It’s a question we face during every war, as well as every time U.S. service members are deployed en masse during peace time. When soldiers’ jobs are done, what comes next? Will they return to a grateful nation or to a cold reception fraught with nearly as many challenges as the battlefield?
Some veterans have forged careers on the local homefront, whether they be in business, like Aaron Bien of Bienie’s Body Shop and Repair; law enforcement, like Jeff Richards, Franklin County sheriff; education, like Rob Hedrick, Ottawa High School football coach; government administration, like Richard Nienstedt, Ottawa city manager; or politics, like Kevin Jones, Kansas state representative. Service members have a variety of skills that make them quality candidates for many domestic occupations.
Still, some struggle in adapting to civilian life.
In a time of economic uncertainty, when many employers are reluctant to create new full-time jobs, many veterans fresh out of their military roles have an even more difficult time becoming self-supporting members of society. Seasonal, temporary and part-time work can be a rough way to rebuild a civilian life, especially for those attempting to support a family or who are nursing war wounds — physical or mental.
Their challenges are amplified further by those in the realms of media and politics who depict returning service members as being people likely to become rapists, murderers and even potential terrorists when integrated back into the civilian world. These aren’t crazed maniacs. Though some certainly return from service with mental and emotional stress and trauma, which our nation has a duty to treat, these men and women deserve dignity and respect. Recent negative characterizations and stereotypes are a shameful flashback to the way many Vietnam soldiers were treated after they came home from war.
But not everyone eyes veterans with suspicion. Many are looking to help.
It’s uplifting to see a growing number of American businesses and corporations actively recruiting veterans to their ranks. Coffee retailer Starbucks is the latest company — in a list of giants like Wal-Mart, Boeing, UPS, JPMorgan Chase, Garmin and Sprint — to develop special hiring programs targeted at returning members of the military. Such programs not only court veterans, but also involve recruitment specialists who help former soldiers transition their wartime or military skills to the civilian workforce.
Available jobs at Starbucks are expected to include positions ranging from making lattes to supply chain management. Company officials said this week they plan to hire 10,000 veterans and military spouses during the next five years. (Wal-Mart has pledged to hire 100,000 veterans by 2018, according to CNNMoney.)
“It may be a little tougher for business at the beginning of the process, but I think the long-term benefits are tremendous,” Robert Gates, a former U.S. defense secretary and a member of Starbucks’ board, said.
Another effort seeks to put veterans — literally — in the driver’s seat of their own financial success. The Grilled Cheese Truck, a Los Angeles-based mobile restaurant business, announced this summer a program to help train 100 qualified veterans to own and operate their own food truck franchises.
“We really need the best people we can find to be the franchise owners of these trucks,” Wesley Clark, a retired U.S. general and NATO commander, told the San Antonio Express-News. The former Democratic presidential candidate, who was helping lead the Grilled Cheese Truck’s recruitment campaign, continued, “It’s all about leadership, and that’s something veterans learn by serving, and they bring a lot of that to the private sector.”
Though not everyone would agree with Clark’s broader politics, few can argue with that logic: Veterans’ contributions don’t end when they leave the war zone, a foreign outpost or even a domestic assignment. They deserve our support so they can continue to give.
— Tommy Felts,