Owen McCurty Sneaks Past Security Gates, Decodes Military Jargon to Find Veterans Jobs

vet job fair.jpg
This week, the U.S. House will vote on a jobs bill for veterans. Want to know why it's necessary? Read this week's feature story about the apparent suicide of Jared Hagemann, who was unable to find a job outside the military. You could also ask Owen McCurty.

McCurty, a veteran himself, now works at Joint Base Lewis-McChord as the representative for WorkSource, the state program that helps people finds job. And when it comes to veterans, that's tough.

"Some people in the military are looking to stay at the same level of pay," McCurty tells Seattle Weekly. One might think that's not too difficult; the military isn't known for paying lavishly.

But McCurty says a soldier with a relatively modest rank would pull in maybe $40,000 a year, including a housing subsidy. Without a college education, in this economy, comparable paying jobs are few and far between. (Hagemann, at just 25, would have been making about $53,000, including the subsidy.)

Vets don't want minimum wage jobs, according to McCurty. "They've done more for their country," he says. "They feel like they should be making more."

Yet he says vets often lack the technical expertise that qualifies them for higher-paying jobs. And what skills they do have, they are often unable to communicate because they're so bogged down by military jargon. He pulls out a resume of a soldier he's been working with and reads a few lines:

Working knowledge of Brigade TOC of and dissemination of information. Working knowledge of BUA and BUB. Presentation and following up of higher value targets and people of interest.

McCurty says he knows that TOC means Tactical Operations Center. "I did 20 years in the military. But BUA and BUB, even I have no idea what that means."

McCurty not only helps vets translate their resumes into civilian English, he seems to go to remarkable lengths to talk employers into giving vets a chance. When one depressed veteran long out of work told him he was interested in a Fife engineering company, McCurty hopped in his car and went there--without an appointment and without knowing of any existing job opening.

"There was a security gate there, so I couldn't get in," he recalls. So he waited until the gate opened to let someone else in, and then he ran through on foot. He lucked into finding a manager outside, and sweet talked his way into that person's office. "I softened him up," McCurty says, and then he ask whether the manger would be willing to talk to his client even though the company didn't have any current openings.

The manager agreed, and several weeks later, when a $75,000 job came open, hired McCurty's client.

That kind of luck is rare, however. More common are the numerous job fairs he and his clients attend (see picture above of a recent one at Camp Murray), where vets are often fobbed off to company websites.

The veterans' jobs bill--which provides technical training to soldiers leaving the military and offers tax credits to employers who hire vets-- comes at a particularly opportune moment. Tens of thousands of soldiers are going to be returning home by the end of this year, as the U.S. pulls out of Iraq. Without help, many will likely be coming home to unemployment.

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