20 October 2011

Red Bull Soldiers Testify on Vets and Jobs

A U.S. House subcommittee investigating civilian employment issues facing veterans and military reservists conducted a field hearing in Waterloo, Iowa, Monday, Oct. 17. The event was one of two such hearings. A second is slated for Wednesday, Oct. 19, in Northeastern Indiana.

In addition to those representing governmental agencies and Iowa employers, three members of the Iowa Army National Guard's 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division (2-34th BCT) offered their insights on helping citizen-soldiers find employment. In July 2010, an estimated 25 percent of that unit's roughly 3,000 members reported they would be unemployed upon their return. Other states' National Guard units have similarly experienced above-average unemployment rates.

The U.S. National Guard's 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division has historical roots in the American Midwest, originally consisting of citizen-soldiers from Iowa, Minnesota, North and South Dakota. That tradition continues with multiple "Red Bull" units located in Iowa and Minnesota. Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, is the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee.

Minnesota's 1st Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry Division (1-34th BCT) is currently deployed to Kuwait and Iraq. Rep. Timothy J. Walz, D-Minn., is also on the subcommittee.

Col. Benjamin Corell, commander of the Iowa's 2-34th BCT, brought the big-gun, big-picture perspective:
This last decade has been a long, tough fight for our military forces. I, like others have personally answered the call to duty time and time again. I have witnessed our hard-earned success in both Iraq and in Afghanistan. I have seen the sacrifice required by our men and women in uniform and by our families. Reserve and National Guard employers have quietly sacrificed at great costs with little thanks and no financial incentives to hire and retain our veterans. [...]

The aggregate unemployment rate for our veterans is habitually higher than the national average rate of unemployment. I need your help to correct this. All of the job fairs and resume writing workshops in the world will only get my fellow veterans so far. I believe that we need to review and update the 1994 Cold War-focused Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994. Concurrently we must develop and implement legislation that will provide real incentives to the business sector and for those veterans that own small business or private professional practices. Once that is completed, we need to market it to employers and ensure that it is enforced.
Staff Sgt. Nathaniel Rose of Mount Pleasant, Iowa, a senior at the University of Iowa, noted the difficulties of balancing life as both a student and a citizen-soldier:
The [G.I. Bill benefit I receive] is actually enough, when coupled with my drill pay every month, that I do not have to work. I am able to concentrate completely on my studies, which any senior will tell you, is a hard thing to do.

I, however, do not have all the obligations that a number of soldiers I know have. I have no wife, no children, no car payments and so on. Many National Guard soldiers cannot go to school full time and take care of their family with tuition assistance and GI Bill alone, especially if they have not been deployed and receive a smaller pro-rated amount. This forces them to work while attending school. There is nothing wrong with working while going to school but for some soldiers I know personally they have had to stop going because they needed to move to full time at work, their grades were slipping or they weren’t spending as much time with their family as they wanted to.
Capt. Aaron Robinson of Urbandale, Iowa, discussed the difficulties he and other citizen-soldiers face in transitioning to civilian employment:
For example, an enlisted soldier friend of mine was the database manager for our unit’s personnel records pertaining to security clearances. (That’s 500 records—the size of a good-sized company.) However, now that he’s back at home, civilian employers don’t seem to recognize his abilities to learn new computer systems, and to manage highly sensitive data on a daily basis. To add insult to injury, he can’t even find work in his old civilian occupation–he’s a welder.

I’ve faced similar challenges to that of my friend, trying to figure out how to translate military language into civilian Human Resources-speak. After some resume coaching, I found my work in intelligence most closely applies to business analysis and project management. However, unlike my purely civilian counterparts, I’m not necessarily versed in the latest business acronyms and buzz-phrases, which decreases the likelihood of getting through H.R. filters. Also, while I am proficient in military computer software and hardware, I am not specifically trained in systems most-familiar to potential civilian employers.

Employers, politicians, and even the media talk up certain ideas about veterans: that we’re hard-working and motivated, that we’re mission- and people-focused, and that we handle pressure extremely well. Beyond this, however, and the occasional job-fair and “welcome home” PowerPoint show, veterans don’t seem to get a lot of practical help in getting hired.
For Des Moines (Iowa) Register coverage of Monday's hearing, click here.

For Waterloo-Cedar Falls (Iowa) Courier coverage, click here.

For full transcripts of testimonies presented at the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs' Oct. 17, 2011 "Hiring Heroes" field hearing, click here.

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