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Toolkit helps separating servicemembers land jobs

WASHINGTON -- Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines separating from the military can get extra help in finding a job from a new Defense Department resource.

Specialists in the Pentagon's Wounded Warrior Care and Transition Policy Office, part of the Office of Personnel and Readiness, recently developed the Career Decision Toolkit to help the 400,000-plus servicemembers who separate from the military each year have a smoother transition into civilian work, John R. Campbell, deputy undersecretary for wounded warrior care and transition policy, said Aug. 27.

Mr. Campbell, a Vietnam War-era Marine who joined the department earlier this summer after working for decades in private industry, said too many civilian managers and hiring officials today don't have enough familiarity with the military to know the skills developed from a few years of service.

"Most employers today have never served, and that wasn't true when I got out" in 1970 and entered the banking industry, he said.

That, coupled with the bad economy -- unemployment for people younger than 30 hovers around 15 percent nationally -- makes getting hired an uphill battle, especially for former servicemembers who may never have competed in the private sector market, Mr. Campbell said.

Servicemembers applying for civilian jobs need to be able to explain how their military experience translates into the skills needed for jobs they are applying for. Many struggle with that, he said.

"One of the things I know, because I work with younger servicemembers, is that they don't realize how valuable they are," Mr. Campbell said.

Servicemembers, even as young enlisted members, serve in strategically important places and have opportunities and experiences beyond most of their civilian peers, Mr. Campbell said.

"They're warfighters, but they also work on civilian projects," he noted. "They're community activists; they meet with imams."

The toolkit helps separating servicemembers "write the narrative" of their experiences, Mr. Campbell said. It includes a CD and supportive documents. Its portability allows it to be used anywhere the servicemember is located, he said.

Designed by Defense Department officials in collaboration with officials from the Labor and the Veterans Affairs departments, the toolkit is available in the military transition course for separation, at Transition Assistance Program centers and at soldier-and-family and fleet-and-family support offices.

The toolkit includes information on job interviews, resumes and cover letters, and negotiating pay and benefits, among other things, Mr. Campbell said. It also has special sections for wounded warriors.

"We have used what we think are the best tools for civilians, as well as military, the best practices out there," he said. "And it's still evolving."

More resources are expected to become available in the fall, Mr. Campbell said.