Lt. Col. Bo Davenport has been in the Army for 23 years. That includes four combat tours, two in Iraq and two in Afghanistan.
Today he works for U.S. Army Central, formerly known as Third Army, at Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter. But he will be entering civilian life by the end of the year.
On Tuesday, Davenport was strolling among rows of booths at the Solomon Center at Fort Jackson, pondering the array of job opportunities showcased, from law enforcement to logistics to customer service.
“The last (civilian) job I had was delivering pizzas when I was 18,” the Fayetteville, N.C., native said. “This is a whole new world for me.”
Davenport was one of hundreds of service members, recent veterans and spouses who braved sleet and snow to attend the annual job fair, which was sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and organized by the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce.
The chamber launched its Hiring Our Heroes program in March 2011 as a nationwide initiative to help veterans, active duty service members and military spouses find jobs. The U.S. Chamber taps state and local chambers to create a network of partners who understand the military and the importance of hiring veterans.
Hiring Our Heroes has hosted more than 650 fairs in all 50 states, according to its website. Through June 30, 21,600 veterans and military spouses had gotten jobs.
With the Army expected to shrink by 80,000 soldiers to 490,000 by 2015 – and other branches seeing reductions as well – more and more soldiers, airmen and Marines will be entering the civilian work force.
“A lot of these soldiers shouldered the heavy load in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Brig. Gen. Bradley Becker, Fort Jackson’s commander. “While our soldiers have a lot of job experience, they haven’t been in the job market.”
Ernie Lombardi of the U.S. Chamber, who organizes the job fairs in the Southeast, said often language is a barrier. Soldiers live in a world of acronyms and military jargon that civilian human resources directors often don’t comprehend.
“There’s a big disconnect,” he said. “Sometimes the soldier can’t explain in civilian terms what they did in the Army, so their resume just gets set aside.”
Anthony Andrews, a recruiter for Verizon Wireless, is a veteran himself. He said that once the bridge is built, the service members bring assets to the job that many civilians don’t.
“They are willing to adapt,” he said. “They don’t shut down when they receive feedback. And they don’t look at jobs as 9 to 5. They are usually early, and they work until the job is complete.”
Sgt. 1st Class Tekia Jarman, a Beaufort, N.C., native, knows both worlds.
An activated reservist, Jarman has worked in the civilian world, then been mobilized for the active duty Army often over her 18 years in the service. She is currently planning to start a master’s degree program online, and wanted to test the job market as a financial adviser.
“I have a backup plan now,” she said. “The challenge is getting experience. This job fair can help me get my foot in the door.”