Iraq Veteran Delivers Pizza During Two-Year Job Search

April 6, 2012
Bloomberg News
David Lerman

U.S. Army Private Brandon Click was driving a 68-ton Abrams tank in Iraq on March 25, 2008, when a roadside bomb melted his eyelashes and peppered the left side of his body with shrapnel.

Now back home in the Cincinnati (BEESOH) suburbs, the 26-year-old Army veteran says he’s been delivering Papa John’s pizza at night in his 2002 Pontiac Sunfire for a little more than $31,000 a year to help support his infant son while he searches for a job.

Members of Utah National Guard's 211th aviation unit attend a job fair for U.S. military veterans in West Jordan, Utah. Photo: George Frey/Bloomberg

Attachment: Veterans Unemployment Report

“It gets the bills paid, but barely,” said Click, who crossed the Ohio River to Kentucky last week for a job fair intended to help returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.

As tens of thousands of young veterans come home from the wars, many are struggling to find work with civilian employers who don’t recognize their skills, haven’t shared their experiences and aren’t sure what to make of them. The result is that unemployment for veterans, particularly those ages 18 to 24, has been rising even as the national jobless rate declines.

“Unemployment is our No. 1 issue,” said Paul Rieckhoff, founder and executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a New York-based advocacy group, in an interview. “Unemployment is not down, it’s up. And it’s a serious problem.”

While the military offers all departing service members transition assistance to help them prepare for civilian jobs, the unemployment rate for veterans who’ve served since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks was 12.1 percent last year, up from 11.5 percent in 2010, according to a report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Among non-veterans, 8.7 percent were jobless last year, down from 9.4 percent in 2010.

May Get Worse

The gap may widen as the U.S. economy recovers. Tens of thousands more troops will be coming home over the next two years from Afghanistan, where the U.S. plans to withdraw most combat forces by the end of 2014. At the same time, the Pentagon intends to reduce the U.S. military by 123,900 troops, or 5.5 percent, by fiscal 2017 to meet budget-cutting goals.

The unemployment burden tends to fall harder on enlisted veterans, especially those who lack technological skills. Most military officers have college degrees and are better equipped to make the transition to civilian careers. Younger veterans who left high school, with or without diplomas, to bear the brunt of combat in infantry or armor units often return to the civilian workforce with no readily marketable skills, according to veterans advocates such as Rieckhoff, who also served as an Army lieutenant in Iraq.

Click, who was honorably discharged according to the Army, spent the past two years delivering pizza as he hunted in vain for more rewarding work to help support the baby he fathered with a girlfriend.

‘Can’t Find Nothing’

“I’ve looked at other things,” Click said as he waited to talk to recruiters at the job fair in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky. “I can’t find nothing. I don’t even know what a resume looks like. I don’t know what’s supposed to be on it.”

The job fair paid off anyway for Click, who said he’s taking a job starting April 16 working in a call center for a unit of Minneapolis-based U.S. Bancorp (USB), which pledged to double its hiring of veterans this year from more than 200 in 2011.

Emily King, a Herndon, Virginia-based consultant who specializes in recruiting and training veterans for civilian jobs, said many other veterans aren’t as fortunate.

“These people are out in the market without a clue,” King said. “They either never get an interview, or they get an interview and they don’t know how to tell the story of their experience.”

‘I Can’t Hear’

Josh Conner, a 28-year-old Army veteran who left the military in February, showed up with his pregnant wife at the Kentucky job fair saying his goal was to find work before his son arrives in May.

The din in the convention hall was a challenge for Conner, who lost much of his hearing from bomb blasts, firefights and mortar rounds in Iraq.

“Most of the time I can’t hear what they’re saying,” Conner said.

The former Army corporal, who fired mortars and provided security on two tours in Iraq, now wears hearing aids. He said he’s filled out about 20 job applications online, with no interviews to show for it.

“It’s a lot tougher than I thought it would be,” Conner said of his job search. “People are scared to take chances,” he said of employers.

JPMorgan Chase, IBM

Companies across the U.S. say they are heeding the government’s call to step up hiring of veterans.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM), Delta Air Lines Inc., Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ) and International Business Machines Corp. are among more than 30 companies that pledged last year to hire at least 100,000 veterans collectively by 2020.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has held 102 job fairs over the past year in 45 states and the District of Columbia, helping more than 8,400 veterans and spouses land jobs, according to spokesman Bryan Goettel.

King, the veterans consultant, said she has yet to see the payoff.

“It’s the cause celebre for companies right now to say they’re hiring veterans,” King said in an interview. “What the veterans say to me is, ‘We’re not getting jobs.’”

Women leaving the military face added difficulties, from gender bias to child-care responsibilities and spouses who are still in the service and can’t relocate, according to Kimberly Olson, a retired Air Force colonel who runs a support group for female veterans in Fort Worth, Texas, called Grace After Fire.

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