Iraq war veteran Josh Wallin shook hands and collected business cards and looked for work.
"Right now, any work," he said, moving from table to table at the job fair aimed specifically at veterans Thursday.
He's been off active duty for five years but is still in the U.S. Army Reserve, and says that can make it tough to find a job in the maintenance, corrections and construction fields he's qualified for.
"Some companies try to skirt around hiring a reservist because they don't want to schedule around that weekend or two-week tour," he said.
But things were looking up Thursday. Wallin said he'd found at least three good jobs leads. The event at Chattanooga State was part of a statewide effort by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Dollar General called 'Paychecks for Patriots' that aimed to connect veterans with jobs.
Fairs were held at 13 sites throughout the state.
On the employer side, Paychecks for Patriots attracted 157 businesses across the state this year compared to 90 last year, said Ahnaf Bashir, director of field human resources at Dollar General.
"We've been very successful in helping our veterans get back to civilian life," he said.
There's a 7.3 percent unemployment rate among Tennessee veterans, which is on par with the national average, said Don Smith, assistant commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Veteran Affairs. But that jumps to 18.4 percent when you look at veterans between the ages of 18 and 24, he added.
"They come back and they have a couple of issues they have to face when they get back," he said. "Number one is just re-assimilation in to civilian life, and that takes some time. And they deserve to have that time."
Veterans, he added, especially young veterans, can offer valuable skills to employers.
"They have leadership, commitment, focus on mission accomplishment, problem solving," he said. "They bring a skill set back with them that's difficult to find in that [young] age group."
Trevor Mercer, AutoZone district manager, said he prefers to hire veterans because the former service members tend to have a solid work ethic.
"You can rely on them, they show up for work on time and they're dependable," he said. He added that AutoZone was sending representatives to several of the state's 13 fairs.
At American Republic Insurance Services, agency sales manager John Morrison said he has a couple of National Guard members on staff who are consistently high performers.
"We really try to talk to veterans because in our line of work you need to be a self-starter and disciplined," he said. "Disciplined, more than anything. And be able to follow the system."
Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or firstname.lastname@example.org.