Minnesota Guard Starts Civilian Hiring While Still Deployed

minnesota_natl_guardLast spring, a group of corporate recruiters in business-casual attire traveled to Kuwait to help hundreds of Minnesota National Guard members find civilian jobs weeks before the soldiers headed home.

A specialized team from government, education and business were flown in to prepare the troops. An NPR report says that every soldier got one-on-one help with mock interviews, resumes and career planning.

The program appears to have proven successful. NPR reports:

Of the more than 500 service members who needed jobs, officials say only about 35 are still looking for work.

Minnesota National Guard Capt. Ron Jarvi explained to NPR that the program helped troops focus on getting a job before they got overwhelmed with coming home.

“The reality is that you’re trying to reintegrate with your spouse or with your kids or getting paperwork filed with the state and reinstating your license and doing all of the different things that you have to do to reintegrate,” says Jarvi.

Guard and Reserve members split their time between civilian and military jobs. So, finding work after a long deployment is particularly difficult for them because employers are concerned about the Guard member being deployed again and may hesitate to hire them.

You can hear more about the Minnesota National Guard hiring program HERE.

Florida Guard: Coming Off Active Duty, Looking for Work

Finding a job is a concern for many Floridians with the state’s unemployment rate above the national average. But, the jobless rate is even higher among returning National Guard members and Reservists according to the Florida National Guard.

Members of Florida's 53rd Brigade returned in December 2010 having been deployed to Iraq and Kuwait since January.

About 2,500 members of the Florida National Guard’s 53rd Brigade returned home in December after serving a year in Kuwait and Iraq. And many will transition from military service to looking for a job.

Ron Tittle, a spokesman for the Florida National Guard, was there when Florida’s governor asked how many in the 53rd would be unemployed and  looking for work when they came off active duty. Tittle estimates 30-to-40 percent raised their hand.

“Now as far as the numbers, I think its settled down to somewhere around 20 percent of that deployed unit,” Tittle said. “That’s kind of a sense across the board what we’re dealing with and trying to address. You know we’re just trying to reach out and lean forward to make sure we’re doing all we can do to make jobs available.”

So the Florida National Guard cosponsored a military job fair for veterans and returning Guard and Reservists.

But its tough in the current job market.

A recent report by the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee found unemployment highest among the most recent veterans:

  • Veterans who served on active duty since September 2001 have the highest unemployment rate. In 2010, the unemployment rate for these veterans averaged 11.5 percent, compared to the overall veteran-unemployment rate of 8.7 percent, and 9.4 percent unemployment rate for nonveterans.
  • New data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics put the unemployment rate of Post-9/11 veterans at 10.9 percent in April, 2.2 percentage points lower than it was one year ago.

A recent New York Times article cites critics who say proposed changes in labor laws to require better reporting and collecting of veteran hiring data does not do enough. A Department of Labor web site is taking comments on the proposed changes through July 11th.

An Army SGT Recovering from TBI, Works to Stay in Uniform

A young Army sergeant who was selected to train as an explosives expert is now in a fight to stay in uniform.

Earlier this year, 22-year-old Army SGT Amber Greer was looking forward to settling in at her new post, Eglin Air Force Base in Florida’s panhandle and beginning training as an Explosives Ordinance Disposal (EOD) expert.

Army SGT Amber Greer helps show off Haley's new Polytrauma Unit equiped with flat screen TVs, private rooms and showers.

March 30th she was driving through a thunderstorm on I-10. Her vehicle hydroplaned. She lost control and hit a tree.

Greer was in a coma for eight days. When she awoke, it took a couple more weeks for her to grasp what happened.

“I literally felt like I was in some dream for a few weeks,” Greer said. “It was like – ‘I’m going to wake up and I’ll have my hair back,’ They had to shave my head for a procedure they had to do so I could live.”

Greer showed me a photo of her with strawberry blonde hair below her waist. But, hair grows back. She had a bigger worry right after her accident.

“The big shock to me was ‘why am I not at work? Why can’t I go to work? I don’t understand why I can’t be around people I served with.’” Greer said. “It was a huge shock to me and something that was so foreign to me. I probably cried for about a week that I couldn’t go to work.”

Greer is recovering at Tampa’s James A. Haley VA Hospital. She arrived with several skull fractures, Traumatic Brain Injury, three broken ribs, collapsed lungs and both hips fractured.

She’s expecting a 100 percent recovery and feels fortunate. Greer has been in the Army almost four years is a veteran of the Iraq war and also deployed to Kuwait from her first post in Hawaii.

Right now Greer’s fight is to stay in the Army.

“Due to my brain injury, I cannot do EOD anymore.” Greer said, confessing that her mother is relieved that she will not be an explosives disposal expert. Greer is disappointed but hopeful she will find another specialty. “I cannot be exposed to blast waves for the next year or so due to my injury, but that’s okay I’m going to be picking another new job in the Army and still staying in that uniform hopefully.”

I talked with Greer three days after she officially put back on her uniform more than 10 weeks after her accident.  She’s in Haley’s transition unit and volunteered to talk with reporters who came to the VA to cover the opening of a new Polytrauma Unit. Greer is anxious to help in any way she can.

“I absolutely love serving my country and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else with my life,” Greer said that’s what got her out of bed every morning and into rehab.

I share Greer’s story because it goes to the heart of who is serving in our country’s military ranks – young women and men of courage, determination and dedication to their country.

Here’s hoping Greer’s wish of a full recovery and staying in uniform comes true.

Christmas 2010: Home from My Last Tour

SMSgt. Rex Temple stands before a gutted presidental palace outside Kabul, Afghanistan.

Sitting in a tent alone in Kuwait – away from family – away from his Air Force buddies in Afghanistan – that is how Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Rex Temple spent Christmas 2009.

A snow storm and lost luggage prevented Temple last year from making it back to Afghanistan for Christmas. This year, he’ll celebrate with his wife and family at his home in Tampa.

“When I joined the military, initially because I didn’t have any rank, the NCOs(Non-Commissioned Officers) that out ranked me said ‘Well, we’re going to go home for Christmas, you’re going to stay behind,’” Temple said. “Then when I got promoted to be an NCO, I thought about that. And, I wanted to ensure that my troops were home for Christmas. So, I stayed behind and that’s kind of continued.”

Temple and his wife, Liisa, April 22, 2010, the day of his return after a year in Afghanistan.

Temple hasn’t been back to his parent’s home for Christmas for 25 years. He’s promised him mother he’ll be there in 2011 after he retires this spring.

WUSF’s series My Last Tour followed Temple during his yearlong deployment in Afghanistan as part of an Embedded Training Team. Temple’s team was made up of 10 airmen who trained and worked with the Army and Marines to train Afghan National Army troops and provide logistics.

His team went on more than 180 combat missions during their deployment from May 2009 to April 2010. Temple and the team returned together April 22, 2010.

Temple’s blog: Afghanistan: My Last Tour detailed his year “in country” and still averages hundreds of views daily despite his return almost eight months ago and no new entries since.

“It kind of ends a chapter in my life with returning home,” Temple explained. “It kind of still shocks me that 500 to 700 people a day still visit the site. I think they’re still using it for historical purposes. They’re interested in the places I traveled to some of the people I met, the culture and the customs there.”

Temple is back at MacDill Air Force Base and planning for his retirement this spring.

Florida 53rd Final Group Arrival Delayed

Thursday's Welcome Home ceremony for more than 300 soldiers from the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 124th Infantry Regiment with Florida National Guard's 53rd Brigade based in Pinellas Park. Photo by: Army SPC Christopher Vann.

The final group of the Florida National Guard 53rd infantry brigade soldiers has been scheduled to return on Sunday to Hunter Army Air Field near Savannah, GA.  Originally, the guardsmen were set to return Friday night.

Their welcome home ceremony at Ft. Stewart, GA is when the soldiers get to meet family and friends for the first time in nearly a year. That ceremony is rescheduled too.

Over the last two weeks, members of the 53rd have been returning in groups of a couple hundred at a time.

Members of Florida's 53rd Brigade have been deployed since January in Iraq and Kuwait. Photo by Army SPC Christopher Vann.

Florida guard officials were hoping all 2,400 members would be back and processed from active duty to National Guard status before Christmas. But, the demobilization process takes six to seven days and includes medical, dental and other testing. So, it means not all of the 53rd will make it back to their Florida homes for the holiday. However, the guardsmen can spend time with their families at Ft. Stewart if they were able to travel there.

The 53rd IBCT was deployed almost a year to Kuwait and Iraq. They were tasked with protecting convoys that traveled from Kuwait to Iraq. During their deployment, two soldiers died but not from combat. One was killed in a rollover accident, the other was diagnosed with cancer and returned to the states.

Always Ready, Always There, Now Home

For those who may not recognize it, “Always Ready, Always There” is on the National Guard emblem. The final group about 100 from Florida‘s 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team is expected to return from Kuwait on Friday.

Nearly 2,400 soldiers from the brigade were deployed to Iraq and Kuwait for a year. Now, they’re returning home in groups of a couple hundred at a time and processing through Ft. Stewart, Georgia. The most recent arrivals came Monday and Tuesday of this week.

Many soldiers were greeted by family and friends and were captured on video by the Florida National Guard Public Affairs Office. Here’s another video from another group of Florida’s 53rd IBCT returning home.

The families you’re watching have waited almost a year for those hugs and kisses captured on video. The soldiers have several more days as they’re processed out and can return to Florida. But, all members of the team are expected home by Christmas.

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