Employment team deploys to Kuwait to help Rosemount-based Red Bulls
Editor’s Note: This is one story of a three-part series on veterans coming home to try to find jobs and the challenges they face doing so. The other two stories center on Lt. Colonel Bruce Jensen and Sam Root and their search for work.
by Tad Johnson
The last thing on the minds of U.S. troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan should be whether they have a job waiting for them when they return home.
But for many returning veterans the inability to find work is a pervasive problem.
It is estimated that the Minnesota unemployment rate is 6.4 to 7.4 percent higher among post Sept. 11, 2001, veterans, which prompted a first-of-its kind Employment Resource Team to deploy this month to Kuwait, where the Rosemount-based 34th Red Bull Infantry Division is outfitted.
Jim Finley, veterans employment services director for the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), said the effort was a way to get ahead of the curve for the estimated 20 percent of the 2,700 soon-to-be returning Minnesota veterans who don’t have a job waiting for them.
Organized by the Minnesota National Guard, the program helped his office, which provides intensive services to about 4,000 veterans annually, to prepare for the influx of unemployed veterans.
Finley said the program planned to connect with about 550 Minnesota service members over five days, but it ended up reaching 1,100 troops from 10 different states.
A majority of those veterans are in their early 20s and don’t have much work experience beyond their military service.
“The Red Bulls is an infantry division,” Finley said. “Because of the nature of their work and that they are younger soldiers, we see that high unemployment rate.
“They may not have had a job when they were deployed,” Finley said. “A number of them left unemployed.”
The workshops, of which six were held each day, focused in such areas as building a resume, job interviewing, networking, and organizing a job search.
In addition to DEED staff, representatives from the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, U.S. Bank, Best Buy and Target conducted workshops.
Finding work is necessary because Finley says having a job solves a lot of other problems that soldiers will already face.
Those include reconnecting with family, friends and their community; concerns about finances, and overcoming negative psychological issues related to their service (of which about 49 percent of National Guard members encounter to some degree, according to a 2007 Department of Defense report).
“Most of these (veterans) are going to come back with none of these issues,” Finley said. “Unfortunately the ones you are going to hear about are the ones who have issues. Our hearts break every time we read about these (veterans who have problems).”
Finley knows the value of community support services because he saw the negative effects when many of his fellow soldiers were derided and dismissed when they returned home from the Vietnam War.
“We are all veterans,” Finley said. “We have been through our reintegration. We have been through all of the things these veterans are going through.”
He said about half of his staff served in a recent conflict, which helps them to stay current with challenges.
For a department whose motto is “Serving America’s Finest,” its sole purpose is to help these veterans find work.
To that end, Finley said his co-workers feel very responsible for each veteran and had to put forth this extraordinary effort in Kuwait to help them find success.
“It was an incredible experience,” Finley said. “I think everyone on our team would agree with that.
“We wanted to get in front of all of these soldiers,” Finley said. “I am sleeping better at night because we were able to do that.”
Tad Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.