The American Legion and Hiring Our Heroes hold a job fair during The American Legion's annual Washington Conference in Washington D.C., on Friday, February 24. Photo by Lucas Carter/The American Legion.

'The most important thing we can do to get them integrated again'

One of the most important ways for veterans to rejoin their communities after their service is to find a job when they return.

That’s why The American Legion, nationally and locally, maintains such a strong presence at job fairs across the country.

“This is part of our mission,” said Walter Ivie, commander of the Department of Texas and chairman of the Legion’s Media and Communications Commission, during the department’s Mid-Winter Conference in January. “We need to get out and help our veterans, and one of the most critical needs for our younger veterans in particular, is when they come back from Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, they need to be employed, they need to learn the skills to get employed, in order to become productive members of their communities. And so it’s the one thing we can do that will really help them reintegrate into society.”

As part of the Texas department’s Mid-Winter Conference, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce held a Hiring Our Heroes job fair at the event. The Legion’s partnership with the Chamber for such events has been a successful one, regularly drawing hundreds of job seekers. At 81 hiring events last year, some 24,000 on-site interviews took place.

At a career event in Boston last May, Hiring Our Heroes President Eric Eversole touted the relationship between the Legion and his organization.

“We know that partners like The American Legion are a strong part of that local community, and so having The American Legion as well as a lot of other local community representatives out, it really creates not only the economic opportunities, but the larger community opportunities,” Eversole said.

Legion departments also work with local and state employment organizations to help veterans and other job seekers find new careers.

“We’re always working closely with the Legion to organize events like this,” said Chris Zafra, state veterans coordinator for the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions at the Operation Hiring Heroes job fair last month at Albuquerque Post 13.

“We have a lot of veterans that are unemployed and looking for jobs, and this gives them the perfect venue,” District Commander Leon Martinez said. “They can associate with the Legion.”

The Illinois department has hosted a job fair at its state convention each of the last three years, drawing more employers each year. Last July’s event drew 90 employers offering over 250 jobs.

And besides the job opportunities, such events allow veterans, servicemembers and military spouses the chance to hone interviewing skills, polish their resumes and gain a better sense of the overall job search process through a variety of workshops and seminars.

“Nowadays, searching for a job has changed so dramatically from the way it used to be, and no more one-on-one, it’s all done through the computer,” Illinois Assistant Adjutant Gary Jenson said. “You need to learn to use keywords to make your resume jump out.”

“We want all of our servicemembers, and even our veterans that have been out for awhile, we want them fully employed, we want them to be productive members of society, we want them to have all the things in life that everyone gets, and of course, employment is required for the veteran to receive the resources to do that,” Ivie said. “So it is probably the most crucial thing; it’s also a matter of respect for themselves when they get that job, I think it improves their morale, improves their confidence, and so it’s probably, particularly for our young veterans, it’s the most important thing we can do to get them integrated again.”