By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service
FORT MEADE, Md., Sept. 21, 2011 - As if answering President Barack Obama's call for them to hire more veterans, more than 80 employers gathered at a job fair here last week to tap into some of the top-notch qualifications the president touted.
After 10 years at war, they have acquired skills to harness new technologies on the battlefield, partner with communities and assume leadership roles for the country, he said.
"They've learned the cultures and traditions and languages of the places where they served ... They've taken on the role of diplomats and mayors and development experts, negotiating with tribal sheikhs, working with village shuras, partnering with communities," Obama said.
Prospective employers at last week's job fair said they hope to attract some of those talents into their workforces.
"Serco hires a lot of military," said technical recruiter Karen Parker, who was looking to fill jobs in information technology, systems software programming and other technical positions.
"[Veterans] are willing to learn new skills and make the transition from military to civilian life," she said, noting that veterans also bring a wealth of information and experience from all over the world.
For prospective applicants, especially those still on active duty and new veterans, the job fair offered an opportunity to learn about individual companies, benefits and job requirements, and a chance to talk with recruiters directly and give them a resume.
For many who joined the military right after high school, applying for a job was a first-time experience.
Among them was Army Sgt. Thomas Smogorzewski, who has served five years as a signals analyst. Ideally, he wants to become a police officer, but in the meantime, he's hoping for a position similar to his Army job.
"I'll use the skills I've gotten from the Army," he said. "I'd like to get an analyst position, use the GI Bill to finish my degree and try for a police officer job," he continued. "I enjoy helping people."
Smogorzewski said an Army Career and Alumni Program counselor is helping him transition into the civilian world, and sends him job contacts.
Army Staff Sgt. Erin Lee has a similar story. She enlisted into the Army after high school graduation, has served for 10 years and never had to apply for a civilian-sector job.
She said the reception she got from prospective employers at the job fair was positive.
"They engaged me in conversation and wanted me to contact them," she said. "I got a boost of confidence when they said I had [Army experience and a security clearance] going for me. I was really happy to hear that."
Like Smogorzewski, Lee said she gained help from the ACAP to prepare her for interviewing, writing a resume and handling a phone interview. "That really helped me because I've never done that before," she said.
Lee said she believes her military experience gave her the maturity and skills to make her a valuable employee. "Being in the military made me grow up fast," she said. "I don't think I would've gotten that as a civilian. I love the Army. It gives you a foundation to become a better person and a better leader. I'll use that as a civilian."
Veteran Benjamin Peter distributed numerous resumes at the job fair.
With service as a Navy officer, Peter has been unemployed since Memorial Day, and continues to apply for five to 20 jobs a week.
Applying advice he got as he was transitioning from the Navy, he
networks online, goes to a variety of job websites and has a couple of irons in the fire for a job.
But after job hunting all summer, Peter admitted to feeling a bit of frustration. "I went from making $57,000 a year," he said, "to zero."
Yet Peter said he is committed to starting a career and not simply taking a job. "I do have a job I can take," he said. "But I'd rather take a job where I know I'll enjoy being there, and might be more successful in a corporation or company."
During his remarks to the American Legion, Obama said the Congress must put a jobs bill at the top of its agenda to help veterans like Peter.
"For the sake of our veterans, for the sake of our economy, we need these veterans working and contributing and creating the new jobs and industries that will keep America competitive in the 21st century," he said.
American Jobs Act
Job Initiatives Focus on Vets, Family Members