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Iraq War Veterans Struggle to Find Jobs

New America Media/Our Weekly , News Report, Shirley Hawkins Posted: Jun 05, 2009

LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- Theyve weathered war, devastation and death, but African-American Iraq war veterans face a new battle when returning home: finding employment.

Bruce Barnes, 30, is a seven-year veteran of Iraq who completed two tours of duty.

I was a security guard on the military base in Baghdad during my first tour, recalls Barnes. During my second tour, I was a security escort for Iraqi interpreters.

But since returning stateside, Barnes has been hard pressed to find employment. He has pounded the pavement for seven months searching for work. Unable to afford his own apartment, Barnes lives with his mother in Santa Monica.

So far, Ive only had one interview with a security guard company since Ive been back home, said Barnes. The employer said they would call me back when they have a position open.

Employers seem to be reluctant to hire veterans said Barnes and he is not sure why. You would think that veterans would be welcome with open arms, but thats not the case. He added that he has been frequenting job fairs and job programs seeking work.

Iraq war veterans Flournoy
Barnes, and Jackson.
Its just a bad time to be looking for employment, admitted Barnes. People are losing jobs because of the recession and the employers dont have enough money to hire people. But thats not going to stop me from looking for a job, said Barnes, who hopes to eventually find employment working with veterans. He is currently attending Santa Monica College where he is enrolled in a veterans counseling class.

Since being discharged from the Navy in June 2008, Ron Jackson admits that searching for a job has been a lesson in frustration.

Ive been on four interviews and each time Ive gotten passed over, said Jackson, his voice fraught with exasperation. These employers have never served in the military and they couldnt care less about my military background. Its almost like the dues you paid in the military are nonexistent in the job market.

Jackson said he also has applied for jobs with the Veterans Administration. I put in so many applications, Ive lost track, he said, shaking his head.

Financial obligations have placed a strain on Jackson, who is divorced and the father of a 17-year-old son. Im living with a female roommate because I cant afford my own place, he admitted. If you dont have a job, no one is going to rent to you. I also pay $400 a month child support. Its hard to pay for all this stuff when youre unemployed.

Jackson said he eventually joined the Navy reserves to receive the extra income. Determined to further his education, he applied for the GI bill and is currently working on his masters degree. He eventually hopes to join the ranks of the Los Angeles City Fire Department.

Kyle Flournoy, 25, joined the Navy at 19. "I wanted to travel and see the world, said Flournoy, who also completed two tours in Iraq. Ive been to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Southeast Asia, Bermuda, Kuwait and Dubai. After returning stateside in February 2007, Flournoy started searching for work. I actually got my guard card and firearms permit when I was still in the Navy because I thought it would help my chances of finding employment when I was discharged, he said.

But Flournoy said that he has been hard pressed to find employment and has been contacted for only four interviews for security work. One job was only paying $25,000 a year and the lady told me that I was overqualified.

Desperate for work Flournoy turned to the Internet. I went to usajobs.gov which lists government contract, law enforcement and federal jobs. But I never really got contacted, he said.

The veteran, who is currently on unemployment, said that he has occasionally gotten temporary security jobs that pay $10 an hour. But the salary is not a livable wage, he maintained. It made more sense for me to apply for unemployment than to be working full time. Flournoy said he lives with his stepfather and works on call as a security guard with the Security Network. If I could make $15 or $16 dollars an hour that would be cool.

Like Jackson, Flournoy hopes to join the ranks of the Los Angeles City Fire Department. I took the test in December and I just passed my interview two weeks ago. Now Im waiting to take the physical agility test. Im in there; its just a matter of time.

Enex Steele, director of the Veterans Employment Assistance program at Lutheran Social Services of Southern California in Van Nuys, agreed that finding employment for veterans is not easy. Sometimes the veterans dont have the necessary skills to get the jobs, he said. The only skills that they have learned are the skills in the military, and those skills do not necessarily translate into civilian jobs. We urge the vets to apply for the GI bill and enroll in college or to enroll in an apprenticeship program.

These veterans are young, eager, and diligent but frustrated. Ive talked to some employers who said they are fearful of hiring veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are misconceptions about veterans. Employers are fearful that they wont fit in. They think they will show signs of post traumatic stress disorder.

Steele feels the avenue that Iraq veterans should explore is entrepreneurship. This will give them an opportunity to direct their own lives as well as to create a legacy for their families, because this is how they can build wealth.

Barnes said that employers should reassess the skills of veterans. Iraq veterans are the best you can hire, Barnes maintained. Theyre punctual, they value their job, and theyre always going to try to advance. We develop a good work ethic in the military, and thats what the civilian world wants. Employers need to take that into consideration when theyre hiring.

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