Veterans Returning To The Job Market

Mar 1, 2006

Senator John McCain, a hero patriot himself, described Pat Tillman as a young man who gave away the fortune and fame of a celebrity to serve his country. In Character is Destiny, Senator McCain writes that Tillman took the September 11th attacks on our country personally.

He had been loyal to his football team, an honorable thing, but not the most important thing in someone’s life. He knew Americans had much more important allegiances that we must live up to, and he intended to live up to his. He told a reporter the day after the attacks that he had relatives who had fought in America’s previous wars, and he worried that, ‘I really haven’t done a damn thing as far as laying myself on the line like that … I have a lot of respect for those who have and what the flag stands for.’

We all know Pat Tillman’s story. How he walked into his coach’s office one day, told him he was going to leave football and his $3.9 million salary for the army. We know Pat and his brother Kevin joined the army, volunteered for the Army Rangers, went to war, served in the same platoon first in Iraq and then in Afghanistan hunting for bin Laden. We remember reading about his tragic death and seeing the pictures of Kevin bringing his brother’s body home to California and his heartbroken family. Pat Tillman and many other American men and women went to war knowing they might lose everything.

If you want a cold and frightening dose of reality about this war and the toll that it is taking on young Americans, go to On February 3, 2006 it presented this sobering casualty count:

Operation Iraqi Freedom Operation Enduring Freedom
Killed 2,242 255
In action 1,754 130
Non-hostile 488 125
Wounded 16,606 682
Returned to duty 8,923
Not returned to duty 7,683

The plight of our returning veterans was brought home to me very forcibly in recent visits with Captain Mike Manning and Colonel Tony Carbone. Although Tony is from my home town, Medford, MA and lived about a mile from me, we met for the first time in Korea in 1961. Tony retired now, lives near his alma mater, Norwich University in Vermont. An armored cavalry officer, with two tours in Vietnam, he is fighting and winning the battle with cancer. Mike, a 31 year old Army Airborne Ranger with a wonderful wife and three children, has seen deployments in Kosovo and Iraq. He returned from Iraq last month.

Both men believe with every fiber of their being the words of Theodore Roosevelt, “A man (or woman) who is good enough to shed his blood for this country is good enough to be given a square deal afterwards. More than that no man/woman is entitled to, and less that that, no man/woman shall have.”

The civilian job hunt can be daunting for returning veterans. Coming home is not always as easy as it seems. Some have trouble with the images of violence, some experience financial difficulties as a result of a drop in pay while serving their country, and others have lost their jobs while deployed.

Human resources and recruiting industry professionals are in perfect positions to help veterans through the difficult transition when coming home from a military conflict.

A practical starting point is a new book, Courage after Fire: Coping Strategies for Returning Soldiers and Their Families ( The authors, Keith Armstrong, Suzanne Best, and Paula Domenici offer readjustment and reintegration strategies for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, their families, employers, community members, and others. There is a section for veterans on how to reintegrate back into work, and a section for employers on strategies to help employees readjust to the workplace. Armstrong stresses that the book features a large resource section with “websites and books that we have found to be extremely useful for veterans and their families, on a wide variety of topics.”

Here are two reviews of Courage after Fire: the first by Charles R. Figley, Ph.D., Director Grammatology Institute, Florida State University; the second by Major Andy Johnson, U.S. Army, Special Forces Operation Iraqi Freedom Veteran

Courage after Fire is for those who survived being under fire in war and are trying to survive being strangers at home. This wonderful book, starting with a heartfelt foreword by Senator Bob Dole, serves as a virtual owner’s manual for returning OEF/OIF war veterans. Courage After Fire is packed with practical information, culled from hundreds of informed sources, and is written by three seasoned and sensitive practitioners and military veteran advocates. If you ever felt or said you “supported the troops,” no matter what your political view, show some tangible support and buy this book for at least one returning veteran.

Courage after Fire is essential reading for all recent combat veterans, their families and friends. Military chaplains, employers, and clinicians at VA Hospitals and Vet Centers should also familiarize themselves with this book. Every recent combat vet and many of their family members will find a description of themselves to some degree in the pages of this book. Courage after Fire provides a toolbox of useful insights and coping exercises that can assist in saving a marriage or putting a veteran’s life back on track. Courage after Fire should be issued to all returning veterans and Family Support Groups.

Another book to consider is Jump Start Your Career: Finding the Right Job after Military Service. Author Colonel Jerry Crews, US Army Retired, has more than twenty-five years of military service and travels across the country counseling people leaving the military. His book has three objectives: to help the soon-to-be veterans recognize that their core values, work ethic, and self-discipline will translate into civilian job success, to build confidence, and to motivate.

Recruiters can help in many, many ways. Self-Assessment is critical information for us to present to the returning veteran. To get up to speed on assessments and to get a wealth of knowledge on the assessments that are available, go to The Riley Guide ( The Riley Guide defines self-assessment as a “process by which you learn more about yourself — what you like, what you don’t like, and how you tend to react to certain situations. Knowing these things can help you determine which occupations and work situations could be a better fit for you.”

The Riley Guide describes the various types of assessments, personality and type indicators, interest inventories, skill surveys, value inventories and then provides a list of sites and other tools and resources to try. As a matter of fact, The Riley Guide is an excellent online job search tool and lists many useful online sites and services. The site provides practical help in planning a job search, crafting resumes and cover letters and developing lists of target companies. Richard Bolles ( describes The Riley Guide, “This is the best by far. If I could only go to one gateway job site on the Web, this would be it.”

What else can HR professionals, retained and contingent firms do to help? We can take the time to meet with returning veterans, help in their networking activities and provide information critical to their job search and career development. We can give them a list of useful websites, job hunting tips and tools and advice on managing their job campaign.

Companies and recruiting firms can sponsor Job Campaign Workshops for our returning veterans; which workshops will cover a host of subjects including:

Tips on writing a resume Building and using a network
Skills assessment Financial management during the job search
Interviewing skills Developing and executing a marketing plan
Evaluating their interviews Building a list of target companies
Communication skills Uncovering jobs
Researching a company Responding to ads
Using the Internet Working with recruiting firms
Effective listening Selling their credentials at career fairs
Where the opportunities are Questions to ask in the interview
Evaluating job offers Developing a self-marketing strategy

Captain Mike Manning and I had lunch a few weeks ago. We talked for almost three hours. When the elderly man and woman at the next table got up to leave, the woman shook Mike’s hand and said, “Thank you and your men for all you have done for us and our country.” That’s what we all can do: simply thank them.

P.S. A few websites:

Frank X. McCarthy is the President of Diverse Workplace Inc. (, a Massachusetts-based diversity recruiting firm. He was a Catholic priest from 1956-70, working in parish and school assignments, serving as a paratrooper chaplain with the 101st Airborne, and as pastor and director of an African American community project in Paterson, NJ. In 1973, he founded Xavier Associates and conducted diversity searches for over 25 years. Frank is a well-known and widely respected author and speaker on workplace diversity, recruiting, and candidate research. He can be reached: