‘Hiring Our Heroes’: Armed Forces Center in White River Junction Hosts Job Fair for Veterans

  • Last week’s “Hiring Our Heroes” job fair at the Armed Forces Reserve Center in White River Junction included many local employers as well as resume critiques and seminars. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Last week’s “Hiring Our Heroes” job fair at the Armed Forces Reserve Center in White River Junction included many local employers as well as resume critiques and seminars. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Ami Benoit, left, of Ludlow, Vt., an Army Reservist and veteran, goes over her resume with Jennifer Mitchell, a Rutland-based veterans employment coordinator, during a resume review session at last week’s job fair in White River Junction. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Ami Benoit, left, of Ludlow, Vt., an Army Reservist and veteran, goes over her resume with Jennifer Mitchell, a Rutland-based veterans employment coordinator, during a resume review session at last week’s job fair in White River Junction. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Army veteran Carol Colby, left, of Fairlee, talks with John Louiselle, a vice president and regional manager at Citizens Bank, at last week’s “Hiring Our Heroes” job fair at the Armed Forces Reserve Center in White River Junction. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Army veteran Carol Colby, left, of Fairlee, talks with John Louiselle, a vice president and regional manager at Citizens Bank, at last week’s “Hiring Our Heroes” job fair at the Armed Forces Reserve Center in White River Junction. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Last week’s “Hiring Our Heroes” job fair at the Armed Forces Reserve Center in White River Junction included many local employers as well as resume critiques and seminars. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
  • Ami Benoit, left, of Ludlow, Vt., an Army Reservist and veteran, goes over her resume with Jennifer Mitchell, a Rutland-based veterans employment coordinator, during a resume review session at last week’s job fair in White River Junction. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
  • Army veteran Carol Colby, left, of Fairlee, talks with John Louiselle, a vice president and regional manager at Citizens Bank, at last week’s “Hiring Our Heroes” job fair at the Armed Forces Reserve Center in White River Junction. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

White River Junction — The veterans who filed into the Armed Forces Reserve Center came with specific, military-learned skills. Some were accomplished welders and builders. Some had extensive communications experience. Some knew the secrets of mail delivery systems.

But almost all of them were jobless.

“All I have is training,” said Kyle Watkins, 21, of Hartland, who spent three years as a Navy electrical engineer, “and no experience.”

So they came out to a job fair made just for them.

About 50 businesses and organizations set up shop at the center, which is off Route 5, on Thursday morning. Seventy-five veterans had signed up in advance for the free workshops, which were held concurrently, officials said.

David Wheel, executive director for the Vermont Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, estimated about 50 more vets had come by mid-morning.

The event was the first of its kind to straddle the Connecticut River, even though “Hiring Our Heroes,” a U.S. Chamber of Commerce program, has touched down at inland points in both states as well as nationwide.

On Thursday, job seekers circled the tables of employers, exchanging pleasantries, grabbing application instructions and bouncing from booth to booth.

“It’s time for both Vermont and New Hampshire to step up to the plate and offer our support,” said George Copadis, commissioner of New Hampshire Employment Security.

“We just want to be able to give a push for the veterans.”

For young vets, at least, it’s a worthwhile message.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate among veterans who have served after September 2001 was 9.9 percent at the end of 2012, compared with 11.2 percent the previous year.

For all veterans, though, the unemployment rate stands at an even 7 percent. Last month, the nation’s unemployment rate fell to a four-year low of 7.7 percent.

Joshua Colby, of Chester, Vt., is a former member of the Marine Corps and was stationed in Hawaii from 1998 to 2002. He has worked in construction before and after his service, and said he has “extensive” experience in plumbing, carpeting and welding.

His last held job was at Green Mountain Coffee, which he left in early February. A job in Claremont he planned to start in April fell through. He hasn’t found work since.

He has $739 to his name.

“I can’t wait around,” the 33-year-old said, as he waited to enter a workshop.

Over the past four weeks, the average number of unemployment benefit applications has dropped by 7,500 to 339,750. That’s the lowest since February 2008, just three months into the recession, and down nearly 15 percent since November.

But all that is cold comfort to Rod White, of Charlestown.

“The job market is not good,” the Navy veteran said on the floor of the fair. “I don’t care what they say.”

White, who retired in 2003 after a 23-year military career, hasn’t worked since a two-month stint as a car salesman that wrapped up last August. In the Navy, he worked with communications, navigation and sonar devices, he said. But the narrowness of some of the military work has, in part, made finding work difficult, several veterans said.

The civilian sector has a “hard time transferring out job skills to what they do,” White said, noting his experience driving large military vehicles, then returning stateside and finding out he’d need to go through the process to obtain a commercial driver’s license, even though he already had the experience.

Still, White said, he had found several leads with some of the tech-based companies at the fair.

Carol Colby, who has several decades of experience as a cook and baker, said she was less lucky.

The Fairlee resident, a veteran who worked in the Army post office in Germany after the Vietnam War, curled around a line of tables, moving toward a row of businesses against the wall.

On the other side of the room, Joshua Colby, who is not related to Carol, approached a table run by the Vermont Department of Human Resources.

Colby, an avid fly fisherman, reached for a pamphlet about becoming a state game warden. He learned a new warden would be selected in September. Applications are due in a month.

After his earlier workshop had ended, he had fielded a call for a new building job, something to keep his income flow alive through the next few months.

Those sorts of jobs were the reason he originally attended the fair on Thursday; he left it thinking differently.

“That actually got me really excited,” he said of his conversation with the state employees, moving away from the table, holding onto the game warden pamphlet. “And that isn’t even close to what I came here for.”

Jon Wolper can be reached at jwolper@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.