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Job Fair Links Returning Soldiers With Potential Employers

Soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have many adjustments to make.  One of the hardest ones can be moving from the battlefield to the workplace.

Military officials and business leaders in Oregon held a job fair for returning soldiers over the weekend.  Correspondent Chris Lehman has more.

National Guard specialist Julie Staub got back from Afghanistan in June.  She spent the first few months traveling and trying to relax.  But now, the clock is ticking.

Julie Staub:  “My savings is dwindling quicker than I anticipated.  So getting a job is definitely something I’ll need to be doing very shortly.”

Staub has been with the Guard for more than three years.  She says if she could have it her way, she’d stay there full-time.  That’s because she doesn’t really know what kind of work to even look for.

Julie Staub:  “I don’t know what’s out there anymore.  I’m not comfortable I guess, I should say, in the civilian workforce, because I’ve been in uniform for so long. I don’t remember how to use my civilian skills.”

Staub isn’t alone in her quest to find work.  Officials say more than 800 veterans attended Saturday’s job fair.  They were greeted by about 60 employers.

Soldiers could apply to become anything from a construction worker to an airport security screener.  John Shepard was recruiting potential truck drivers for Oregon-based Walsh Trucking.  He says his company looks to hire veterans whenever it can.

John Shepard:  “They bring discipline.  They’re responsible people in most cases.  They know how to do the job. They’re the type of people that are there when you need them.  We feel that this is a great source of good employees.”

But many returning soldiers don’t find work.  Officials at Clackamas Community College, which hosted the job fair, say nearly half of all returning Oregon National Guard members are either unemployed or underemployed.

Brigadier General Mike Caldwell of the Oregon Military Department says some of them just need time to re-adjust to life at home.

Mike Caldwell:  “A typical soldier has somewhere between 90 and maybe 120 days of preparation before they’re deployed overseas.  They come home and 9 days later they’re back in the community saying ‘Thank you very much for your service, go back to your normal life.’  Well it’s just not realistic.  You can’t come out of a war zone getting shot at and 7 days later everything’s okay.  It just doesn’t work that way.”

Caldwell says it took the Guard several years to realize just how much assistance that soldiers coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan need.  And he says the federal government is only now talking about funding National Guard re-integration programs.

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