Bringing the Economy Home

Jobless in Idaho: Veterans Look For Work After War

Jessica Robinson / Northwest News Network

Name: David Hampton

Age: 21

Unemployed Since: September 2011

“I’m a team player.  That’s all there is to it.  I’m just hoping they’ll give me the chance.”

The Idaho Department of Labor estimates nearly 70,000 people in the state don’t have jobs.  That doesn’t include thousands more who are underemployed or have stopped looking for work.  This latest story in our “Jobless in Idaho” series is from Northwest News Network Correspondent Jessica Robinson.

Here’s a line most entry-level job seekers don’t have on their resume: “Operated a high-caliber machine gun, in Baghdad, Iraq.”  Many of the 2,700 National Guard soldiers from the Northwest who just returned from Iraq aren’t old enough to have much of a pre-deployment work history.  Now, many soldiers struggle to translate their war experience into a civilian career.

Jobless in Idaho: Soldier Struggles to Translate War Experience into Employment

In Iraq, Specialist David Hampton was an IT guy.  His formal job title was information management officer.  But back in Idaho, it’s a different story.  “Right now I’m trying to get by,” Hampton says, “driving around, putting in job apps, submitting resumes.”

Hampton figured his tech skills would easily transfer to the civilian workforce.  “I had my office in the backroom, I had all these computers and monitors stacked up, everyone would come to me and say, ‘Hey my computer’s not working, my printer’s not working, my account’s frozen for some reason,” Hampton says.  Only, those accounts Hampton is talking about were connected to a classified military network.

At 21, Hampton’s now looking for his first full-time job outside a combat zone.  “Really the only thing I’m disappointed with right now is not having a job and having no responsibility except for paying my car insurance,” says Hampton.  “I’m a team player.  That’s all there is to it.  I’m just hoping they’ll give me the chance.”

But so far – no luck.

David Hampton joined the Idaho National Guard at age 17 while he was still in high school.  He had to get his parent’s permission to join.   He worked part-time at Radio Shack and did an internship at a computer consulting firm before shipping out to Iraq in September 2010 with the 116th Cavalry Brigade.  At Victory Base, in Baghdad, he was a communications specialist, repairing GPS units, working on radio encryption and troubleshooting login problems to a classified military network.  Since returning, he’s been applying to IT jobs in north Idaho and the Spokane area, but hasn’t been hired yet.  Hampton has been told he’s either over-qualified, or doesn’t have enough education.

And he’s not alone.  A survey of the 116th Cavalry Brigade found more than a third of the soldiers are unemployed.  The unit returned from Iraq this fall and includes national guard troops from Idaho, Montana, Oregon and parts of Eastern Washington.

Robert Shoeman works with veterans at the Idaho Department of Labor.  He says many of the returning soldiers are like Specialist Hampton – they joined up right after high school, deployed not long after, and now home, they’re trying to launch a career.

“Definitely the training is fantastic on the military level,” Shoeman says.  “But it isn’t always easy to convince the employers on the civilian side that it’s relevant with what they want to do.”  Even when returning soldiers do find jobs, they’re not always using the skills they learned in the military.

For Another Veteran, a Job But Not a Dream Job

Jessica Robinson / Northwest News Network

Name: David Hanson

Age: 23

“Unfortunately very little of military training actually transfers over to the civilian side now.”

Specialist David Hanson was a gunner in Iraq.  He was the guy in a turret at the top of a 70,000 pound vehicle that looks like an armored school bus.  “My role was to keep an eye out for possible road side bombs, any indicators and keep civilian traffic back,” Hanson says.  “You’re never certain that it might be somebody who’s doing a test run to see if they can possibly get into this convoy to detonate.”

At Hanson’s new job near Moscow, Idaho he sits in his car by the side of the highway during eight-hour shifts as a security guard.  His job is to watch parked trucks loaded with expensive equipment destined for Canada’s oil sands.  “I see probably 50 cars in a shift drive by,” he says. “Making sure nobody vandalizes it, even though it’s in the middle of nowhere. Getting up, walking, to try to keep from falling asleep. It’s mind numbing.”  To pass the time, Hanson watches bootleg DVDs he bought for a few bucks each in Baghdad.

Hanson also joined the National Guard when he was 17.  He hoped military training would give him more options than the fast food jobs he’d worked before.  The Army trained Hanson first as a combat engineer – which he describes as basically blowing stuff up.  Then he was retrained to be a mechanic.  But Hanson discovered working on Army Humvees doesn’t certify him to work on Fords.  “Unfortunately very little of military training actually transfers over to the civilian side now,” says Hanson.

Hanson, along with Specialist David Hampton, are both thinking about getting more civilian training through the GI Bill. They both hope at least part of their military experience will help them get a job.


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