In early 2004, Carl Mortenson left his job building trusses for a Howard Lake, Minn., lumber company and traded in his framing tools for a rifle and body armor.
Called to active duty in the Minnesota Army National Guard, specialist Mortenson spent the next year patrolling roads in northeastern Iraq, making sure the main supply routes were clear of roadside bombs.
It was the 25-year-old’s first time in a combat zone and, he says, “It was a culture shock, that’s for sure.” Each long day began with the gnawing uncertainty that came with not knowing what waited on the road ahead for Mortenson and his comrades.
And for soldiers like Mortenson who go from the battle line to the unemployment line once they return from active duty, that feeling of uncertainty about the road ahead persists.
Many come home from places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo worried about how they’ll pay the bills once they return to civilian life.
“I know a lot of them didn’t have a job to come back to,” says Mortenson, who now works in Hutchinson, Minn. “It sounds like it should be something easy to do. Go get a job. But sometimes it’s not…. And some (soldiers) are a little too proud to admit it, but they need help.”
Whether hunting for a job, looking to change occupations, or researching career and education options, soldiers returning from active duty will find all the help they need at the Veterans Employment Service.
This dedicated staff of veterans serving veterans can help in a number of ways. Located in WorkForce Centers through Minnesota, they use their knowledge of the local community and a variety of resources – including the Minnesota Job Bank and other online services – to help veterans find employment. They also use labor market information and employment projections to help veterans identify occupations that are in demand – both now and in the future.
The Veterans Transition Assistance Program (TAP) also offers free workshops that teach vets how to market their job skills to employers. Participants learn how to find hidden job opportunities, write effective resumes and cover letter, accentuate job skills in interviews and negotiate a fair wage. Veterans with barriers to employment may also be referred to other community-based organizations.
That kind of help is a welcome relief to soldiers struggling to readjust to civilian life, says Sgt. Ronald Huff, who did a tour in Iraq and now educates employers about returning soldiers.
“It’s a tough transition to make. It’s just overwhelming to be (back home),” said Huff. “It’s even tougher when you don’t have any job prospects beyond Taco John’s.”
Dean Eichelberger is the state’s coordinator of Veteran’s Transition Services through the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. A Vietnam-Era veteran, he has been helping veterans find employment for 28 years. For more information on veterans services, or to register for a TAP workshop, contact him at 320-231-5174, ext. 7520 or by e-mail at Dean.Eichelberger@state.mn.us.