By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service
CULVER CITY, Calif., — In a business suit and with resume in hand, Kelly Cotton made her way down a row of employer booths, each decked out with attention-getting posters, handouts and a variety of trinkets adorned with company logos.
The Marine Corps spouse was on the job hunt. She had moved to the West Coast about two weeks ago — her family’s eighth move in 13 years — leaving behind a job she loved on the East Coast.
“The biggest challenge is it feels like I’m starting over each time, especially when it’s a place I’ve never been before,” she said.
Still, Cotton had high hopes for the day as she browsed among the more than 160 employers participating in the Mission Serve: Hiring Our Heroes Los Angeles hiring fair at Sony Pictures Studios here yesterday.
She was one of more than 1,500 veterans and military spouses who attended the event, sponsored by ServiceNation: Mission Serve, the U.S. and Los Angeles Area Chambers of Commerce, and the Foundation of Prince William and Prince Harry.
This fair was the largest of 100 spouse and veteran hiring fairs slated to take place across the country over the next year — all sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Cotton dodged the crowds to make her way over to a community-service employer. She hoped, at the end of the day, she said, to walk away with a job or a prospect for one that will enable her to work from home.
Nearby, fellow military spouse Lori Brosius also was seeking service work, such as community outreach or corporate philanthropy. The Marine Corps spouse, and soon-to-be graduate student, was steeling herself for her fourth military move in as many years. Continuity is her biggest challenge, she noted, as she’s had to work at a new organization every time she’s moved.
“It’s difficult to find a new organization willing to accept someone who they know, when they look at the resume, you’re going to pick up and move again,” she said. But on the upside, “spouses are lucky,” she added.
“We learn to be flexible and very good at our jobs. We learn quickly because we have to,” she explained. “That’s taught me a lot about adaptability.”
Brosius lauded the fair as an “unprecedented” effort for military spouse support. “It’s nice to be recognized as military spouses; nice to see the private sector come out and say thank you, we are willing to give you opportunities,” she said.
Army Spc. Jeffery Barnhill and his wife, Loni, agreed, noting that past hiring fairs have fallen short for them. But this one “has been fantastic,” they said. “They see your face rather than a name on an application,” the soldier said. “It’s an opportunity to throw your personality in the mix.”
Loni said she was seeking a job in education or management. She just received her master’s degree and was hoping to eventually teach history at a college.
“But I will do whatever,” she said. “‘Ive been overqualified, so people won’t touch me.”
Sherrie Wilcox, also a highly qualified military spouse, is finishing her doctorate in health promotion and behavior. She also was having a tough time finding a job locally. “I was planning on being on the East Coast,” she explained. “Moving to a new location and trying to find an organization that fits what I want to do is a little bit difficult.”
This fair, she added, “helps us to know what’s out there, what’s available.”
Henry Fields, a Gulf War veteran who served eight years in the Navy, stood in a long line, waiting for a shot at a job at Sony Pictures Studios. He said he was just thankful to be there, and hoped to put his recruiting experience to good use. “What I’m happy about … is this event for veterans,” he said. “It centralizes everything for us. This is priceless. [Veterans] are highly trained and ready to work.”
Ross Cohen, director of ServiceNation: Mission Serve, a civilian-military initiative, and a military veteran, called veterans and military spouses “civic assets” who possess an “extraordinary set of skills and experiences.” Employers need resourceful and reliable employees, and veterans and military families are just that, he said.
“The bottom line is companies and nonprofits and government should be recruiting veterans and military spouses not because it is the right thing to do for the country, but because it is good for business,” he added.
Spouses, Cotton noted, aren’t seeking special treatment — just a fair shot at employment. “Like anyone else, [military spouses] have goals and aspirations and a career we want to seek,” she said.