The Impact of War

Job Fair Links Disabled Vets With Employers

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A representative from Baker University and Lt. Col. Andy Price review a resume. i

A representative from Baker University and Lt. Col. Andy Price, Warrior Transition Battalion commander, review a soldier's resume during the Hiring Heroes Career Fair last week in Fort Riley, Kan. Courtesy of Sgt. David Womack hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of Sgt. David Womack
A representative from Baker University and Lt. Col. Andy Price review a resume.

A representative from Baker University and Lt. Col. Andy Price, Warrior Transition Battalion commander, review a soldier's resume during the Hiring Heroes Career Fair last week in Fort Riley, Kan.

Courtesy of Sgt. David Womack

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have left tens of thousands of American soldiers with service-related injuries or illnesses. The Defense Department has been trying to match wounded troops with employers who can see beyond their disabilities.

The conference center at Fort Riley, Kan., was abuzz with activity, as a few hundred soldiers both in and out of uniform met with employers to talk about jobs. These troops are planning careers after the military while coping with the challenges of their service-related disabilities.

"Some of them have limited mobility issues," says Lt. Col. Andy Price, who heads Fort Riley's Warrior Transition Battalion, which helps wounded soldiers prepare for civilian life. "Some of them have concerns that they may not be marketable in the civilian environment. So while they are here, they get to go around and do applications and interviews on the spot and realize that there's a future for them."

Sgt. David Womack served three tours of duty in Iraq as a military policeman. He says he returned home with a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder.

"The stuff that, you know, not only [that I] myself saw, but everyone else is seeing over there — it doesn't even take very much to have a big impact," Womack says. "In relation to other wounded warriors, I would think mine is not very, as severe, but it definitely impacts in jobs."

As he makes his way past the job tables, Womack stops at a display from the world's second-largest defense contractor, Northrop Grumman Corp.

Duane Hardesty is the point man for Northrop Grumman's Operation Impact, a program that tries to find jobs for severely wounded soldiers.

Womack tells Hardesty about his years of service with the military police and mentions that he'd like to stay in law enforcement.

More About Disabled Veterans & Jobs

Hardesty tells Womack to e-mail him his resume, and then directs him to a website where he can explore jobs he might be qualified for.

Hardesty says the program is "very structured ... because a lot of the warriors we're working with have TBI [traumatic brain injury], maybe they've got PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder], and so what happens is, you know [they] need a lot of structure."

Hardesty is a retired Army colonel, so he's right at home talking to soldiers. He says he's been to all but one of the 30 Hiring Heroes career fairs held across the country in the past five years. Hardesty says he likes Fort Riley's fair because it includes smaller, local employers, like those represented by Leo Converse, who is hiring for 15 sales jobs at a local chain of car dealerships.

"We don't pay any attention to the disabilities," Converse says. "We're primarily just looking for good people. For one thing, they always know how to show up on time."

Reliability is just one of the skills former soldiers often bring to the table. Some of the employers here say career fairs like this allow them to both hire good workers and to show gratitude to these soldiers for their service.

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