Iraq service puts strain on jobs at home

A mother welcomes her son home from Iraq.

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KAI RYSSDAL: This Sunday, the 11th of November, is Veterans Day. Some of you might have the day off in observance on Monday. But increasingly veterans who continue their service in the reserves are having a tough time getting a job in the first place. Danielle Karson reports.


Danielle Karson: Discipline and leadership under fire -- those are the military's currency. Service members hope to cash in on those skills when they go back to civilian life.

Jason Boyd: I was a team leader with three guys under me -- so you're talking about a guy that had no self-confidence and is now leading three guys, and a completely different person.

Jason Boyd served in Iraq for six months as an infantryman with the Marines. The 23-year-old was honorably discharged in February and is now in the "ready reserve" -- meaning he could be deployed any time he's needed. He sent out as many as 70 resumes that listed his ready-reserve status. He got one call back.

Boyd: I sent in my resume and they said it looked great, they would call me back. And they never did. Because I think for them, they're bringing someone into the company and then they lose'em. And they don't have any say over it. So, if we get deployed, we get deployed. There's nothing they can do.

Reluctance to hire a service member is nothing new. Kimberly Smith has been in the Army Reserve for almost 25 years -- she knows for a fact she didn't get a job back in 1988 because of her status.

Kimberly Smith: I got a phone call from the warehouse manager and he said, "You know, I'd really like to offer you a position, but I'm really having a problem with this one-weekend-a-month thing." And I said, "Are you saying you're not hiring me because I'm in the Army Reserve?" And he said, "Well, yeah."

Under federal law, a company has to hold a Guard member's job for as long as they're gone. And that requirement has discouraged many businesses, especially smaller ones, from hiring service members. Former Marine Dan Caufield:

Dan Caufield: Are they going to hire someone that's going to be deployed in the next six to 12 months, and are they going to be doing this hiring all over again to fill a spot? So it's absolutely a problem that we see across our blogs, and in our daily chat rooms.

Caufield founded the online network Hire a Hero this past January, with charitable donations. The site has more than 180,000 job seekers and, so far, more than 800 mid- to large-sized businesses have registered. But it's slow going. Former infantryman Jason Boyd finally landed a job. But along the way, one job recruiter told him many employers look down on service members as automatons.

Boyd: She said it's the fact that military people have to be told when to tie their boots. And I laughed. And I said I was a lance corporal with three guys under me, and I was the one making all the decisions.

But Caufield finds that many big companies are willing to hire people like Boyd. They figure if somebody can keep their cool while taking fire, they can handle an irate boss. And a bigger firm can afford to temporarily fill a job if a new hire heads overseas -- like Sodexho. The food and facilities management company employs thousands of Guardsmen and Reservists. Spokesman Anthony Owens says his company is happy to bite the bullet.

Anthony Owens: We have military employees that serve one, two and sometimes three tours -- so we know that on any given moment, they could be called away. But when they come back, we look forward to their return just as well.

Hire a Hero's Caufield says corporations should do what's best for them. And his mission is compatible with that.

Caufield: I believe that what we need to do for corporate America is make it in their best interest to hire these young people. And I have made a living at helping corporations recognize the value of hiring these young people. And the value far outweighs the sacrifices that they have to make to support the Guard and Reserve.

One of Caufield's talking points is that taxpayers have already sunk thousands of dollars into training service members -- so businesses can get a free return on society's investment by welcoming people back to the civilian workplace.

In Washington, I'm Danielle Karson for Marketplace.

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