure to rebuild the country we just turned into a thousand-hole golf course. Everyone over there finds work.

However, few remember to support the troops returning to this country after serving unhesitatingly in some war zone they couldn't even find on a map just a few short years earlier.

Although the veterans usually do have a special desk they can go to at local Job Service offices, the help they can expect there is minimal. They get their identifying information and military occupational specialties entered into a computer data bank, and that's about all.

Fortunately the country's oldest veterans organization, which has experienced the same scenario over and over again, has taken action.

When the Vietnam Conflict ended 30 years ago, the American Legion created the Jobs for Veterans program. Now it's on the Internet.

The program allows returning vets to post their resume for free on the Transition Assistance Online Career Center and apply for more than 5,000 job openings from a wide variety of employers around the world.

Employers also can use the resource to access the highly trained returning veterans.

The American Legion Web site, www.legion.org, also has a link to Corporate Gray Online, a military-specific employment Web site that links transitioning and former members of the military with employers nationwide.

Job seekers may post their resumes and apply online for jobs they're interested in at no charge.

The Corporate Gray site also is open to employers who want to post an open job.

Additionally the American Legion Web site offers links to America's Job Bank, which contains 4,000 jobs and is updated daily. The list includes job openings with federal contractors, who are required to give preference in hiring to qualified veterans.

USA Jobs, which lists all federal positions currently open, is another link offered at the American Legion site. Veterans seeking a federal government job are encouraged to visit this site often.

Although being out of work when returning from military service appeals for a week or two, it can become a drag soon after.

And, though a job search often is as challenging as the job one eventually lands, it's good to know that veterans can get some extra help from the American Legion.

Oh, and as far as supporting the troops still in uniform, I'm sure a box or two of their favorite Girl Scout cookies would be well received right about now.

Phil Hermanek is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.



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