Kyle E. Johnson

On April 11, The American Legion and other community organizations sponsored a job fair at the Bend Armory for veteran job seekers and their spouses.

It was encouraging to see the attendance of active-duty military members as well as reservists and members of the National Guard. As a veteran and one of Bend’s newer community members, I would like to personally express my sincere gratitude to the local veterans organizations and businesses that made this event possible. I know how difficult the job market can be and I am grateful that I live in a community that cares about its veterans and wants them to succeed.

The transition from military to civilian life can be difficult, but it is even more difficult when the majority of one’s military career consisted of deployments, which is often the case for many young veterans leaving the military today. Coming back to the civilian landscape requires a change in behavior, communication and thinking.

I experienced this firsthand when I left the Marine Corps in 2010. Virtually overnight, I turned from a respected infantry captain with four deployments under my belt into someone who would take virtually any job. Our first child was on the way and we desperately sought to find affordable insurance and employment. Fifty job applications and numerous cold calls later, I had hardly gotten a call back. I was caught in a world where I was overqualified for the bridge jobs that I knew would get us by, and I lacked experience for the good jobs that I knew would help me start a career. After several months of being under-employed and then unemployed, I went to file for unemployment. For someone as prideful as I was at the time, this was a very difficult thing to do. I had grossly underestimated how difficult it would be to get a job and how unprepared I was for the transition from combat Marine to early careerist in healthcare administration.

I will never forget what it felt like, after spending three hours in the unemployment office in Oregon City, when I received a phone call from the recruiter at St. Charles offering me a job. I didn’t even think to negotiate a salary. I was literally standing in the unemployment line, two people away from filing my final paperwork, when the offer came in. With tears running down my face, I stepped out of the line and let everyone know that I didn’t need to submit my paperwork because I had just gotten a job. Whatever predispositions I had about people filing for unemployment were gone. I was just another person trying to support my family while looking for work.

Looking back, I realize I had a lot of misconceptions about the civilian job market. My expectations about the job search process were largely unrealistic and I had a difficult time translating military experience to real-world skill sets. A resume that reads, “Weapons platoon commander and acting executive officer for a forward deployed infantry company,” simply doesn’t mean much in the civilian world. This is why veteran hiring events are so important, particularly for the younger veterans recently exiting the military. They help bridge the gap between two very different worlds and offer an opportunity for veterans to really show their value.

Once again, I am grateful to the companies that attended the Veterans Job Fair. It demonstrates a commitment to supporting veterans in our community and acknowledges the value of service to country. As a former Marine, I don’t feel entitled to any special treatment by employers or anyone else. However, I sincerely appreciate it when companies take the time to ask about my military experience and how I think it can benefit their organization. If they take the time to ask veterans this question, I promise we won’t disappoint.