After returning 10 days ago from Kosovo on a Wyoming National Guard deployment, Sehou Nounawon is picking up the plans he put on hold when he left in May 2011 — finding a job in the field that he studied in college.
“Basically, I’m looking for any entry-level management position in business,” said Nounawon, 30, at Hiring our Heroes, a job fair for veterans in Casper on Wednesday. Hiring our Heroes was hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The Laramie resident was among dozens of veterans and current military members at the job fair.
Like Nounawon, most were in their 30s through their 50s.
They believed any employer would benefit from their training, as described by Denise Aldridge, 46, of Glenrock: “the core values – integrity, service before self, excellence in all you do.”
Aldrige is retired from a 23-year career with the Air Force. She has a job in education but is looking for something year-round.
Some veterans at the fair served in the first Gulf War or in the 1980s and had never deployed.
Few veterans were fresh-faced 22-year-olds, having recently returned from Iraq or Afghanistan.
That’s for a number of reasons, said Brig. Gen. Steve Mount of the Wyoming National Guard in Cheyenne.
“A lot of young kids are doing school,” he said. “They can survive with all of the veteran benefits like the GI Bill,” Mount said.
Jonathon Odlin, 29, left the military after three Marine Corps tours in Iraq. He’s now studying power plant technology at Casper College. He was not looking for a job Wednesday but gleaning information about the job market for when he graduates in 18 months.
Some young veterans take time to unwind after experiencing violence overseas.
Veterans can get up to 99 weeks of unemployment after leaving the service, Mount said.
“Some of them will take that opportunity to collect unemployment,” he said.
Among the 43 employers at the job fair, some were filling jobs that anyone with the proper background could work — civilian or military.
Others were hoping to find people with military backgrounds.
“Our owner has given us a directive throughout our organization — we have over 35 companies — to hire people out of the military,” said Jim Sober of APi System Integrators, which designs and installs electronic and communication systems for businesses and government.
Gillette Police Department recruiter Paul Konrad, representing the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police, described his town’s 55 sworn officers as having strong ties to the military.
“Probably half of those sworn cops are ex-military in one way or another,” he said.
Unemployment for veterans hovered slightly below the unemployment rate for nonveterans in 2011.
In Wyoming, the unemployment rate for veterans was 4.6 percent. It was 5.4 percent for nonveterans.
Nationally, the unemployment rate for veterans was 8.3 percent. It was 8.4 percent for nonveterans, said David Bullard, a senior economist with the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services.
There is a caveat. When you break out veterans who served on active duty since Sept. 11, 2001, a group the government calls Gulf War-era II vets, the unemployment figures spike.
Gulf War-era II vets had a 12.1 percent unemployment rate in 2011, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Melvin Long Time Sleeping, 45, of Ethete, is looking for work. He’s been serving in the Army Reserve since 2007.
Contacts made at the job fair may pay off. He has a commercial driver’s license and “it seems like there are a lot of construction jobs,” he said.
Army National Guardsman Alan Snook, 30, is looking for a job. Funding cuts may eliminate his civilian job as Camp Guernsey fire chief.
Beginning in April, Snook will be deployed to Bahrain for about nine months.
He hopes that his pending military service will not affect his ability to find a job.
The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act prohibits employers from discriminating against soldiers who deploy by guaranteeing jobs when they return.
“They don’t have to have that same job but they do have to have a similar job in both pay and position,” said Stephan Pappas, chairman of the Wyoming Committee of the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve.
Soldiers have a responsibility to communicate with employers about their deployment dates.