Jobless in Idaho: National Guard Soldiers Seek Deployment In Face Of Job Market
The Idaho Department of Labor estimates there are at least 63,000 people in the state without work. That doesn’t include thousands more who are underemployed or have stopped looking for a job. This is the latest story in our “Jobless in Idaho” series, that follows several Idahoans in their search for work.
We brought you a story a few months ago about two soldiers from the Northwest. They had just returned from Iraq with their National Guard unit. Both started looking for new civilian jobs. Neither is satisfied with what they found. Both soldiers are now thinking about signing up for another overseas tour with the military.
The last time we met Specialist David Hampton, he was cranking out applications for IT jobs and brushing up on his interviewing skills.
“I’m a team player, that’s all there is to it,” he says. “I just hope they’ll give me the chance.” That was last fall, shortly after Hampton’s return from Iraq.
I went to meet Hampton at his parents’ house in Hayden, Idaho, where he’s living. It turns out, Hampton is still looking for a job.
“Nothing’s really changed,” Hampton says. “I’ve had interview after interview and nothing seems to be working for me.”
There is one change — Hampton’s now on unemployment, something he was initially reluctant to apply for.
“Becuase I didn’t want to use the system to get extra money,” he says. “But now I need to because I can’t seem to find a job anywhere.”
The unemployment check is based on Hampton’s National Guard job in Iraq. The jobless pay comes to about $300 a week. To pass the time, he’s been volunteering at a local soup kitchen.
“It’s the one thing I do each week that I feel is important and makes a difference,” he says. “That’s why I joined the Guard. I wanted to make a difference. And now that I’m back from deployment, there isn’t really much to do.”
“Do you ever miss it?” I ask.
“All the time,” he responds.
Hampton is looking at going to school. But there’s something else in the back of his mind. He has a friend in the California Reserves who’s deploying to Afghanistan next year. And Hampton is seriously thinking about going with him instead.
National Guard officials say it’s not uncommon for soldiers to request a deployment — even transfer to an out-of-state unit that’s been assigned a mission. The military doesn’t keep numbers on how often that occurs. But Col. Tim Marsano with the Idaho National Guard says the 15 percent-plus unemployment rates among National Guard soldiers likely play a part.
“So, they come home to a job market that’s maybe not what they were hoping to come back to,” Marsano says. “But sometimes it’s to re-experience the camaraderie on a combat deployment.”
Despite the dangers of combat, Marsano says 100 more soldiers volunteered to go to Iraq last year with the Idaho National Guard than the mission had space for.
“Prior to my deployment I was unemployed, scraping together what little money I could just so I could eat and keep a roof over my head,” says 24-year-old Specialist David Hanson. He’s the other Idaho National Guard soldier — also named David — that we met a few months ago.
“Right now I’m currently working on an interstate transfer over to Washington National Guard,” Hanson says.
He does have work. Hanson landed a private security guard job after returning from Iraq. But it’s not very satisfying. He thinks in Washington state he’d have more opportunities to be re-trained with the military — and eventually be re-deployed.
“I know, it sounds crazy to the average American, but I — for one thing — I felt I was accomplishing more than I am sitting on the side of the road as a security guard,” Hanson says. “And, all in all, I did make more money.”
It’s uncertain how this will work out. The unprecedented pace of National Guard deployments overseas appears to be subsiding. The last units returned from Iraq in December. And President Obama has started the process of drawing down the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan.
Jessica Robinson is a correspondent with the Northwest News Network.