After 15 years in the Navy, Petty Officer 1st Class Joseph Phillips was fired in July from Tinker Air Force Base.
Phillips is one of 3,000 sailors throughout the nation terminated because of Department of Defense budget cuts.
Eight sailors lost their jobs in landlocked Oklahoma, but according to numbers from U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe's office, the Air Force lost about 1,100 airmen jobs in the state as part of the same budget cuts.
The transition has been difficult, Phillips said, but through support from the Navy and persistent appearances at job fairs, he landed two job offers this week.
With offers in hand and a last-minute decision by the Navy to grant some sailors early retirement, Phillips is excited about his first job outside the military since he worked at Wendy's in high school.
The experience has been less positive for Cyrus Gray, a 38-year-old petty officer 1st class, who spent the past 13 years in the Navy.
Both sailors were stationed at Tinker Air Force Base.
But Gray was about two years away from the early retirement deadline. He'd just purchased a house in Oklahoma City, and a month out of the job he's still attending job fairs.
“People want to know why you're out,” Gray said at Hiring Heroes, a job fair tailored to veterans and hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “They assume you must have done something wrong.”
Gray said it's been difficult to get calls back from employers even those who say they support veterans. He was going to another job fair Friday.
According to Cmdr. Kathy Kesler, a spokeswoman for the chief of Naval Personnel, budget cuts were only a part of the driving force behind personnel reductions.
The Navy, for the first time, implemented a process to reduce the number of sailors in 31 overstaffed positions throughout the entire force. The Enlisted Retention Board began identifying sailors for termination after voluntary separations, retirements and other natural reductions in force failed.
“The number of personnel in the Navy is based on our force structure and is impacted by the Navy's budget,” Kesler wrote in an email. “However, the overarching reason the ERB was necessary was because in some career fields we have more sailors who want to stay in than we have jobs to fill.”
The positions the Navy cut were in areas that were more than 100 percent staffed, making promotion and movement within the organization difficult.
She said that can cause staffing shortages in other fields, a problem the Enlisted Retention Board has hopefully relieved.
The Navy does not intend to use another Enlisted Retention Board.
The reductions in forces throughout the military are widely being attributed to automatic cuts included in a deal between lawmakers and President Barack Obama to raise the nation's debt ceiling.
The Department of Defense will have $500 billion in cuts during the next decade under the agreement. A study by George Mason University estimates the total number of jobs to be lost in Oklahoma could be 15,000.
Inhofe, R-Tulsa, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he opposed the “drastic cuts to the defense budget and troop size” that have occurred under the Obama administration.
“I have continually argued that the failure to maintain the defense budget at 4 percent of GDP will undercut our national security,” Inhofe said. “Without congressional intervention, sequestration will cut another devastating $500 billion in the defense budget by January, resulting in the smallest ground forces since 1940, the smallest fleet of ships since 1915, and the smallest tactical fighter force in the history of the Air Force.”
Shedding the uniform
Phillips now will shed his uniform for a suit and tie.
He's going from working on the electrical systems of helicopters to working in retail men's fashion.
“This is going to be a lot different from working as a Navy electrician,” Phillips said. “But I've been told my people skills are pretty good, so I'm sure I can adjust to the new situation.”
Phillips said he has been networking, drafting resumes and practicing interviews since he was notified in February he would be released. He had help from his chain of command and an employment agency hired by the Navy.
“I really didn't have an idea of how to write a resume,” he said.
But he was assigned a job-hunt coach.
“I would call her and talk for an hour or two. That was the biggest help I've had. She keeps my head on straight. You start getting rejected for jobs and everything looks bleak and she tells you to just keep going. It actually kept me very motivated.”
This is going to be a lot different from working as a Navy electrician. But I've been told my people skills are pretty good, so I'm sure I can adjust to the new situation.”