Veterans of the Iraq, Afghanistan Wars need work, attend job fair

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Officials with the Northeast Arkansas Chapter of the American Red Cross Saturday sponsored a job fair for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. Military personnel said it's hard for them to find work in today's economy and many companies are concerned about their health and well-being.

"Our 1st two military personnel that walked in this morning, the first thing they said, 'Are we going to be able to get a job today?,' We told them that we're going to have various people here and we hope that it would help lead to a job for them," said Sue Southard, Health & Safety Services Coordinator with the American Red Cross.

Southard said 60 men and women in the armed forces were invited to attend the job fair and finance seminar held at St. Bernard's Auditorium. She said 10 companies had booths set up to give and receive information from soldiers.

"We have Teleflora coming from Paragould, which at the current time are not hiring but they do hire temporary people for Mother's Day, Easter, that type of situation. We also have one of the temporary agencies here in town, Express Personnel, is going to be represented. We have a couple of sectors from E. Ritter that's going to be here so it's a wide variety of people that will be here," said Southard.

"The economy has made a big difference on everything," said Specialist Mike Willfond with the 1037th.

Willfond graduated from Corning High School in 2003 before becoming a member of the Arkansas National Guard. He dropped out of college to go to Iraq.

"I was going to college at one point in time until we got activated and I dropped out of school to go. I was in criminal justice when I dropped out to go," said Willfond. "It was my own choice to drop to go ahead and serve with my own guys, so in a lot of ways it was my own choice; but I do wish I could finish but it's just one of them things."

When getting back from war, he learned about the difficulties of finding a job in today's economic climate.

"When I first came back, I was working for the military on Camp Robinson in Little Rock, working for a drug eradication team. Now the job, they're only so long," said Willfond.

Willford found it difficult to find work due to the economy and also from company's concerns.

"It's just been hard trying to find something because everybody got it on their mind, 'Well, what if they get deployed again what if he's got mental or medical disabilities,' that's going to keep you from doing anything. Are there problems," said Willfond.

Willfond said the military has taught him a lot about life and how to live it. His experiences on the battlefield, he said, would help him excel in civilian life.

"Army values. A lot of dependability, teamwork, stuff like that. A little bit of leadership. Pretty much anything that can be covered on person to person kind of skills," said Willfond. "I've been looking. I've put in applications and stuff like that. Me personally, I'd like to do either security or police work, something like that. I'd like to be a police officer. I've done my time in the service. I'd like to do some time in another job."

"It's been difficult. It really has," said Willfond.

Spc. Willfond was a full-time student when he chose to go to war. One of his fellow soldiers had a full-time job, but not anymore.

"I was home for about 6 months working with them and they called my office and said they were combining jobs and didn't need me anymore, talking a lot about how they were losing money a little bit," said Specialist Michael Potter of Paragould.

Potter served in the 1037th based in Ballad, Iraq for nearly a year. He's been back on United States' soil for a year and has yet to find a steady job.

"I went back to work for a little while and after that I was working in Little Rock with the National Guard a little bit," said Potter.

Potter is trying to raise 7 children on his wife's paycheck. She works in a factory in Paragould.

"It's getting tight. (We're) starting to think about losing some things so we can get by," said Potter.

Potter said he was upset with his former employer of 16 years, Gazaway Lumber, for letting him go after he spent a year overseas.

"It was a kick in the face I think. I worked there a lot of years too. Yeah, it was a big shock," said Potter. "I was very angry, very angry. I spent a lot of time with those people and I went overseas and served our country. It was like, so what."

He said his experience in Iraq will also help him in another job.

"I've got a lot of work experience, a lot of years in supervising experience. I can do just about anything you think of as far as labor wise, driving trucks," said Potter. "I learned a lot of patience, a lot of mechanical skills."

Southard said soldiers learned about the basics of balancing a budget, keeping credit card balances low and other methods of creating a good financial future Saturday morning before the job fair Saturday afternoon.

"They will be able to know what steps to take to keep their credit from becoming ruined," said Southard.

Southard mentioned the status of the economy having a major impact in the number of companies looking for employees.

"The job situation, many people, when we would contact them, at the current time they're not hiring and did not want to build up hope," said Southard. "The part of the American Red Cross is our armed forces emergency services. The Red Cross is the primary liaison between the general public, the family at home and military personnel overseas."

According to a federal law, USERRA, if a soldier is employed when they leave for war, their employer must take all possible actions necessary to make sure the job is available when the soldier returns. If a business can't be sustained, however, they can eliminate that position.