• Living the dream: My new job as a KISS roadie

    Back in March, rock band KISS announced they wanted to offer a roadie job to a deserving U.S. veteran for their upcoming tour with Motley Crue. After receiving over 1900 applications for the job, Gene Simmons reveals the winner.

    Courtesy Paul Jordan

    Paul Jordan's served in the U.S. Army 21 years, including deployments in Iran, Afghanistan, and the former Yugoslavia.

    Back in March, rock band KISS announced they wanted to offer a roadie job to a deserving U.S. veteran for their upcoming tour with Motley Crue. After receiving over 1900 applications for the job, Gene Simmons reveals the winner.

    My name is Paul Jordan and I work for KISS. It is my dream job. But how did it all happen? Why KISS, and why hire me?

    It all started in 1975, when I was 4 years old. A kid who lived near me came over to my house and asked if I could play. My mom sent him to my room. He was a few years older than me and not nearly as sheltered. He walked into my room wearing a down vest and acting very sneaky.

    He pulled a record out of the vest and we played it on my little plastic record player. He said to keep it quiet; it had a curse word in it. In 1975, that was a big deal and fairly unheard of.

    As the song “Black Diamond” started, we heard the word “bitch” and covered our mouths in amusement and disbelief. I grabbed the album cover to get a closer look at these crazy guys in costumes and face paint. The album was “Alive!” by KISS. I was hooked for life and have been a fan ever since.

    Courtesy Paul Jordan

    Paul Jordan's served in the U.S. Army 21 years, including deployments in Iran, Afghanistan, and the former Yugoslavia.

    In 1989, I saw a video on Army Rangers in a recruiting office and joined the Army as an infantryman. During my almost 21 years of service, I have been all over the world, including two peacekeeping missions in the former Yugoslavia (Bosnia and Kosovo) and combat tours in the Middle East (twice in Iraq and once in Afghanistan).

    I retired in November 2010. Since then, the only jobs I could find were through temp agencies working in manufacturing and production. I have sent my resume out to countless companies, only to receive e-mails stating that they have filled the position but would keep my resume on file (when I heard back from them at all). It was very frustrating.

    One day in March, a Facebook friend posted me an article that said the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Hiring Our Heroes, NBC News’ initiative to put military veterans back in the workforce, had joined forces with KISS to hire a veteran as a roadie for the band’s 45-city tour across the U.S. this summer with Motley Crue. I said to myself: “That’s me!!!”

    I submitted my resume and started a Facebook event to get people to write letters of recommendation on my behalf. I was very active, but I never thought I would get chosen. Then I got the call from James Cunningham at Hiring Our Heroes. He asked if I was still interested, interviewed me, and asked if I could fly to New York to be on the TODAY show as one of three finalists.

    So on live TV, with millions watching across the country, Gene Simmons announced me as the winner. I never imagined that I would be working for KISS.

    And so the adventure begins....

    Watch the Hiring Our Heroes blog for updates on Paul Jordan’s adventures as a KISS roadie. For details on the more than 400 job fairs being held across the country throughout the year, click here.

    Related:
    Gene Simmons surprises vet with dream job: KISS roadie!
    Comcast and NBC Universal will hire 1,000 veterans
    Hiring our Heroes 'unlocks the potential' of vets
    Capital One, Comcast pledge to hire vets

  • Study: U.S. colleges doing more for homecoming veterans but gaps remain

    Steve Abel

    Thomas Krause, a former Marine sergeant, is now a sophomore at Rutgers University. He credits the school's veterans-support program for keeping him enrolled.

    Steven Harriott

    Thomas Krause during his days with the U.S. Marine Corps.

    Steve Abel

    Thomas Krause, a former Marine sergeant, is now a sophomore at Rutgers University. He credits the school's veterans-support program for keeping him enrolled.

    Without the veteran-support hub on his campus, former Marine sergeant Thomas Krause can quickly calculate the odds that he long ago would have dropped out of Rutgers University.

    "If this service was not provided for me, there's probably a 1 percent chance I would still be here," said Krause, a pre-business sophomore. He volunteers as well at the Rutgers Office of Veteran and Military Programs and Services, which supplies returning service members with academic tutors and advice on how to socially blend into university life. After starting classes last September, Krause walked into the veterans' office two months later and immediately — finally — connected with fellow students. He spoke from that office on Wednesday. 

    "Here, I met a bunch of guys who had also served and who were going to school, the same age group, the same mentality," said Krause, 24. "Because I'm in class with 18 year olds, it's a weird transition. So I go out with my friends here, and I currently even live with one of the guys I met here. It's pretty much: This place is my Rutgers life."

    Rutgers is often cited by groups that aid college veterans as one of the nation's top schools for helping ease former military personnel into and through the rigors of higher education. 

    On Wednesday, a new survey of 690 U.S. colleges was released showing that 62 percent of those schools offer programs and services specifically designed for military service members and veterans — up from 57 percent in 2009, when the same survey was previously conducted. 

    The survey, "From Soldier to Student II: Assessing Campus Programs for Veterans and Service Members," was completed via a partnership between the American Council on Education (ACE), the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education and NAVPA, the National Association of Veteran’s Program Administrators.

     

    Other key findings showed across-the-board improvement since 2009, when the post-9/11 G.I. Bill went into effect, massively boosting available financial aid for homecoming veterans: 

    • Seventy-one percent of institutions that offer programs and services for military and veteran students have a dedicated office serving those students, up from 49 percent in 2009.
    • Eighty-four percent of the institutions that offer services for veteran and military students provide counseling to assist with post-traumatic stress disorder, compared to 16 percent in 2009.
    • Fifty-five percent of the institutions that offer services for veteran and military students have staff trained to assist with physical disabilities, up from 33 percent in 2009, and 36 percent have staff trained to assist specifically with brain injuries, up from 23 percent in 2009.
    • Forty-seven percent offer a veteran student lounge or gathering place, up from 12 percent in 2009.

    Steven Harriott

    Thomas Krause during his days with the U.S. Marine Corps.

    “It is very encouraging," said Young M. Kim, a research analyst at the Center for Policy Analysis and one of the study's four authors. 

    "But while there are areas of improvement, I don’t think everything we’re sharing today is, by any means, close to indicating that everything is very well off," Kim added. "There are places where there are still gaps.

    "One that comes to mind is the transitional issues — veterans coming back from combat theaters really can be (better) helped by faculty and staff members on campus with their transition on campus. And for service members who get redeployed, and that happens quite frequently with a lot of men women, they sometimes struggle with re-enrollment when they come back from military services." 

    The authors received survey responses from 262 public four-year colleges, 238 public two-year schools, 164 private not-for-profit four-year schools, but just 26 for-profit schools. A few dozen for-profit colleges were openly chastised earlier this year for hawking their campuses as veteran-friendly yet failing to meet that sales pitch. Returning servicemen and women on the G.I. Bill make attractive enrollment candidates for many schools because their G.I. tuition reimbursement is paid directly from the federal government to the colleges. 

    Related: Company accused of deception turns GIBill.com over to Veterans Affairs

    "We were somewhat disappointed to get so few responses from for-profit institutions," Kim said. 

    At Rutgers, veterans freshly back from Iraq, Afghanistan or other service locales can turn to the military-support office for almost any question they have about launching or maintaining a college career, Krause said. Even better, it allows veterans to mingle with similar people. Another key: that center is run by a former Army officer, retired Col. Stephen G. Abel. 

    "They make everything so easy for us. They make everything flow," Krause said. "Any problem we have, they can guide us in the correct manner or they can take care of it themselves." 

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  • Obama announces 'reverse bootcamp' for veterans

    Departing service members will soon have access to a "reverse boot camp" that offers new veterans more robust transition services, said President Obama in a speech Monday afternoon before the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Reno, Nev.

    Traditionally known as TAP (transition assistance program), the program has long provided service members with information about benefits as well as workshops on career options and job search skills. Veterans' advocates, however, have in recent years urged substantial changes to the program as the unemployment rate for former service members exceeded that of the national rate. Last August, the president convened a task force to overhaul TAP for the first time in 20 years.

    The new initiative extends TAP from a three-day workshop to five to seven days, which includes a financial planning seminar, a redesigned employment workshop and a planning session in which service members can explore career options and talk to experts.

    Service members will be also be able to meet with a counselor to discuss their career goals as well as VA benefits and resources.

    "We'll provide the training they need to find that job, or pursue that education, or start that business," Obama said. "And just as they've maintained their military readiness, we'll have new standards of career readiness."

    That training will also include the option to take a course tailored to a service member's specific career interest, whether it be a higher education degree, credentials in certain skills or small-business ownership.

    The changes to TAP will be fully implemented by the end of 2013.

    The unemployment rate for all veterans in June was lower than the national average at 7.4 percent, though the rate for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans was 9.5 percent.

    Heather Ansley, vice president of veterans policy for the advocacy organization VetsFirst, told NBC News that the substantial changes promise to give service members more individualized guidance on how to successfully transition from military life.

    "We’ve known for some time that TAP wasn’t fulfilling its mission of preparing folks," said Ansley.

    By offering service members individualized counseling and job readiness sessions, Ansley said, TAP can better prepare new veterans based on a variety of factors, including their education, career goals and physical or psychological disabilities.

    Ansley is hopeful that the TAP initiative will also help service members answer logistical questions about life outside of the military, including what to do without housing benefits and how to calculate what kind of paycheck is needed. The changes, she said, will help veterans learn "how to make that transition without being surprised."

    Rebecca Ruiz is a reporter at NBC News. Follow her on Twitter here.

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  • Program helps 10,000 vets find jobs

    Since the U.S. Chamber of Congress launched the Hiring Our Heroes program in March 2011, 10,000 veterans have found jobs. Cory Ketchum, the 10,000 hire, joins NewsNation to discuss.