BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Thousands of men and women who fight the global war on terror face another challenge when they return home, finding a job. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the unemployment rate for veterans who've served in Iraq and Afghanistan is 9.9 percent. The national average is 7.6 percent. A national organization hosted an event in Biloxi Tuesday to help military veterans enter the civilian workforce.
Some 200 job seekers showed up at the Coast Convention Center with resumes in hand and high hopes that their experience and skills will impress the potential employers. Many are getting ready to retire and they're preparing to make that transition from a military career to the civilian work force.
"It can be management, supervisory, anywhere from electrical, carpentry, even some steel work," said Kwame Selby.
Selby is retiring in November after 20 years of service in the U.S. Navy. Even with those skills, veterans can face different challenges during their job hunt. That's why the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation hosted a "Hiring Our Heroes Job Fair" just for veterans and military spouses.
"Sometimes the veterans have issues with translating what it is they have done in their military career and how it translates into what the civilian job sector is looking for. So the advantage of the "Hiring Our Heroes" event is the veterans have a one-on-one opportunity to actually talk to the hiring employer right there on the spot," said Ernie Lombardi with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The unemployment issue involving veterans has received so much attention in our state that Governor Phil Bryant has declared 2013 the "Year of Hiring Mississippi Heroes".
"I've been looking for a job at different job fairs like this. They're pretty productive. They have a lot of companies with GIs and people who are just separating out of the military. It doesn't matter what branch you're in. They do a lot of good for us," said John Shapley, who is retiring from the U.S. Air Force in September.
Michael Chevere is a veteran who has been unemployed for two years now. He and his wife have two children.
"It's been hard. We had to struggle, a lot of cutbacks. We couldn't do stuff we want to do. I'm always stressed out," said Chevere. "In this market right now, it's been very difficult. I've applied I don't know how many places."
The job fair gave Chevere a chance to meet representatives from 30 companies and service organizations. They include America's biggest industries and south Mississippi businesses.
"I am very confident that somebody today will walk out here with a job," said Lombardi.
While Chevere didn't get hired on the spot, he remained optimistic.
"I'm always looking for it. Always pushing. I'm never going to give up, no matter what," said Chevere.
Volunteers were also on hand to review resumes and conduct mock interviews. The U.S. Chamber Foundation has held 560 job fairs across the country since 2011. A representative said more than 20,000 veterans and military spouses have been hired through those events.