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Tess Vigeland: Imagine facing today’s economy after getting back from a long tour in Iraq or Afghanistan. The unemployment rate among active duty veterans coming home from those wars is 2 percent higher than for civilians.
New Yorker Stephen Kraft worked at MTV before joining the Army after 9/11. He left the military four years ago and says he’s been looking for a steady job pretty much ever since.
Stephen Kraft: My name is Stephen Kraft. I served with the U.S Army and the 82nd Airborne Division from 2002 until 2005, and from 2003 to 2004 I served in Iraq.
After I left the military, I figured getting a job was going to be easy. I had a bachelor’s degree. I had four years of professional experience in the civilian world. I had just gotten back from three years in the military, including a year in combat. I thought I was going to be a prime candidate for any job I wanted, and unfortunately that didn’t seem to be the case. So this is what my resume looks like for the past couple of years. February 2005 to . . .
Since I’ve been out of the Army, I’ve had four or five different jobs. I worked at MTV as a project coordinator. I was one of the first to be laid off. I worked for a construction company. Work slowed down, I got laid off. I worked for Brookfield Properties. Funding went away for the job; in one day I lost my job. I’ve been on unemployment looking for jobs and just struggling to get my bills paid.
Paul Reickhoff: Coming home in any economy is tough but coming home right now I think is especially difficult. My name is Paul Reickhoff. I am the executive director and founder of IAVA, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. Among Iraq veterans and Afghanistan veterans in the active duty military the unemployment rate was over 8 percent in 2007, and it might be even higher now.
KRAFT: Are they here yet? We’re not that early. . . .
For the past couple of weeks on Fridays we’ve been meeting up with a group of other veterans. This Friday, we’re going to Barcade in Brooklyn. They have pool tables, they have arcade games.
WOMAN AT BAR: So, uh, I was just talking about how I owe you an answer about your resume.
We just talk about military life, post-military life, job hunting, talk about that.
WOMAN AT BAR: There’s an opening where I work that I think you would be in the running for the position. It’s a supervisory position and they want X amount of experience supervising people — which you have.
It’s not an easy process to get people to understand what exactly you did in a military and how that can help an organization.
WOMAN AT BAR: I would recommend tailoring your resume exactly to that job description.
Kraft: Thank you.
My job, when I was in the Army, was to destroy enemy munitions. You know there’s not really much call for, you know, doing that in the civilian sector.
Reickhoff: Sixty-one percent of employers said in a recent study that they do not have a complete understanding of the qualifications ex-service members offer.
You know, I had a resume that showed that I had leadership experience under the most hostile of conditions. Combine that just with the service to my country. You know, I know a lot of employers say that they like to service of some sort. Some sort of volunteerism is always good on a resume. I was like, well here’s the ultimate in volunteerism. I volunteered three years of my life to this country’s cause.
Reickhoff: 2009 is going to be the year where we either repeat the mistakes of Vietnam and we have high rates of unemployment, incarceration and drug and alcohol abuse; or we go back to what we after World War II where you had comprehensive job programs, you have educational benefits like the GI bill, and you create a Greatest Generation.
Before I joined the Army, I had like three jobs from when I was 16 until I was 28. And now here I was, I couldn’t hold a job. And, you know, I started wondering if the military cursed me. Did my Army service make it that much harder for me? Like, “Oh! He was in the military. Put it in that pile.”
Reickhoff: And the thing I’ll tell these folks is that, you know, I’ve been there, we’ve all been there, and at the end of the day it’s still better than getting shot at in a war zone. If you can get through that and you can get home alive, you can get through this job market.
Vigeland: That was veteran Stephen Kraft of New York City and Paul Rieckhoff, the executive director of the non-profit Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. That story was produced by Ann Heppermann and Kara Oehler.