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Minnesota National Guard
For veterans, finding a job is new mission

Theresa Reese is an Army officer with two business degrees She had a full-time Army job for three years in various human resources roles and is now a lieutenant Despite a lot of hard work trying to find a job in the civilian world, she's had no luck for nearly a year -- not even an interview

"I honestly didn't think it would be that hard," said the 28-year-old from Minneapolis

Reese has served in the Minnesota Army National Guard for 11 years, but landing a new job has proved elusive since her full-time Army gig ended

She's still clocking a weekend a month and two weeks a year of service, but her real challenge is finding a full-time job to support her and her two children

Many veterans find themselves in Reese's situation As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, returning soldiers face the struggle of finding a job in a sluggish labor market As soldiers, they face even more daunting odds than their civilian peers looking for work

Today, there are 366,790 veterans in Minnesota Many are without a job


For post-9/11-era vets in Minnesota, the annual unemployment rate was 117 percent in 2011, just about double the state average (this is the latest state-specific data available) More recent national data show that these veterans faced an unemployment rate of 10 percent in October, well above the national rate of 79 percent for that same month

Just before 2,700 Minnesota National Guard Red Bulls were deployed to Kuwait in May 2011, the state surveyed them and found 18 percent were jobless at the time they left

"That is well above average," said Rachel Vilsack, a project coordinator with the state's labor market information office

The obstacles veterans face in finding work are many Typically, if they've been in the military for a while, they lack a solid nonmilitary network They have trouble translating their war zone skills and their ranks and military titles to corporate-speak Employers, likewise, often have trouble understanding their accomplishments

"If I was not in the Guard, I think it would be easier," Reese said "Employers hire people, train them, and they invest a lot in putting you into a position Then they run the risk of a National Guard soldier being deployed They say, 'Maybe I won't mess with this and get into a sticky situation, and I don't want to waste time hiring a Guardsman' "


Publicly, employers say they want to hire veterans and support returning troops Yet when recruiters look at military resumes chock full of acronyms and military terminology, they're dumbfounded Jose Chavarria, 44, who lives in Fridley, retired after 24 years with the Marine Corps, working lastas an aviation maintenance chief in California When he tried to find a job outside the military, a friend who works in human resources looked at his resume She told Chavarria, a master gunnery sergeant (the highest enlisted rank): " 'It sounds impressive I have no idea what it means'

"If there was no one there to explain my resume to her, she said she'd put it at the bottom of the pile," he said

When officials from the Society for Human Resource Management polled 359 employers this year, about half of them said one of the biggest difficulties in hiring veterans is translating military skills to civilian job experience

Some employers are trying to address that

Ecolab's Tess Ketelsen says it's difficult for recruiters to understand soldiers' language, and vice versa To that end, Ecolab lists job qualifications in its job postings using general terms and comparable military language For instance, a job posting for a production supervisor requires one to two years of operations experience in a manufacturing plant or a completed military tour as a junior officer or supervisor

Sales rep job postings ask for a minimum of two years of work or military experience A logistics job requires a bachelor's degree in business operations, supply-chain or management logistics, transportation or engineering, or any bachelor's degree and a completed tour of duty with a logistics role "Our goal is to capture people and then evaluate, not to disqualify people," said Ketelsen, director of talent acquisition for the St Paul-based cleaning and water-treatment company

In order to increase its exposure to veteran job candidates, Ecolab has forged partnerships with recruiters that specialize in recruiting those with military experience and has partnered with military groups Company reps regularly attend veterans job fairs across the country This year, 6 percent of Ecolab's new hires have been veterans, up from 5 percent in 2011


Erick Ajax, one of the owners of a metal forming company in Fridley, has plenty of experience hiring vets Of the 10 hires this year at the 50-employee company, EJ Ajax & Sons, most were veterans

One of his most recent hires was Vincent Montez, 45, of South St Paul, who had spent a good part of his career in the military For Montez, the hunt for a civilian job "was rough," he said

"A lot of the jobs I was applying for, they ask you for degrees Even though I put down military schools, I thought in the back of my mind, they want degrees, which I don't have, but I have tons of experience Sometimes, employers don't recognize what you bring to the job"

Among his many jobs, he built water-purification systems while deployed in Iraq in 2008 and 2009 When he came back, he held a series of temporary full-time jobs with the Army

Ajax noticed Montez's potential when he chatted with him at a veterans job fair in September

"He told me he liked to hire veterans because of their work ethic," Montez said of his new boss Ajax invited Montez to interview and was impressed with his high score on an occupational assessment and his strong mechanical ability, honed as a Black Hawk helicopter mechanic

Montez was hired just over a month ago Ajax is covering Montez's college tuition in a four-year apprenticeship program in precision metal forming that may lead to a journeyman's card and higher pay

"Right now is the absolutely perfect time to hire veterans," Ajax said, "because there are a lot of veterans coming back with 10, 15 and 20 years of experience who have had multiple rank promotions throughout their career"


Ajax has formed partnerships and helped design precision metal training curriculum at Hennepin Technical and Anoka Technical colleges, and finds job candidates at the job fairs after the graduations

Chavarria was one of them Chavarria had enrolled in a precision sheet metal class at Anoka Tech after finding it difficult to sell himself and his military accomplishments to employers

When he retired from the Marines and came to Minnesota, finding a job was next to impossible

"For me, the hardest thing was selling myself," he said "I find that is a common issue with all veterans and me personally"

In the military, "my reputation preceded me, but here, no one knows me"

In a world where networking is critical to landing a job, many soldiers are a step behind

"They have a great network in the military, but they have zero network in the civilian world," said Alan Hill, an employment specialist who works specifically with veterans from his base at state workforce centers in Bloomington and Shakopee
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Woman's Veterans Initiative Shows Major Muscle with Habitat for Humanity Build

Posted: 2015-11-25  09:37 AM
WVI H4H ST. PAUL, Minn. - The Minnesota Women Veterans Initiative (WVI), a group orientated toward networking Minnesota women military members and veterans brought 16 service(wo)men from all services, ages and backgrounds together, November 12, to assist in a Habitat for Humanity build. Eleven of the 16 women are current or former Minnesota National Guardsmen.

"We started celebrating Veterans Day this way in 2008 with Habitat for Humanity and enjoy coming back each year to build," said Trista Matascastillo, program officer for Veterans Voices and chairman for the WVI. "We learn new skills, build our own confidence and make new friends. There are 27,000-plus women vets in Minnesota and so often we hear that women veterans feel isolated and alone and having events like this is just another way to bring us out and together."

The group started in the morning with a brief on the tasks for the day and quickly got to work, going above and beyond by organizing the work-site and making sure there was a high attention to detail.

Empowering Girls and Influencing the Next Generation

Posted: 2015-11-17  10:51 AM
Girls Rising ST. PAUL, Minn. - The Minnesota Air National Guard and the Soroptimist International of the Twin Cities partnered together to present the documentary film 'Girl Rising' at the 133rd Airlift Wing on Saturday, Nov 7 2015.

The event featured a C-130 tour for any of the attendees, which included girls as young as nine. Following the tour, the documentary film 'Girl Rising' was featured and ended with a panel discussion. Topics included overcoming obstacles, mentors and people who have inspired them along the way.

"I think events like this are essential in opening our doors to the community and raising awareness about important issues not only local, but around the world - often these are places many of our wing members have deployed to," said Master Sgt. Theresa Mensinger, Diversity and Inclusion Senior Non-commissioned officer.

Duluth's 148th Fighter Wing has new leader

Posted: 2015-11-16  07:47 AM
148FW CoC Clint Austin DULUTH, Minn. - With the handing-off of the 148th Fighter Wing's flag on Saturday, Col. Jon Safstrom has become the new wing commander.

The Duluth native assumed the leadership role from Col. Frank Stokes, who is leaving Duluth after leading the 148th for more than six years to become chief of current operations at the National Guard Bureau in Arlington, Va.

During Saturday's Change of Command Ceremony at the Minnesota Air National Guard base in Duluth, Stokes passed the flag of the 148th "Bulldogs" to Brig. Gen. David Hamlar, who then passed the flag to Safstrom, symbolizing the accepting of the command.

133AW and Best Buy Corporate join together to support Operation Gratitude

Posted: 2015-11-12  12:51 PM
Operation Gratitude BLOOMINGTON, Minn. - Airmen from the 133rd Airlift Wing and employees from Best Buy Corporate joined forces to support Operation Gratitude at the Best Buy corporate headquarters in Bloomington, Minn., Friday, Nov. 6, 2015.

Operation Gratitude is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, volunteer-based corporation, funded entirely by private donations. Every year, Operation Gratitude sends more than 150,000 individually-addressed care packages to Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines deployed overseas.

On Friday, more than 30 members from the 133rd Airlift Wing worked side-by-side with employees of Best Buy Corporate to pack bags filled with snacks, small electronics and other items to be shipped to deployed military members overseas. The efforts paid off and the group packed nearly 1,800 bags in under an hour.

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