Veterans at work


Veterans at work
by Cami Joner

Left: Joe Rhodes uses his home computer to check job prospects. Rhodes, who was in the Army’s supply corps for eight years, said he would like to work as a warehouseman.

Former Marine Corps Sgt. Justin Babbitt is confident he’ll succeed in the working world.

After completing two tours in Iraq, the 25-year-old military veteran has launched his own DJ business in Vancouver. He’s also taking business and marketing classes at Washington State University Vancouver.

“I’m an entrepreneur,” said Babbitt. “But I’m sure when I graduate, I’ll be looking for more of an executive-type position.”

But not all U.S. veterans are winning the battle against unemployment…


A national study found one age group of veterans — 20- to 24-year-olds — is experiencing higher unemployment rates than nonveterans in the same age group.

Data from the U.S. Department of Labor reported a 2005 unemployment rate of 15.6 percent for 20- to 24-year-olds, compared with a rate of 8.7 percent for non-veterans in the same age bracket.

Labor officials say the figures aren’t surprising. For one thing, the department counts veterans among the unemployed if they are nonworking full-time students. Also, as first-time job seekers, it is natural for young veterans to face stiff competition — at least in the civilian world.

Employers shouldn’t overlook relevant, transferable qualifications, said Fred Robertson, an employment adviser for veterans at the Vancouver offices of Work Source, a division of the state Employment Security Department.

“A diesel mechanic can work on diesel generators,” he said. “And most personnel are used to driving big rigs,” which answers a demand for truck drivers.

Period of adjustment

Higher unemployment rates could also reflect an adjustment period for young vets.

“I’m just getting back into the groove of being a civilian,” said Richard Lewis, a 25-year-old former Army sergeant from Vancouver.

Released from the Army in May, Lewis recently starting looking for work. He joined the Army at age 19.

“I’ve been out of Iraq for a year. Being in the military is a different lifestyle,” he said.

Figures on the state’s veteran employment rates are sketchy. A state survey of 10,000 National Guard reservists returning to Washington drew only 1,515 responses. Of those, 70 percent of the veterans had jobs prior to deployment, but only 61 percent had jobs in 2005, said Bill Terrill of the state’s Employment Security Department.

While it may seem like they’re losing ground, “many veterans just want to decompress when they come back,” Terrill said.

Lewis said he can relate. But he called his military service an invaluable career start.

“The pay’s good and you learn a lot of skills,” said Lewis, who worked as an Army mechanic servicing huge attack helicopters in Taji, Iraq.

“I don’t think I’d have gotten those skills on any other job,” he said.

Many vets also consider good work ethics a bonus of military experience.

“You learn how to deal with adversity and mission completion,” said Lucas Smith, 24, a private first class in the Army National Guard.

Serving 18 months in Iraq helped him learn how to work under pressure, Smith said.

He’s looking for work, though he reports to reserve duty three days a month. He also plans to enroll in college classes upon release from the military in 2007.

“Because failure is not an option,” he said.

Babbitt also said he gained a sense of integrity and responsibility from military training. His work in Iraq involved finding and removing explosive devices.

Veterans “have the ability to function in a way that’s maybe above people our age who haven’t had this kind of experience,” Babbitt said.

The experience and training stay with you, said Joe Rhodes, 42, an army veteran who served overseas from 1981 to 1987.

Rhodes recently moved to Vancouver to attend Clark College. He’s also looking for a job with swing-shift hours.

Thanks to the military, he said, he is undaunted by the prospect of juggling nighttime work, attending classes and finding time to study.

“I’m still a soldier,” he said. “Even in the civilian world.”

30 employers to be at job fair for veterans

A Saturday job fair in Vancouver is planned as part of a statewide “Hire A Vet” program, which will introduce veterans to more than 30 local employers.

All veterans are invited to the event, which begins at 10 a.m. at the Vancouver WorkSource office on Mill Plain Boulevard.

“We’re encouraging everyone to dress professionally and bring resumes along,” said Fred Robertson, veterans employment adviser.

Coordinators hope veterans can initiate preliminary interviews with employers who are looking for qualified workers. Transportation, health care and law enforcement top the list of companies planning to participate in the career event.

“We have some very supportive employers,” Robertson said.

If you go

* What: Job fair for veterans.

* When: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.

* Where: WorkSource offices at Vancouver Town Plaza, 5411 E. Mill Plain Blvd.

* Cost: Free.

* Information: Contact Fred Robertson, veterans employment adviser, at 360-735-4982.


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