Job fair addresses needs of wounded and outgoing soldiers

By Brady Bauman

FORT RILEY — Crowds of wounded and outgoing soldiers filled Riley’s Conference Center Wednesday morning for the Hiring Heroes Career Fair.

The event, now in its eighth year at the post, is put on by the Department of Defense’s solider outreach program.

The plan is to give veterans and wounded soldiers an opportunity to network with prospective employers.

Aletheia Wynn, a Fort Riley solider from Georgia, said she welcomed prospective employers who are willing to give military service members a chance.

“There are a lot of stigmas that come with being in the military,” said Wynn, who plans to transition out of the military in September after serving for five years — mainly in Korea.

“For instance (a stigma) about soldiers getting out and having PTSD and having trouble adjusting (to civilian life).”

Wynn said that stigma paints a broad brush on soldiers, and that people forget PTSD is not a condition specific to service members.

“People really don’t understand the totality it takes to serve,” she said. “PTSD is something that can happen to a civilian after a car accident. It’s not just something that takes place for soldiers, it takes place for anybody who’s gone through a dramatic experience.

“It doesn’t define who we are. So it’s good to know there are companies that are willing to hire us.”

More than 80 employers set up booths Wednesday morning – a wide assortment from the Department of Defense, the federal government and the private sector.

From software companies, construction equipment dealers, police departments, universities and ship builders – Wynn said she talked with representatives at that booth – there was plenty of variety for veterans to sample in their job searches.

Julie Gonzales, the store manager for Junction City’s AutoZone, represented her company at the job fair and said outgoing soldiers were attractive to her store because of the way they can relate to the community.

“I see a lot of the military (every day),” she said. “And at the store level, it’s very beneficial to have somebody that’s been on the other side of the fence, so to speak, when it comes to our customers.”

The job fair is not tied just to Fort Riley, though.

The Department of Defense has made rounds all over the country with job fairs at various military installations since 2005.

Karen Hannah, the program manager for Hiring Heroes, first started the event at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland.

“At first we only did it for Department of Defense agencies, but then other departments called us about it – then it wasn’t about DoD anymore. It was about just finding jobs for the wounded,” she said.

“Then the private sector called us and asked to participate. We were only going to do one (job fair), but now we’ve done 61.”

Sylvia Parker, project manager for Fort Riley’s Hiring Heroes event, said that there were 571 job seekers last year.

“We’re hoping to have 571 here again,” she said. “And we hope to find 571 jobs.”

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