Returning Guam Soldiers Face Unemployment At Home

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National Guard preparing job resources before troops arrive

By Gaynor Dumat-ol Daleno

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Dec. 6, 2013) – When hundreds of Guam's soldiers arrive home next month from their Afghanistan deployment, those who don't have jobs to return to face the challenge of seeking employment in a local economy that barely grew the past year.

Guam's overall unemployment rate remains high at 13.3 percent when last surveyed in March compared to the nation's 7 percent.

And for the local National Guard soldiers and airmen, the job hunt could be even more of an uphill slog, with their unemployment rate around 35 percent, according to data from the Guam National Guard.

With that high unemployment rate, the Guam National Guard and the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve are offering programs to help provide safety nets for returning troops and those who have returned, but have not gained jobs after having come home from deployment.

Many of the close to 600 Guam National Guard soldiers who will return home soon from their Afghanistan deployment are included in the 35 percent unemployment rate, the local National Guard office confirmed.

ESGR is working with the Guam National Guard and the newly created Keep Your Guard Up program, which utilizes the H2H.jobs website, to help returning soldiers and airmen as well as those who have returned home from earlier deployments get jobs, said Maj. Josephine Blas, acting public affairs officer of the Guam National Guard.

H2H.jobs allows jobseekers with military training and experience to type in their military occupational codes on the website to give them ideas on which civilian career paths might suit them.

Service members also have the option of getting trained via apprenticeship-type programs to get them into civilian jobs, Blas said.

ESGR representatives have been fully engaged in these programs, Blas said.

Keep Your Guard Up was launched specifically to deal with the unemployed troops coming home next month, said Cathy Gogue, who recently came on board as ESGR Guam's employment transition coordinator.

Through the Guam National Guard leadership, a coalition of community partners including Guam Community College, the Small Business Administration, U.S. Navy Fleet and Family Services, Guam Department of Labor and private-sector training groups is working together, Gogue said, "to help our service members become gainfully employed once they return back to Guam."

Getting employed or going back to school for skills training or higher education are usually the first two of three key options available for troops who come home from deployment. Some have found success by starting their own small businesses, said Frank Crisostomo-Kaaihue, Guam-based director of the Veterans Business Outreach Center for Region 9.

"When they come back, they look for employment -- 60 to 80 percent want employment," Crisostomo-Kaaihue said.

Building a business

The returning troops come home with specialized skills and the discipline and focus they gained from their military training, and those skills are key to employment or business success, he said.

"Everyone feels bad; we feel terrible if they can't find jobs, but I look at them and I see skills that other people do not see. I say 'Hey, let's take your skills and let's put this into a business. Let's turn this around.'"

A veteran can start small as a provider of services or supplier of products to businesses or government offices, he said.

Some can start small with their skills providing yard service, running a machine shop, or in logistics. The returning troops hold specialized military skills that can be useful in civilian life as well, Crisostomo-Kaaihue said.

National jobless rates

Across the nation, veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have seen double-digit jobless rates in the past three years, the Army Times reported. With the challenge, the White House, corporations and nonprofits have joined hands to encourage employers to hire young workers with military-learned skills, the Army Times reported. Returning Guam troops face high unemployment at a time when the local economy remained flat this year and barely grew -- by 0.5 percent -- last year, according to the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis in a report yesterday and a recent forum by local economists. For troops who have jobs to return to, the Guam National Guard also is working to educate them on their job rights and employment protection under the federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994.

The federal law is intended to ensure that people who serve or have served in the Armed Forces, Reserve, National Guard or other uniformed services are promptly re-employed in their civilian jobs upon their return from duty, according to the law.

The ESGR also has regular briefings with and for employers on the law, Blas said.

Gov. Eddie Calvo, in today's column in the Pacific Daily News, also discusses the upcoming return of Guam troops from their nearly one-year deployment to Afghanistan.

"I told them that Guam would be a better place when they came back -- a promise I intend to keep. I promised them and their families that we all will support them until they returned safely home," the governor wrote.

"We're excited to see them return after nearly a year of service. They are the reason we can celebrate Christmas with our families. They give us hope for the future. And they restore our faith in the human spirit."

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