• Hiring our Heroes initiative continues at NBC News

    As part of an ongoing commitment to help veterans and military spouses find meaningful employment, NBC News teamed up with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for Hiring Our Heroes.

    In the last two years, TODAY profiled many of their stories on this blog. Moving forward, find continuing coverage on issues facing veterans and their families at NBCNews.com

    You can find TODAY's past coverage on the Hiring Our Heroes initiative here.

  • Hiring Our Heroes job fair part of week-long, national hiring push

    MSNBC's Richard Lui reports from the Hiring Our Heroes jobs fair in New York City, where veterans are seeking opportunities with companies as civilians.

    The math is mean. Post-9/11 veterans lug a steep unemployment rate that's a point-plus taller than the civilian rate. Add to that the 34,000 troops who soon will return from Afghanistan. Bottom line: The existing bulge of ex-military job seekers threatens to further swell in a world where stripes carry no sway. 

    How to crack that cold equation? Just a little face time, says unemployed veteran Ruty Rutenberg, who believes that simply standing eye-to-eye with a hiring manager allows former service members to naturally radiate the ocean of intangibles that can only be absorbed in combat. 

    "That presence, that aura about military people is very tough to see online in a resume, where (HR executives) are only looking at lines of text," says Rutenberg, 29, who served as an Army medic in Iraq, riding in Black Hawk helicopters. He's been searching for his "mainstay" career for about a year. "Online, it's tough to tell a person's emotions, let alone a person's energy.

    Ian Horn special for NBC News

    "Online, it's tough to tell a person's emotions, let alone a person's energy," said Ruty Rutenberg, 29, who attended a job fair in Los Angeles on Tuesday.

     


    "But when you get to be right in front of these people and interact with them, there is no trepidation for veterans in those moments. We've been in stressful situations that people can't fathom, that they've only seen in movies," Rutenberg said Tuesday at a job fair in Los Angeles sponsored by Got Your 6, an entertainment-industry-backed, national veterans campaign. NBCUniversal is a partner in that movement. 

    On Wednesday, Hiring Our Heroes — a program of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation that aims to get veterans back into the work force — is hosting a hiring fair at the 69th Regiment Armory in New York City.

    For veterans like Melissa Fay, a former lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, adjusting to civilian life and finding a job can be tough –  but after a few edits to her resume, Melissa landed a position with General Electric as a financial analyst. NBC's Kerry Sanders reports.

    Click here for a list of upcoming Hiring Our Heroes job fairs.

    Both events are part of the Got Your 6 "veteran hiring week." Such events, Rutenberg believes, are critical for companies with spots to fill and veterans with bills to pay: "One of the things the military ingrains in us is how to be present and confident in the moment, really in any moment." 

    Still, owning that moment may require a touch of coaching, say some career counselors, who have spotted common, repeated flaws in the resumes and in interviewing skills of ex-service members.

    Humility 'can be damning'
    On paper, the mistakes typically involve the use of jargon: cumbersome acronyms, technical descriptions, and — to many civilians — the complicated system of military ranks. Is a "specialist" special? 

    MSNBC's Richard Lui, joins Andrea Mitchell Reports live from the Hiring Our Heroes Jobs Fair in New York and explains how the initiative is trying to help veterans market themselves better in the work force.

    "They feel: 'I've earned this rank. I want to make it prominent on my resume.' But that's one of the biggest complaints we hear from employers. They don't understand what 'sergeant first class' means," says Shareem Kilkenny, co-owner of Veteran Career Counseling Services. She operates VCCS with her husband, Kester Kilkenny, an Army veteran who spent time in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

    "What I have to get them to understand is: How do I translate their ranks and skills into the skills that employers are looking for? It might be better, for example, if a resume reads: 'Worked under extremely stressful conditions,' or 'Worked in a deadline-driven environment' or 'Dealt with constant change.' ”

    Jon Soltz of VoteVets.org, talks about the unemployment numbers about veterans and their spouses and shares his thoughts on the Hiring Our Heroes initiative.

    In addition to reading like a foreign language, militaryspeak may just get a veteran's resume tossed, warns Elizabeth Hruska, assistant director of career and internship services at the University of Minnesota

    "This can be a barrier to a civilian employer who needs to quickly understand the basics of you and your qualifications — and (emphasize) quickly: Employers tell us they spend only 10 to 30 seconds on that initial resume once-over," Hruska says. 


    While many veteran candidates may try to pitch themselves as the ultimate team players, some are prone to selling themselves short due to that group-first mindset, says Jason Dozier, veteran transition specialist with Hire Heroes USA, a nonprofit dedicated to creating job opportunities to veterans and their spouses through personalized employment training. 

    "Military members are very team-oriented, and the word 'individual' can be a euphemism for those who fail to be a productive member of that team," Dozier said. "And so tasks and accomplishments are more likely to be framed as 'we' rather than as 'I.' Humility is a great virtue, but it can be damning if you're looking to be competitive in the job market."  

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  • After firing soldier in 2000, USPS ordered to rehire him - and pay him $2 million

    Courtesy of Rick Erickson

    Army Special Forces Sgt. Maj. Rick Erickson has won his legal fight to be reinstated as a U.S. Postal worker - almost 13 years after the USPS fired him for taking military leave. Photo taken by the Army on Dec. 12.

    A heavily decorated Army Green Beret, fired by the U.S. Postal Service in 2000 for taking military leave, must be reinstated in his mail job and retroactively paid by the USPS for back wages, benefits and legal fees — an amount that may top $2 million, an administrative law judge has ruled.

    Special Forces Sgt. Maj. Rick Erickson — who has earned three Combat Distinguished Valor awards, the Purple Heart, and more than 30 other military medals — said the termination forced him to re-enlist in the Army National Guard and eventually serve in Afghanistan in order to generate income to support his three daughters. While in Afghanistan, Erickson’s unit was ambushed in 2004 and he was shot twice in the arm.

    “It’s a shame I had to fight 13 years for something the Postal Service could have corrected with a quick decision. But they didn’t want to do the right thing,” Erickson told NBC News Tuesday. For now, he remains on active duty.

    “This has been torture to me, to my family and friends. I’m a single dad and I had to spend a lot of time away from my daughters. But this is not just about me. This is about every veteran that got fired from their job while serving their country,” added Erickson, 49. “Fortunately, I got the chance to fight it, to bring it to the courts. Most veterans who are fired just run out of money, say forget it, and go to a Publix (grocery store to work) and just move on. I’ve seen it so many times.”


    USPS does not agree with the decision but is taking it under advisement, a spokesperson told NBC News on Tuesday. The U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board — which handles job disputes involving federal employees — handed down its order Dec. 14 that the USPS must re-employ Erickson no later than Jan. 18.


    In addition to ordering the USPS to reimburse the soldier for nearly 13 years in back postal wages, the board also told USPS to immediately begin paying Erickson his postal salary — even if the USPS opts to appeal, a move that could extend the case another two years. Erickson said he doesn’t recall his hourly wage rate in 2000.

    “I’m an aggressive guy so I was trying to become a post master,” Erickson said of his career aspirations when he worked for the USPS in Fort Myers, Fla. “Today, I sill have three daughters to take care of. Two are 21 and in college, and one is 17.

    “It’s obvious the Postal Service did something wrong. But will they still spend the taxpayers’ money and keep fighting this because they don’t want to be proven wrong?” Erickson asked. “They need to ante up.

    “I couldn’t be hired by any other federal agency. I was red-flagged (within the federal employment system) just because the Postal Service fired me. So I had to re-enlist,” he added. “I mean, how many civilian jobs are going to hire a Green Beret? What are they going to say, ‘Hey, Green Beret, go bag some groceries?’ ”

    Click here for more military-related coverage from NBC News.

    Erickson, who started serving in the U.S. Army National Guard in 1990, initially sought to overturn his postal termination in 2000. After he returned from Afghanistan, he ramped up his legal battle by filing an appeal in 2006 with the Merit Systems Protection Board. He claimed that by firing him, the USPS had violated his federal rights to serve in the military and hold another job, as stated in the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act.

    “In 2000, I was called to service. I was called up by the President of the United States to serve my country. The Postal Service fired me for using excessive military leave. Some employers just say: ‘You’re gone for six months? OK. Goodbye.’

    “When you fight in combat, you can’t hold a grudge on your shoulder. You have to do your job,” Erickson said. “But I had to fight the enemy overseas and then I had to come back and fight the Post Office.”

    In the years following his 2006 federal bid to regain his postal job, he won two decisions before the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. The USPS continued, however, to appeal his reinstatement, said Erickson’s lawyer, Greg T. Rinckey. In 2011, a federal judge remanded Erickson’s case — for the second time — back to the Merit Systems Protection Board in Atlanta.

    “The USPS’ illegal conduct in 2000 was bad, but fighting this year after year is even more concerning,” said Rinckey, the managing partner of Tully Rinckey PLLC. He estimated that when the USPS receives the total bill for Erickson's back wages, benefits and legal bills, the tab will exceed $2 million, making it “one of the largest awards in an employment case against the USPS and the federal government.”

    Rinckey said he expects the USPS to appeal.

    “I never understand why an agency fights these types of actions when, in my opinion, it’s pretty clear cut. Why did they continue to litigate this? We were willing to settle this in 2006 and it would have been fairly simply to settle. They just kept going, raising the legal fees on it, year after year.”

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  • New survey helps US companies prove their 'vet friendly' claims

    American companies now marketing themselves as “veteran friendly” get a chance Tuesday to verify the depth of their patriotism by simply filling out a survey.


    The National Veteran-Owned Business Association (NaVOBA) — an advocacy group for more than 3 million businesses owned by former service members — will release on Tuesday its annual questionnaire to once again assess, grade and name “the 10 best U.S. corporations that work with veteran-owned businesses,” the organization said. 


    The top 10, to be published in the April issue Vetrepreneur magazine, will include only U.S. firms with more than $1 billion in annual revenues to ensure a fair comparison. NoVOBA assembles its annual list by examining how heavily each company uses veteran-owned businesses in its supplier network and by how aggressively the company works to pull veteran-owned vendors into its larger mission and keep them there. 

    “Being a ‘veteran friendly’ company — not only in your hiring but also by using veteran firms — is very good press, and companies want to be reflected in that way,” said Matthew Pavelek, managing editor of Vetrepreneur magazine. “But I think there’s something to be said about the business case: They’re getting the best-quality products and services by using these (veteran-owned) businesses.”

    For companies that choose to participate in the online survey, NaVOBA weights the percentage of small-business contracts that are allotted to veteran-owned firms as well as the total dollar volume paid to veteran-owned vendors.

    For any veteran-owned outfits involved in helping boost conglomerates into top 10, there is pressure as well, Pavelek added.

    “Wearing your veteran status on your sleeve kind of comes with this inherent responsibility and obligation to the rest of the veteran community to really follow through," Pavelek said. “You run the risk of giving all veterans a bad name if you don’t come in under budget or actually accomplish what you were set out to do with that contract.”

    Some of the U.S. companies that have earned slots in NaVOBA's recent top-10 lists include: Booz Allen Hamilton, Comcast Corporation, DynCorp International, Johnson & Johnson, Life Technologies, Lockheed Martin, Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation, and Mack Trucks, Inc. 

    (NBCNews.com is owned by Comcast’s NBC Universal unit.)

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  • Wal-Mart plans to hire 100,000 veterans

    Retail giant Wal-Mart has announced that over the next five years it projects hiring 100,000 honorably discharged vets who are in their first 12 months off active duty. NBC's Brian Williams reports.

    Wal-Mart will hire every veteran who wants to trade their camo fatigues for khakis and dark-blue polos, the company announced Tuesday.

    "Sadly, too many of those who fought for us abroad now find themselves fighting for jobs at home," Wal-Mart U.S. President and CEO Bill Simon said in a speech before the National Retail Federation. "Not every returning veteran wants to work in retail.  But every veteran who does will have a place to go. We project that Wal-Mart will hire more than 100,000 veterans over the next five years."

    As of December 2012, the unemployment rate for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars was 10.8 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The current national unemployment rate is 7.8 percent. By the end of 2012, there were 226,000 unemployed Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.

    The announcement comes at a time when Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer and the nation's largest private employer, is trying to burnish its image. The company has been criticized over the years for offering low-paying jobs and its sourcing from Chinese manufacturers has been brought into question. Recently, allegations have been leveled that the company made bribes in Mexico to obtain building permits and there have been calls for improved supply chain oversight following the deadly fire at a Bangladesh factory that supplied clothes to several global retailers, including Wal-Mart.

    The retailer's hiring program will be open to veterans honorably discharged within the past 12 months. "All types" of jobs will be available, spokesperson Brooke Buchanan told TODAY, from part time to full time and management. These positions will be in stores, regional distribution centers, and the headquarters in Bentonville, Ark. Salary will depend on position. Benefits are included for full-time jobs.

    Openings will be be dependent on each facilities' staffing needs, the company said. No new positions will be created. Employee transfers between facilities will not count as new hires towards the 100,000 projection. However, the company said, if someone leaves their job at Wal-Mart and then comes back to work for the retailer later, that will be considered a new hire.

    Wal-Mart currently employs 1.4 million and "experiences significant turnover in associates each year," according to a March regulatory filing. Over 100,000 of those employees are veterans, according to the company, which declined to provide the number of currently available open positions.

    Under employer tax incentives for hiring veterans extended as part of the fiscal cliff deal, Wal-Mart can get a tax credit of $2,400 for hiring veterans that have been searching for work for at least four weeks but less than six months. Veterans with service-related disabilities are worth even more, up to $9,600 per hire.

    Several veterans groups greeted the announcement with gusto. Nonprofit veteran's advocacy group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) founder and CEO Paul Rieckhoff told TODAY that "IAVA applauds Wal-Mart's leadership on veteran hiring... we need more employers to appreciate that these young men and women are not a charity, they are an investment. Wal-Mart's footprint is large enough that they can single-handedly impact that unemployment number, especially if they exceed their 100,000 jobs goal." On Jan. 9, the IAVA announced receiving a $50,000 grant from Wal-Mart to promote employment of veterans in New York state which the group said it will use to build an online job-search tool and fund a job fair for veterans.

    An interesting wrinkle in the program is that job-seeking vets who meet the eligibility requirements will get "priority applicant status." If a job is between two equally qualified candidates, one a vet and one a civilian, the vet gets the job, Buchanan said.

    In the same speech announcing the veteran's initiative, Wal-Mart's CEO also announced plans for Wal-Mart and Sam's club to buy an additional $50 billion in U.S.-made products over the next years. The approach is two-pronged. The retailer will increase purchases of categories that are already sourced in the U.S., like basic clothing, sporting goods, games, storage products and paper goods, and will encourage the development of U.S. production in furniture, textiles, and high-end appliances, said Simon.

    The White House, which has made promoting the hiring of veterans by the private sector a priority, welcomed Wal-Mart's pledge to hire more veterans. 

    "This is exactly the kind of act we hoped would be possible when we started Joining Forces — a concrete example of our nation's love and support that our troops, veterans, and their families can feel in their lives every day," said first lady Michelle Obama in a prepared statement. "So today, my challenge is simple: for every business in America to follow Wal-Mart's lead by finding innovative solutions that both make sense for their workplaces and make a difference for our veterans and their families."

    In August 2011, President Barack Obama issued a challenge to employers to hire or train 100,000 veterans and military spouses by 2013, a torch that Mrs. Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have picked up as part of the Joining Forces initiative. At an event in August 2012, Mrs. Obama announced that more than 2,000 American companies had taken up the challenge, hiring 125,000 veterans and military spouses.

    Veterans often face unique challenges re-entering civilian life. They may carry physical or mental disabilities, such as PTSD and traumatic brain injury. Wal-Mart told TODAY that veterans would have to pass the standard background and criminal record checks but would not be subjected to any additional psychological screening. A standard employee telephone helpline would be made available to employed veterans suffering from PTSD or any other disabilities, Wal-Mart said.

    "Obviously this is a good move that an employer wants to hire veterans. Our concern is that the jobs might be low wage and not offer enough health benefits," said Paul Sullivan, a board member for D.C.-based veterans' rights group Veterans for Common Sense. "I am concerned this is a public relations exercise to make the company look good. Veterans need fair wages, union representation and a job that offers a career, not just a low-wage position."

  • Will slaying of ex-SEAL Chris Kyle mar veteran job market?

    The weekend homicides of ex-Navy SEAL and “American Sniper” author Chris Kyle and a friend in Texas have stoked fresh concerns among mental-health experts and veteran advocates that the crime’s PTSD theme will further stigmatize and dampen an already-soggy job market for men and women home from war.


    “What worries me about this story is it will frighten potential employers away from hiring veterans who have been in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Dr. Harry Croft, a San Antonio-based psychiatrist who has talked with more than 7,000 veterans diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.

    “The myth is all of them have PTSD  — not true, only 20 percent.  Another myth is that all of them who have a severe case of it — not true; it goes from very mild to severe. The third myth is that everybody with PTSD is aggressive, unreliable, or trouble in the workplace, and none of that is (true) either. It scares me,” Croft said.


    The unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans was 11.7 percent in January compared to 9.1 percent in January 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Younger female veterans grappled with a 17.1 percent unemployment rate last month — virtually unchanged from one year ago — while the unemployment rate for younger male veterans was 10.5 percent in January, which marked an increase from 7.7 percent during the same month in 2012.

    “One of the things I talk about in the presentations I give to employers is how the stigma of the crazed vet like Sgt. (Robert) Bales, or, now, this young man in Texas, is very rare and it’s atypical. Now, that doesn’t mean that a vet with PTSD doesn’t have anger and agitation issues. But generally, it’s worse at home than it is at work,” said Croft, who co-authored “I Always Sit with My Back to the Wall: Managing Traumatic Stress and Combat PTSD.”

    Chris Kyle, a sniper in Iraq, was so feared that he was dubbed "The Devil of Ramadi" and had an $80,000 bounty on his head. Tragically, it wasn't enemy fire that killed him, but a fellow soldier asking for help with PTSD. NBC's Jim Miklaszewski reports.

    Eddie Ray Routh, 25, a Marine Corps corporal from 2006 to 2010 who deployed to Iraq in 2007, was arraigned Sunday on two counts of capital murder in the deaths of Kyle, 38, and Chad Littlefield, 35, at a shooting range in North Texas. Both men were killed with a semi-automatic handgun.

    According to Erath County Sheriff Tommy Bryant, Routh "may have been suffering from some type of mental illness from being in the military himself." Bryant added that Routh's mother possibly contacted Kyle to try to help her son. The sheriff also learned, he said, that the three men might have been at the range “for some type of therapy that Mr. Kyle assists people with.”

    Some veterans who toil in the job-mentoring trenches to try to deflate those unemployment stats share Croft’s concern that Texas shootings may bolster an existing PTSD stigma and inject more doubt into the minds of some hiring managers.

    “Unfortunately, I think that’s a possibility,” said John E. Pickens, executive director of VeteransPlus and the Yellow Ribbon Registry Network. VeteransPlus has offered financial counseling to more than 150,000 current and former service members. The nonprofit also has partnered with The WorkPlace, Citi and Wal-Mart to help long-term, unemployed veterans improve their job candidacies and find work.

    “But I’m not sure how to address that (stigma) because for those people who read something like this and take away a negative impression, it’s very difficult — other than having a one-on-one, good experience with a veteran — to be able to overcome that,” said Pickens, a former Army combat medic.

    Iraq veteran Ed Richardson, who’s now attending college but who’s been scouting for a job since December 2011, has watched employers offer subtle signals about his war service during job interviews.

    “I’ve had people’s body language completely change with me — their eyes get large and they want to lean back in their chair” when the topic arises with hiring managers, said Richardson, 49, who is in the Army Reserves and who lives in Kentucky. “Some ask me: ‘Have you had any issues? Because some veterans have had the problems.’

    "Being a veteran and having that going against me (in job hunting), you have to have something to counter it and I believe having an associate degree can help, or preferably a bachelor’s degree,” Richardson said. He ideally wants to work in federal law enforcement. “But I’m very positive about my outlook.” 

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  • Home from war, troops face 'white knuckled' first month

    Jessica Mcgowan / for NBC News

    Former Marine Paul Menefee, an Iraq war veteran, makes music in his Union City, Ga bedroom, on Feb. 15. Since transitioning to civilian life, Menefee works as a music producer in Atlanta. At home, Menefee spends most of his time in this blacked out bedroom making music and relaxing. Drawing blinds and blacking out windows is a habit Menefee started after his military service to help him feel more secure.

    In the first month home from war, one Marine routinely searched his darkened bedroom for the rifle he'd left in Iraq, while another Marine shunned his favorite nightspot for fear that someone in the club might carry a gun. 

    In the four weeks after their homecomings, one infantryman drove “white knuckled” at 55 mph while another soldier purposely began living even faster — losing her virginity, going blonde and drinking hard with battle buddies.


    Some 34,000 service members will ship home from Afghanistan during the next year, President Barack Obama told the nation last week

    Amid the gleeful glow of arrivals, many of those troops may quickly confront sensory overloads, social awkwardness and, perhaps, deep cravings for personal freedoms, according to interviews with four younger veterans who weathered such moments.  

    “The first 30 days are interesting,” said Alex Horton, who spent 15 months in Iraq as an Army infantryman, including during the 2007 troop surge in Baghdad and Diyala Province.

    Today, he works for the Department of Veterans Affairs. "I’ll call it the unraveling. That first week back you’re still high on everything, kissing your wife or girlfriend, sometimes seeing your kids for the first time. But then the tension starts to build.


    “You experience culture and weather shock, and notice your senses are heightened,” said Horton, adding that another common theme — albeit something he did not go through — involves disrupting the daily routines established by a spouse and kids during a service member’s absence, and consequently, dealing with strained relationships. 

    Distant from family
    To that point, two veterans interviewed for this story, including Horton, said they suffered romantic breakups after returning from combat, and two got divorced. 

    Jessica Mcgowan / for NBC News

    Former Marine Paul Menefee, an Iraq war veteran, shows off his spiritual tattoos at home in Union City, Ga., on Feb. 15. The "Blessed" tattoo is one many Menefee has gotten after his two tours in Iraq.

    "Trying to get back to my regular life was hard because I wouldn’t talk much to anybody. I didn’t want to talk about what went on in Iraq, didn't want to describe the details," said Paul Menefee, a former Marine who was deployed twice to Iraq and fought in the Battle of Fallujah in late 2004. 

    "Things that happened, I didn’t want to remember. I was trying to cope in my own way, not deal with the images in my head," added Menefee, who eventually divorced his wife. "I was distant from my wife, mother, cousins, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles. At Sunday dinners, I pretty much stayed off to myself."

    Old habits came home, too. During his first 30 days back at Camp Lejeune, N.C., Menefee grew jittery in a Wal-Mart checkout line because other customers were queued up behind him. He left the store immediately. He avoided nightclub outings with friends because the bar crowds seemed unpredictable.

    He chose seats in the backs of restaurants so he could watch all the patrons and map each exit. At home, he kept his blinds drawn, his door locked and always looked left then glanced right when passing a hallway or an open corner. 

    On interstate highways, Menefee — a truck driver in Iraq — often pulled four lanes to his left if he spotted a blown tire or crumpled, food wrapper lying on the right shoulder: The types of hiding places in which insurgents routinely planted IEDs in Iraq. While driving in an American city, he would take an early left or an abrupt right if he saw garbage or roadkill on an approaching curb.

    "You don’t realize that (your senses are) very fine-tuned to your environment, everything from hearing things to seeing things," Horton said. "I imagine this is what blind people feel with their other senses. You rely on them so much (in combat), they have no business being that acute in the civilian world."

    "When I got into a car and drove on a highway for the first time," Horton added, "I was white knuckled."

    For former Marine Christian Gutierrez, who returned from Iraq in spring 2008, the open road at first carried a mix of old caution and fresh freedom.

    During quick trips to the grocery store, he frequently would exit his car then quickly circle back, thinking he'd left his rifle in the front seat, momentarily forgetting he didn't carry a weapon anymore. 

    "But I love cars and love driving. So I drove a lot because it was my time," Gutierrez said. "That moment was your moment. You had control of your car. You had control of that moment."

    'Lucky I didn't die'
    Soon, he bought a motorcycle to further feed that rush of independence, to expand his new-found personal space — and because combat left him with another sharp bit of wisdom: Your moments on this planet may be few.  

    "Being back taught me that if I want to do something, I’d better do something right now. You never know," he said. 

    That same compulsion drove Iraq veteran Laura Cannon to use her first 30 days home to mark, she said, "the beginning of a new life for me," a time in which she stepped away from both Evangelical Christianity and the strict rules under which she'd been living since enrolling at West Point.  

    "I knew that if I didn't make drastic changes, being at war would be the last adventure I would ever experience," said Cannon, a former Army infantry member who was part of the 2003 Coalition invasion. "Surviving a war completely changed my perspective. I needed to start living for me. So I made a mental list of goals to accomplish. No. 1 — lose my virginity. I was 24 for God's sake!"

    During her first month home, Cannon also bought an SUV, broke up with a boyfriend, dyed her hair blonde, visited Ground Zero, posted a personal best in a 5K race, and found time to "party my ass off with my war buddies — heavy drinking."

    In Iraq, "there was (stuff) blowing up everywhere. I'm lucky I didn't die. I hadn't done enough with my life," she said. "I had survived a war. I had a second chance to live differently. I was not going to let others control me anymore. It was time to make more adventures and maybe get some baggage along the way. I was so far behind. Lots to catch up on."

    "The rapid pace at which I compensated for my repressed life, especially in the first 30 days after the war," Cannon added, "were completely catalyzed by combat." 

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  • Google launches new site to guide veterans into civilian work force

    Google is aiming its search-engine horsepower at homecoming veterans, launching Thursday what may be the largest online hub to help men and women exiting the military as American armed forces draw down.

    Called VetNet, the site offers veterans three distinct “tracks” to plot and organize their next life moves – from “basic training” which aids job hunters to “career connections” which links users to corporate mentors and other working veterans to “entrepreneur” which offers a roadmap to starting a business.

    To arm the new site with some heavy-hitting experts, Google partnered with three leading nonprofits in the veteran-employment space: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Hiring Our Heroes program, the Institute for Veterans and Military Families, and Hire Heroes USA.

    “We asked: What else can we be doing with our technology to help these folks transition home?” said Carrie Laureno, founder of the Google Veterans Network, the company’s employee-volunteer community which seeks to make Google a military-friendly work environment.


    “We wanted to really move the needle in the right direction. And working with our three partners, we asked: What can we do together to help you reach more people?” Laureno said. “How do we help these millions of people who are in this situation get the resources they need (to land civilian jobs) in a much easier, more straightforward way that’s ever been possible before?”

    After clicking a button to connect with VetNet, users gain access to a weekly snapshot of “what’s happening” in the veteran-employment arena as well as to a ready group of business advisers and to an ongoing array of virtual “hangouts” that train people on basics from resume writing to making “elevator pitches” or that allow veterans to hear insights from leaders in retail, transportation, retail and entrepreneurship, Laureno said.

    The venture drew a favorable review Thursday from a key congressional member.

    “I am especially pleased to see companies like Google and their partners take the initiative to bring together these various resources to help veterans navigate the employment opportunities together,” said Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

    Click here for more military-related coverage from NBC News.

    “I am confident their combined efforts will be especially helpful to those who may not know where to start their job search. This is the least we can all do for our veterans who have served our nation so honorably,” Miller said in an email.

    Miller’s words hint at the fresh irony of post-war life for thousands of ex-service members: Their initial challenge is not a lack of help; it is the over-abundance of nonprofits seeking to guide veterans from their once-super-structured schedules and tight packs of buddies to the wide-open, ultra-competitive job market.

    According to an April 2012 study by the Center for a New American Security, more than 40,000 nonprofit groups now exist in this country with missions focused on filling the various needs of active-duty troops, veterans and their families.

    That giant-yet-fragmented bundle of organizations — while striving to do well by veterans — must also battle for the same funding dollars. And that jostling hasn’t fostered a cohesive landscape for veterans to navigate as they begin their new career journeys, Laureno said. Given that mish-mash of helping hands, some veterans simply don’t know where to go first. 

    “I’ve heard occasionally people (in the veteran-helping field) use the word ‘competitors.’ They are competing for funds. They are competing for awareness. They are competing to be in the spotlight,” Laureno said. “It’s also a well-documented issue in this community that there are some people, just like anything else, who got involved because wanted to help but that emerged as sort of looking for press.

    “The founding partners here are not of that ilk. These are partners who have stuck with their original mission, who are focused on getting the help out to the people who need it, and who recognize that technology can help them take that help to a completely different level than ever before possible,” she added.

    Google and VetNet are hoping to attract new partners from that sea of 40,000 groups. But they’re still hammering out the best ways to assess prospective collaborators — and their larger intensions — before they are invited to join, Laureno said.

    “That’s one of the biggest challenges all of us are facing in this issue, and that’s why there has been this proliferation of 40,000-plus (veterans organizations),” she said. “We are going to need to have a some sort of vetting process. That is something the partners are working on right now: What will be the criteria they use to judge who comes on board and who doesn’t?

    “Anyone who would like to get involved, who has effective services, and who is willing to make the commitment to providing them on this platform who will be supportive of the community, they’re all welcome,” she added. “But if somebody wants to advertise on a one-off basis about their particular program, this probably isn’t the right place for them.”

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  • Employers step up efforts to recruit, hire veterans

    Getty Images

    Veterans Michael Futch, right, and Logan Remillard register for the "Hiring Our Heroes" job fair in Utah last November. Companies say they are are stepping up efforts to hire veterans.

    Veterans who are looking for work may have reason to feel more optimistic about their job prospects this Veterans Day: A new survey finds that businesses appear to be making a greater effort to hire them.

    The CareerBuilder survey finds that 29 percent of employers are actively recruiting veterans, up 9 percent from a year ago.

    In all, 65 percent of the 2,600 employers surveyed on behalf of CareerBuilder said they would be more likely to hire a veteran over another, equally qualified candidate.


    The efforts come amid increased attention to the plight of job-seeking veterans. Unemployment has been a particularly big problem for young veterans who are returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to high unemployment and low job prospects.

    The unemployment rate for veterans who have served since Sept. 11 was 10 percent in October. That’s far higher than the comparable unemployment rate of 7.5 percent for the entire population. The figures are not adjusted for seasonal variations.

    Many young veterans are expected to enter the workforce in coming years, as the U.S. withdraws from wars in the Gulf and potentially looks to shrink its overall presence as well. The job market has been slowly improving, and that could help increase their changes of finding a job.

    But experts say the young veterans are facing additional roadblocks as well.

    Many don’t have the skills or experience in crafting a resume and interviewing for a job outside the military. They also may not know how to translate their military skills into civilian language that would make them attractive to employers.

    Some veterans are also finding that the skills they learned have in the military, such as driving a military truck or serving as a military medic, don’t translate directly into civilian life. That means they have to spend time and money getting the same certifications to do their job outside the military.

    Advocates argue that veterans also bring a special set of skills to the workforce, such as loyalty and the ability to perform under pressure. Other perks, such as the good publicity that comes from hiring veterans, probably don’t hurt, either.

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  • Vet's KISS roadie job ends: 'So many doors open' for me

    Paul Jordan, an Army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, won a job with KISS as part of TODAY's Hiring our Heroes series. He's writing dispatches about his experience for TODAY.com.

    The lights have dimmed, the amplifiers have cooled and the confetti has fallen. The tour has ended.

    TODAY

    Paul Jordan makes the iconic KISS face on TODAY with Gene Simmons, right.

    KISS played in 44 cities including Toronto, Mexico City and Monterrey. I helped set up and tear down 17 tractor-trailers worth of gear in every location.

    It was a grueling job — and I loved every minute of it. And it actually had many similarities to my military life.

    I started each day early. I was part of a team given a specific task, which was overseen by a senior staffer. He reported in the chain of command to the production manager, who answered to the band.

    We worked until the job was done. After the show, all of the gear had to be packed back into the trucks in an orderly way. This was completed meticulously so that it would all fit. Only when everyone was finished could I take a shower and get on the bus to drive to the next city.


    It's similar to the average day for a soldier: early mornings, teamwork with a collective goal, a chain of command and everyone working until the job is complete.

    The two worlds collided when the tour production team raised more than $51,000 for Operation Resilient Warrior, an organization that supports military service members, veterans and their families. It was an incredible feeling to give back to the military community.

    Paul Jordan

    The KISS tour also included Motely Crue. Vet Paul Jordan hangs out with Crue bassist Nikki Sixx.

    I had trouble integrating back into society after retiring from the Army two years ago. It was difficult for me to relate with civilians, especially when struggling with PTSD. I was often frustrated and depressed during my ordeal with unemployment. It seemed as if society wanted me when I was serving, but didn't want me when I was done. Life was going nowhere for me.

    I couldn’t believe it when I received the call to interview for the KISS roadie job. It was the first response I heard in months. 

    I'd like to thank Hiring Our Heroes, who helped set me up with this opportunity. They didn’t stop with me: they help veterans and separating service members find jobs every day.

    I know now that life exists after military service. You just have to find something you're passionate about and go get it. There is a world of opportunity out there.

    And there are so many doors open in front of me now.

    More dispatches from Paul Jordan: 
    Vet who won KISS job gets roadie nickname, reveals best perk
    Living the dream: My new job as a KISS roadie
    Gene Simmons surprises vet with dream job: KISS roadie!

    Hiring our Heroes is an initiative from NBC News and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that aims to get veterans back into the workforce. Find a list of upcoming job fairs here

  • New program aims to help female veterans-turned-entrepreneurs

    With one in five post-9/11 female veterans temporarily locked out of the job market, hundreds of ex-military women have discovered a promising financial side door: self-employment.

    A new survey of 800 female veterans-turned-entrepreneurs finds that 55 percent say the leadership skills they learned in uniform ultimately pushed them to become their own boss.

    But nearly half of those same women acknowledge they don’t have a business plan to help navigate their next two years, while 28 percent report their greatest need is learning how to find and retain new customers, according to the poll conducted by Capital One Financial Corporation and Count Me In For Women's Economic Independence, a nonprofit.


    To help bolster the growing pool of female veterans who have launched small businesses — and, simultaneously, create more jobs for ex-service members — Capital One and Count Me In have partnered to launch the Women Veteran Entrepreneur Corps (WVEC).

    Hatched as a training and mentorship program, WVEC aims to help female small business owners who are veterans (as well as their spouses or domestic partners) overcome common entrepreneurial pitfalls and plot future revenue growth.

    For seed money, Capital One said it has committed $800,000 toward the program.

    “The energy and motivation that women veterans bring to their business ventures is unmatched, and we are very excited to use our experience helping women reach their entrepreneurial potential to help this important — and growing — group of new entrepreneurs,” Nell Merlino, founder and President of Count Me In, said in a prepared statement.

    Beyond the money and research, Count Me In and Capital One plan to christen the WVEC initiative with a conference and business-pitch competition for women small business owners who are military veterans on Dec. 3 and 4. The event is slated to take place in McLean, Va., and is expected to attract hundreds of women veterans and business growth experts to participate in a variety of panels and workshops — some led by women veterans.

    To help women prepare for the December WEVC event, Count Me In also will host for business owners a series of free “pitch parties” in select U.S. cities. At those gatherings, participating women can practice their two-minute business pitches and get instant, expert feedback, the nonprofit said. Individuals can register for the WVEC pitch parties and the December conference by clicking hmere.

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  • Vet who won KISS job gets roadie nickname, reveals best perk

    Paul Jordan

    Paul Jordan, a veteran who won a job on the KISS through TODAY, holds Gene Simmons' Axe bass.

    Paul Jordan, an Army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, won a job with KISS as part of TODAY's Hiring our Heroes series. He's writing dispatches about his experience for TODAY.com.

    It's a dream job, but traveling as a KISS roadie is not all fun and games. It requires a lot of hard work, long bus rides and little sleep.

    I was put into the carpentry team knowing next to nothing about that field. My education started immediately. On show days, my mentor and I set up and place various pieces of equipment on the stage. During performances, my workplace is between the barricade and the singers.

    I also assist with some of Gene Simmons’ theatrical effects. And if anything goes wrong during the show, I'm one of the guys scrambling to fix the issue. 

    Backstage is a professional environment where the band prepares to give fans the greatest show they've ever seen. The band members are friendly guys who stop and say hello. 


    One big roadie benefit: I have the best seat in the house every night. I still mouth the lyrics to my favorite songs when there's a free moment. I've also met some celebrities, including pitching great Randy Johnson, members of Pearl Jam, and "American Idol" contestant James Durbin. Vinnie Paul of the heavy metal band Pantera sat 5 feet away from me at the Dallas show. 

    Paul Jordan

    Iraq and Afghanistan war vet Paul Jordan, who won a dream job with KISS through TODAY, stands in front of their concert tour bus.

    I've been given the nickname “Hollywood” since joining the crew. It started when we were in DC, and I was asked to do an interview for a local TV station. One interview turned into four, and the nickname was born. Since then I've been on TV five times, radio once more, and featured on various Internet sites.

    Despite my coworkers' gentle teasing, I like talking with the press because it gives me a platform to spread the word about veteran unemployment.  

    I feel lucky: I get to travel the country, help produce the best rock show on the planet, rub elbows with celebrities, spread the word about veteran issues -- and get paid for that work. I have the greatest job in the world!

    More dispatches from Paul Jordan: 
    Living the dream: My new job as a KISS roadie
    Gene Simmons surprises vet with dream job: KISS roadie!

    Hiring our Heroes is an initiative from NBC News and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that aims to get veterans back into the workforce. Find a list of upcoming job fairs here