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Minnesota National Guard
Minnesota's Adjutant General visits Owatonna

OWATONNA -- Finding jobs for returning veterans was on the mind of Minnesota's adjutant general when he met with about 50 soldiers, invited guests and community members at the Owatonna Armory Wednesday

Maj. Gen. Richard Nash was in Owatonna to meet with soldiers who recently returned to Minnesota as well as to meet with Beyond the Yellow Ribbon (BYR) groups from three Southeastern Minnesota communities

"As the adjutant general, I try to get around the state of Minnesota," Nash said "I covered about eight cities last year and now I'm starting up again this year I'm happy to come to Owatonna and talk to the soldiers who recently returned from their operations in Kuwait and Iraq"

One of the main reasons for Nash's visit was to discuss the employment of returning veterans According to officials at the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, the veteran unemployment rate is usually twice as high as that of other civilians during the post-9/11 era

In May, about 20 soldiers with the Minnesota National Guard returned home to Owatonna Nash said efforts were made before they and the rest of the troops returned home to make finding a job easier

"Unemployment was going to be a high issue for them," Nash said "We went about some programs last November attending some employment resource meetings to prepare those soldiers, those men and women in Kuwait before they came back to assist them in locating employment, getting back in school and registering for school itself"

Nash said the unemployment rate for veterans across the US is about 12 percent While deployed, the soldiers received specific training to give them better tools to search for employment upon their return

"A lot of programs have been put in place working with these soldiers," Nash said "The team that went to Kuwait helped them with resume writing, interview skills That's been very beneficial"

Also helping veterans was a proclamation made by Gov Mark Dayton in July, declaring July to be "Hire a Veteran Month" across the state

Thanks to all the work done, only about 25 soldiers are currently looking for employment from a battalion of about 250 soldiers Beyond the Yellow Ribbon groups from Owatonna, Albert Lea and Rochester were all on hand to brief Nash about some of the initiatives each of their communities was taking, as well as issues the communities were having

Sarah Frazier, the president of Owatonna's BYR Group, said part of the challenge of working with the organization finding soldiers who need help

It's difficult for the group to know who the returning veterans are because of privacy laws Most veterans need to be referred to the BYR group rather than being contacted directly by the group itself

"The only concern that we have that other communities are facing is not knowing who our service members are," Frazier said "We're having to wait for them to come to us"

Sgt Dave Thul, outreach coordinator for BYR in Owatonnna, said the group will do whatever it can once they receive word that a military family is in need of assistance

"If anybody calls we will try and get our volunteers together and figure out what we can do for them," Thul said "If we can't help them, we will refer them to somebody who can," Frazier added

To become a Yellow Ribbon city, the community must demonstrate a commitment to service members and their families, according to the BYR website While each community has to adhere to certain standards, Nash said each community is allowed to run itself

"My focus was putting a Yellow Ribbon support group in every one of our communities that have an armory We have 63 across the state," Nash said "We really let them run these There's a checklist they have to go through, but really they're autonomous" Part of the hardest transition for soldiers is the change in lifestyle from being in an active military unit to working with a civilian group trying to offer help upon their return

"That's probably the biggest challenge that some of the yellow ribbon communities have," Thul said "You're coming from an organization that gives orders I give orders to soldiers, but then you have a civilian group that's helping to support you and you can't give them orders You can ask for help and make suggestions"

More information about BYR in Owatonna is available at the group's monthly meeting, which are held at the second Tuesday of the month at the Veterans of Foreign Wars chapter in Owatonna

BYR is based around volunteer work Most of the volunteers, including Frazier, work full time Despite that fact, she said her responsibilities don't create conflicts with her work Anyone can volunteer to work with the organizations

"It's not difficult at all because it's a priority for me," Frazier said "This gives me something to give back to my community"
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