Maj. Keith Alfeiri has spent 30 years in the military and has just returned to U.S. Army Central in Sumter after two years in Afghanistan.
On Tuesday, he was one of hundreds of active military, veterans and their spouses who attended the Hiring Our Heroes job fair at Columbia’s Fort Jackson. He has never applied for a civilian job before, and the fair was his first step in starting a new career.
“I’m just trying to learn the civilian system,” said Alfeiri, 46. “Resumes are going to get you in the door. But I’m learning that getting a good civilian job is all about networking.”
The Hiring Our Heroes job fair was sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and organized by the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce. A record 80 employers were on hand Tuesday for the fourth annual fair at Fort Jackson.
The chamber launched the 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 700 fairs in all 50 states. To date, more than 24,000 veterans and military spouses have obtained jobs through the program.
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.
“This is a tough time for all the services,” said Maj. Gen. Bradley Becker, Fort Jackson’s commander. “We’ve got a lot of people transitioning.”
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. Alfeiri agreed. “How do you put 30 years of military service on a two-page resume?”
Tyrone Polite, a recruiter for ABM Government Services, 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 bring leadership and ability,” he said. “They are goal-oriented. They get a mission and they get it done.”