published Thursday, March 1st, 2012

Vets drill for return to civilian workforce

Cristyn Woody, near right, talks with Shelby Clark, center, about EmploymentPlus on Wednesday during a veterans jobs fair at the Army Reserve Center on Bonny Oaks Drive. It was the final day of a three-day program geared to assist veterans with finding employment.
Cristyn Woody, near right, talks with Shelby Clark, center, about EmploymentPlus on Wednesday during a veterans jobs fair at the Army Reserve Center on Bonny Oaks Drive. It was the final day of a three-day program geared to assist veterans with finding employment.
Photo by Tim Barber.
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TO LEARN MORE

To look up future military job fairs go to www.tn.gov/labor-wfd/cc/ and look at career center location listings, which have information on both civilian and military job fairs around Tennessee.

Source: Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

Soldiers and military veterans circled among a dozen tables of local employers, grabbing job applications and shaking hands.

Some had just dropped in Wednesday afternoon for the Tennessee Army National Guard-sponsored jobs fair. For others, the afternoon session capped more than two days of training in how to find work in the civilian sector.

"What we're trying to help them do is look at their skill set and translate that skill set to what it would look like in the civilian world," said Marvin Wells, executive director of the Tennessee chapter of the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve program.

Wells, a Vietnam-era veteran and retired Guardsman, said up to 85 percent of civilian employers have no military experience and have a hard time understanding the training and work experience of most veterans.

The Guard is trying to sponsor similar fairs once a quarter across this state, he said. This is the second time the event has been held in Chattanooga.

Command Sgt. Maj. Clay Massengale walked through the fair in a black suit and tie, not his typical camouflage uniform. The enlisted head of the Tennessee Army National Guard's 230th Sustainment Brigade participated in the training before the jobs fair and plans to promote it to his soldiers.

The fair is "the best program for returning veterans I have taken part in or been around," Massengale said. "It's not giving lip service to fixing the problem of veteran unemployment."

Guard estimates were that up to one-third of soldiers returning from deployments didn't have work when they got home. Massengale said much of the problem came because civilian employers didn't understand the intangible benefits of hiring veterans -- punctuality, discipline, organization and a strong work ethic.

Cindy Lee, vice president of human resources for Lee Smith, a Chattanooga-based trucking company, handed out cards and packets of information at the job fair.

"Obviously the military, they have a good background, they understand the chain of command, how to work in a group and how to function as a team," she said.

Lee said the trucking company is always looking for qualified diesel mechanics and truck drivers, skills that many veterans learned on the job in extreme conditions overseas.

Jon See left the U.S. Navy in June after nearly five years on active duty.

He earned the rank of petty officer second class, commanding other sailors and worked with aviation ordnance, troubleshooting wiring. The 24-year-old veteran said he's looking for technical work that will put his training to good use and wants to use his education benefits to increase his knowledge.

"I came back here and I've been working but I haven't been able to use [my skills]," See said. "I'm just working a lower-paying job and I really want a career again."

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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