I recently had lunch with a member of the Board of Directors of a local organization called Onward March. This is a group right here in the area (at 2655 Oakley Park Rd in Commerce, MI) that has taken upon the itself the mission of trying to help veterans who are returning from service in Iraq and Afghanistan (or elsewhere) and need to transition back into civilian life. The biggest need is for jobs for these ex-soldiers, many of whom have great skills that they learned in the military and all of whom have been through life-changing experiences that force one to mature quickly.
One key idea behind this organization is that of helping many of these vets become entrepreneurs, to start small businesses of their own; businesses which hopefully will add to employment. The group supplies mentoring and coaching to help these budding business men and women get started and understand better how to function in the business world. There are also targeted placement services trying to match up vets with jobs in the community. Finally the group is running a business incubator at their facility which provides office space, infrastructure and coaching/mentoring for the start-up companies until they can get on their feet.
The problem of returning vets not being able to find work has become alarming, with approximately 248,000 recent veterans without jobs this summer. There are many cases right here in our own community. Organizations like the AmVets and VFW do what they can to help, but most of their efforts are focused upon short term needs like providing food and shelter. Only through programs that provide jobs will these bets get back on their feet in civilian life.
As a vet myself, I can recall the hostile environment that my generation of Viet Nam vets returned to in the 60’s and 70’s. You almost had to sneak back into town if you had been to Viet Nam, what with all of the anti-war protests and anti-military sentiment at the time. I was probably lucky not to be cashiered out right after I got back from Viet Nam and even luckier to have gone through OCS training and getting my commission. I left the Army at the rank of Captain and had just come off a good assignment teaching data processing systems analysis; so, I was able to get a job selling computers for Burroughs (a company that Ernie Harwell might say is lo-o-o-o-o-ng gone).
Today’s returning soldiers are at least greeted as returning heroes, but that doesn’t translate very often into an immediate job opportunity. Many of the vets getting out today have families, as we did back in the Viet Nam era. Some of the vets may suffer from war wounds, either seen or out of sight (or within). From what I read elsewhere the country isn’t doing all that good of a job in providing care for those with war –related needs, so that just adds to the problem.
I don’t know if Onward March will be successful or not, but at least they are trying. You can read more about them at their web site www.onwardmarch.org . I’m sure that they could use more help (mentors and coaches and the like) and they certainly can use more money (there is a donation page on the site). With the 4th of July coming up, it’s probably a good time to remember that what we are celebrating on that day – Independence Day – go all the way back to the original founding fathers/soldiers that got this nation started. So go to the Onward March site and check them out, then do what you can to help them out. We can’t solve this problem at a national level, but we can sure do something about it locally.