Jim Gormley came home from a deployment to Afghanistan to an uncertain future and little prospect of finding a job that paid what he had grown used to making as an active-duty soldier in a combat zone.
Gormley, of Oklahoma City, was one of about 3,000 soldiers who came back from the deployment. A third of the soldiers who deployed with the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team were unemployed when the unit returned this spring. That number is down to 22 percent, thanks to companies like Devon Energy Corp. that have both hired returning soldiers and helped train them to navigate the job market.
Devon hired Gormley as a contractor in its environment health and safety department. The job meshed well with his military experience, but finding it wasn't an easy task.
“I was thinking with my background, ideally I could find something in the oil and gas industry,” Gormley said. “I probably applied for 50 different jobs. It was like sending resumes into a black hole.”
Luckily the Guard had a program to help. Gormley went to Warren Griffis at the Guard's employment coordination program. Griffis and his staff help soldiers with their resumes and interviewing skills and can put them in touch with recruiters. Gormley said he just wanted to make sure his resume got in the right hands.
The right hands belonged to Marjorie Cobb, in the human resources group at Devon. She got him on as a contractor at Devon. Cobb said she's worked with the Guard's employment program since taking a trip to Fort Chafee, Ark., to watch members of the 45th train for their Afghanistan deployment. She said Guard soldiers bring skills that can translate well to the energy sector.
“I personally have placed three people in the past month and a half,” Cobb said. “It's kind of on a case-by-case basis to find something they are interested in where they have the skills.”
Adam Ward also works as a recruiter at Devon and is a member of the Oklahoma Air National Guard. He has worked to find jobs for soldiers, but also to help Griffis with his mission to make them more employable in any field.
“We are realistic,” Ward said. “We can't get them all hired at Devon, but we'd like to get them hired somewhere. Sept. 27, we will take six of our recruiters and meet with 40 of his Guard members. We will do mock interviews. We will go over their resumes.”
Pay cuts are issue
One of the other major problems facing returning soldiers is pay. Gormley took a pay cut from what he was making as an active-duty soldier in a combat zone when he got on at Devon.
“You get a lot of incentive pay and tax breaks when you are deployed,” Gormley said. “When you get back, a lot of people take a pay cut. I was in that same boat. I just had to adjust my goals for what the market was dictating. Hopefully I'm exchanging salary for something that can turn into a long-term position.”
Ward said another barrier is the returning soldiers' priorities. Some of the jobs Devon can offer might be an hour or two away.
“They have been gone a long time and they want to be with their families,” Ward said. “They don't want to leave again.”
Others may be dealing with personal or mental health issues and just aren't ready to go back into the work force. Griffis said about 10 percent of the returning soldiers are full-time students. But that leaves hundreds more who need work.
Gormley said the task can be daunting, especially for those who don't know how to translate their military skills into something that can be valuable for a civilian employer. But help is available, and Gormley encouraged his fellow soldiers to use it.
“It's difficult, but you just have to hang in there and take advantage of every resource that is available for you,” he said.
It's difficult, but you just have to hang in there and take advantage of every resource that is available for you.”