Wounded Warrior Hiring Event In San Diego Next Week
October 25, 2012 1:02 p.m.
U.S. Navy Commander George Byrd, is Regional Wounded Warrior Coordinator and SPAWAR Wounded Warrior Program Manager
Bobby Green is a U.S. Army veteran who served in Iraq
Crystal May Pelham is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, she served in Iraq in the Marine Corps for 3 and a half years as a heavy machinery diesel mechanic.
Editor's note: Bobby Green was incorrectly described as having served in Afghanistan on KPBS Midday Edition. We regret the error.
Related Story: Wounded Warrior Hiring Event In San Diego Next Week
CAVANAUGH: Our top story focuses on a San Diego event that asks employers to step up for veterans. Many business owners say they support military men and women, especially those who have been wounded and disabled, but the wounded warrior conference is asking for more than support. It wants to see employers hire wounded veterans. Joining me are my guests, Navy commander George bird, regional wounded warrior coordinator, welcome to the program.
BYRD: Thank you very much, Maureen. And on behalf of space naval warfare systems command, and the commander, thank you very much for having us here today.
CAVANAUGH: Our pleasure. And also joining us, Bobby Green, an army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
GREEN: Thank you for having me.
CAVANAUGH: And crystal May Pelham is a Marine Corps veteran. She served in Iraq. Welcome am
PELHAM: Thank you very much.
CAVANAUGH: Let me start with you, Commander Byrd. With so many support being expressed for returning veterans, why is a conference like this needed in the first place?
BYRD: We'll we have a lot of veterans that are returning, and there's a lot of support post-911, these veterans still need to have jobs. A lot of those who went over were reservists or folks who weren't necessarily in the military or the Navy as a whole to begin with when 911 happened. As they returned, they returned back to their normal civilian lives, and with that, some of them didn't have jobs to go back to. There were many who were independently employed who lost thirds requirement businesses or had to close their practices to go serve our country. With that number of folks coming back in the current economy, there just isn't a job market there for everyone. So there is a number of people who as far as the supply is concerned for people, there's not the amount of jobs to meet that supply and demand.
CAVANAUGH: How big an issue is this in San Diego? Are there estimates of how many wounded vets are leaving the military every year and entering the job market here?
BYRD: There's up to 300 to 500 a month. And in San Diego alone, we have the largest veteran population in the nation with at least 88,000 in the San Diego area alone, in Southern California, upwards to 1.2 million. &%F0
CAVANAUGH: Who do employers need to learn about wounded veterans?
BYRD: Although they may be wounded, it may be unseen wounds such as post traumatic stress disorder or stress injuries, or the physical ones where they're missing a limb or something like that, these people have been taught a discipline that is unusual. Such as getting to the job on time, getting the job done, eager to learn, being able to work unsupervised. Though I may be wounded, I'm capable of doing the job. Just let me know what it is I need to do, and if I don't know what to do I will learn it very quickly.
CAVANAUGH: And the conference is not just about employers. It's about getting wounded veterans up to speed and being able to reenter the job force. So what do wounded warriors need to learn about getting a job?
BYRD: We have several workshops that are part of the conference their a lot of programs out there is that help them write their resume. What I wanted to do for this year's conference was a little bit more than that. So we have the small business association coming in and talking to veterans about starting their own business, how to get credentials and licensing to do all of that, have corporate recruiters coming in to say if I get your resume on my desk, here's what I'm looking for. Here's what's going to make me call you back. Here are some things that you can say regarding how do I get you to actually call me back and bring me in for an actual in-person interview. So we have things along those lines especially for veterans to help them bridge that hurdle. Most of us have only been in this uniform since high school or job, that's the first job we have had. We don't know how to interview because we've never had to do that.
CAVANAUGH: Let me get Bobby and critical into the conversation. Bobby, you suffered a knee injury in the army when I'm correct. When you suffer any kind of an injury or disability after military service, do you feel that your job prospects are limited?
GREEN: Very. Especially in my situation. I was mainly a parts supplier, warehouse person, forklift driver. I can no longer bear weight with my injury. So my 20 years of experience in warehousing is basically moot unless I want to be a manager. And the wounded warrior program helped me find a job other than what I was doing. Now I'm working as a financial management technician for the Navy.
CAVANAUGH: Now, did you find as much help that you needed as a veteran when you first were separated from the military?
GREEN: It was hard when I first got separated. I was applying for jobs, didn't have the correct paperwork because I wasn't officially separated. And I had met a person from the wounded warrior program that just out of accident, I just happened to run into him, and he looked the fact they was looking for somebody to answer my question to figure out what I needed to do, and he told me about this program. It was just starting up at that time.
CAVANAUGH: And let me just go to you, Commander Byrd, how long has this program been in place?
BYRD: Each service has their own wounded warrior program. In San Diego, the Marine Corps has one there are several different organizations that have their own programs. We started ours in 2010, the Navy had been doing some things like this on the east coast with the naval sea systems command and it was very successful. And admiral Brady said I think we need to do something like this on the west coast so he took up the mantel for the Navy and that's how I came to be where I am now.
CAVANAUGH: Crystal, you also suffered a leg injury, I understand, and needed lots of surgeries. Could you tell us about that?
GREEN: Yeah, I received five knee surgeries just so that I could be able to walk again. And it was such a severe injury that I almost lost my leg. So I was one of those that was hovering between whether or not I'd be able to walk ever again or even, you know, do the normal things that I would have normally done on a regular basis. I was a heavy machinery diesel mechanic, so with that being said, I couldn't do anything I was supposed to do as a career. So I went from having a really good career to what do I do next?
CAVANAUGH: Right. So I would imagine when you're going through the whole process of surgeries and trying to get better, then a career is not the thing that's foremost in your mind. But when you do start to get better, when you do start to feel a little bit better, what did you find to do to retrain to get back into the workforce?
GREEN: It was job fair after job for, getting those that were, like, well, I'm sorry we can't help you, but you can take the documents with you. After so many job fairs, you don't know what to do, where to go, who to talk to. So you're just at a loss, confused and upset because the career that you had can no longer exist.
CAVANAUGH: So what are you doing now?
GREEN: I actually work for swarmic, which is a branch of the military that works on ships and stuff. Right now I'm an executive assistant for the CO and XO and their executive director.
CAVANAUGH: Now, you both work -- are employed by the Navy now; is that right?
CAVANAUGH: Could you think it's more difficult for wounded vets working in the civilian world to find a place?
GREEN: Me personally, I would say no. With our ability to use the wounded warrior program, we have to a way to get in and get jobs that maybe we didn't think we could. Especially with their program, they take the skills that you have and had and formulate what you should be looking for. That's how I was able to find my job. They told me about the job.
CAVANAUGH: I understand. So it coordinates both with the civilian world and the military.
BYRD: And I would add to that, in the government civilian world, it's a little bit easier because you speak the same language, and you have an appreciation for what they have gone through. On the commercial side of the house, it's more difficult because you don't have as many people who have been in the military before. So it's been an education part for the various wounded warrior programs and the network that I resolve around to educate employers on what veterans can bring to the table and what can they can expect and to try and dispel some of the myths about hiring a wounded warrior. As far as okay, this punish is missing an arm or leg, or they can't do this or that, owner they're going to have some episode. There are several courses we've developed to help managers understand and manage folks who have that. So they have an appreciation of what that should be doing if a person as an episode of PTSD while they're on the job.
BYRD: And also to dispel the myth that just because I'm missing an arm or leg doesn't mean I'm not functional.
CAVANAUGH: Exactly. Now, crystal and Bobby, one of the reasons you're here today is because you really want to say something to other wounded vets who are exiting the military and making the transition back to the civilian workforce. Crystal?
PELHAM: I would like to let them know that there are opportunities out there and there is help. I want them to be able to know that they can accept the help. It's there for you, and you earned it. So don't be afraid to go after what's there for you.
CAVANAUGH: And Bobby?
GREEN: I'd have to say networking. If you know somebody, ask a question. If they don't know, ask somebody else. If you know somebody in the government, ask them do they know any programs. That's really how I got my start, I just kept asking question, and basically educated myself. Educate yourself and look for the opportunity.
CAVANAUGH: And you were both willing to say, look, the way things have worked out, I'm not going to be able to go on the career path they started on. And now I have to change gears and I have to look for something else. Is that something that wounded warriors are going to have to confront before they get over that hurdle to find the job?
PELHAM: Yes, it is.
GREEN: It takes a long time to realize you've worked your whole love for this, and you can't do that anymore, and now you have to go somewhere else. I struggled with it for about two years. Then I finally realized I have a family, I need to provide, let's move forward and figure something out.
CAVANAUGH: And crystal?
PELHAM: For me, it was -- I started back from square 1. I worked so hard to get where I am, I earned the respect, now you've got to turn around and start from that first step. And not knowing what you want to do or what you can do, as a military personell, you can do whatever you want, but where do you go is the hardest part. I didn't know where to go.
CAVANAUGH: And that's exactly the kind of problem, the kind of question, the kind of guidance that you want to be able to extend to wounded warriors, isn't it, commander?
BYRD: That is correct. And one of the big things that we try to advise wounded warriors is that if you are not sure what you want to do, but here's an opportunity to at least start going back to school and start working on your degree to get an education. Then you have at least two years of general ed, where you can figure out what you want to do and move forward in the career perspective. And the other important thing is networking. Be ready to tell people no matter what you meet, whether you're sitting next to someone in a movie theatre or on an airplane, have your 60-second elevator pitch as to who you are and what you're capable of doing, whether it's the skill set you used to do in the military or the skill set you think you want to do and can do.
CAVANAUGH: I'm almost out of time, excuse me. But can employers and veterans still sign up to take part in this conference?
BYRD: Yes. I think registration closes tomorrow. But even if you don't get a chance to register, just show up.
CAVANAUGH: Okay! The third annual wounded warriors' hiring and support conference will take place next Monday and Tuesday, October 29th and 30th at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in downtown San Diego. A link to the event to find out more and sign up on posted at our website, KPBS.org.
BYRD: Thank you.
GREEN: Thank you for having us.
PELHAM: Thank you.