NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y.,– Finding a job in today’s economic climate can be challenging, especially for Army Reserve Soldiers who had to leave the civilian workforce to serve their country in Iraq, Afghanistan and other locations worldwide.
Helping these returning warriors find employment is just one of many services offered during the 99th Regional Support Command’s Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Events held monthly across the northeastern United States.
“The goal of the Yellow Ribbon program is to prepare Soldiers and families for deployment, sustain families during deployment, and reintegrate Soldiers with their families, communities and employers upon their return from deployment,” said Ana Gomez, Yellow Ribbon program manager for the 99th RSC.
Thousands of redeployed Soldiers and family members have attended the three-day events since the program’s inception in 2008. The events offer classes and workshops on resiliency, pay and finances, at-risk behavior, suicide awareness and prevention, substance abuse awareness, post-traumatic stress and combat-related stress, personnel policies, resume writing, legal matters and post-deployment health assessments.
The events also feature representatives from various schools and employment services, including the Employer Partnership of the Armed Forces, Career One Source, the Department of Labor and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“It’s very important for Soldiers and their families,” Gomez explained. “They (the Soldiers) come back, they don’t have a job, and their main focus is, ‘How am I going to support my family now that I’m no longer deployed?'”
According to a 2012 report titled, “Army 2020: Generating Health & Discipline in the Force Ahead of the Strategic Reset,” military veterans aged 18-34 are more likely to be unemployed than their non-veteran counterparts. The study showed the unemployment rate for veterans aged 18-24 was 21 percent in 2010, compared with 17 percent for non-veterans in that age group; for veterans aged 25-34, the unemployment rate was 13 percent, compared with 10 percent for non-veterans.
While young non-veterans often have the advantage of a work history unbroken by the frequent deployments endured by service members during the past decade, these same service members can offer benefits to employers not always found in their civilian contemporaries.
“Employment is an issue, there’s no question about it,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Richard Castelveter, 99th RSC command sergeant major. “The key to this is education and being able to understand that you are marketable out in the civilian world, regardless of your military specialty.”
Castelveter added that the Yellow Ribbon program offers “everything it takes to be successful,” from interview techniques, resume workshops and actual employers ready to fill their ranks with the Soldiers in attendance.
“It’s just a matter of really wanting to enhance your marketability,” he added.
For Sgt. 1st Class Dallas Blevins, an over-the-road truck driver in civilian life, enhancing his marketability could mean a career change and more time to spend with his family.
“I want to make a change, something where I can be home and stable and not going out over-the-road all the time” said Blevins, who mobilized to Fort Benning in 2010 as a drill sergeant and Fort Jackson, S.C., in 2011 as a training non-commissioned officer. “Seems like either I’m going with the military or going with my civilian job.”
Sgt. Paul Joseph Le Compte, 312th Psychological Operations Company, deployed to Afghanistan from March 2011 to January 2012 and currently works for Lowe’s Home Improvement stores. Although he has had a good experience with his current employer, Le Compte said he is ready to make a change.
“I’m currently employed, but I’m looking for something more rewarding,” he explained. “It’s difficult to go from fighting a war overseas to working in the lumber department.”
When Capt. Christine Burbach of the 403rd Civil Affairs Battalion returned in December 2011 from a 6-month tour in Iraq, she was among many in her unit who were looking for work. She has recently found employment with a company she first applied to while in theater, and encourages her fellow Soldiers to stay the course, not get discouraged, and make use of any resources available to them.
“If you’re aggressive, and you keep on it, and you stay motivated, you will find something,” Burbach said. “Take advantage of these Yellow Ribbon events when they have people who are here to help you find employment — take advantage of the military programs that are out there.”