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National Guard members battle in job market

Oct. 22, 2012 - 08:43PM   |   Last Updated: Oct. 22, 2012 - 08:43PM  |  
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LOUISVILLE More than nine months after returning from a second deployment to Iraq, Kentucky National Guard Lt. David Doggette has been struggling to translate his broad military experience ranging from driving a tank to leading a platoon into a good civilian job.

Doggette, a 30-year-old from Park City, Ky., who wants a career in safety management, said finding a job in the tight labor market is made more difficult by his long deployments away from the workforce and the possibility of more to come.

"Everybody's been very quick to thank me for my service, and nobody's saying outright they're worried about (future) deployments," he said. "But it's definitely an undercurrent."

Unemployment for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan remains a problem, but it is even more of an issue for National Guard members who juggle jobs and repeated deployments.

Although still higher than the overall jobless rate of 7.8 percent, the unemployment rate for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan dropped to 9.7 percent in September, down from 11.7 percent a year earlier, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Kentucky Guard's "citizen soldiers" who unlike former active-duty troops face the added difficulty of having to hold down jobs while being deployed overseas for what is often a year at a time had a jobless rate last month of 16.3 percent, according to Guard figures.

Ross Cohen, senior director for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's "Hiring our Heroes" program, which has held about 100 job fairs, said there's an array of new programs to help.

They range from Guard outreach directly to employers to job fairs put on by veterans groups, politicians and local workforce agencies.

One problem being addressed is showing vets how to bridge a "communication gap" as they try to translate their military skills into experience that employers can see will make them good employees.

Employers "need to know that you also learn to work well in teams, give and take orders, (can) be accountable for millions of dollars of equipment and respond to changing circumstances," Cohen said.

Ted Daywalt, president of the Georgia-based group VetJobs, said it's a national problem. While recent veterans are increasingly finding work, National Guard members whose part-time role differs from full-time, active-duty troops, but who in the past decade have been mobilized at record levels have faced steeper challenges.

Though few will openly admit it, "a lot of employers are reluctant to hire them," said Daywalt, noting that many will volunteer for another deployment to help pay bills at home. "We get thousands of calls a month, and easily 40 percent to 50 percent of them are in the National Guard."

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