Duty, Honor, Country…Unemployed?

Finding work when you get out of the military should be easy enough, right? You have been tried and tested, some even in combat. You have leadership experience and made life and death decisions that surpass anyone else your age.  You are organized, determined, and motivated to succeed. And because of your priceless experiences and training, you have unlimited potential to be an amazing employee. So what’s the problem?

The military veteran unemployment rate is astonishing. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in August, it was 6.2%, but for post-9/11 veterans, the unemployment rate was 10%, which is significantly above the national average.  Our country’s persistent unemployment and underemployment problems has created a very intimidating and discouraging—not to mention fiercely competitive—environment for those transitioning from the military to civilian life.

While the overall numbers are slowly declining, finding long-term employment is still a significant problem for too many of our nation’s veterans. For veterans facing this predicament, here are a few things you can do to help you on your quest for employment.

First, treat unemployment as your ‘job.’ Use that time to perfect your résumé, write cover letters, and conduct practice interviews. This should be a 9-to-5 job. There is always more to be done to increase your odds of landing a job. Practice makes perfect. The job isn’t going to come to you, so make it happen. If you get turned down, get back up, and start looking for new prospects.

Stay organized. Applying for multiple jobs can get chaotic in a hurry. Create a file for each job you pursue and keep sticky notes on the front that remind you where you are in the application process. Each job you apply for requires a résumé specific to the job. Make sure you adjust each résumé to reflect the job description and requirements.

When you create resumes and cover letters make sure you accurately translate your military experiences and training into skills that someone with zero military experience will understand.  Your experience leading combat patrols in Afghanistan may make perfect sense to you, but a human resource professional may get confused and needs help to understand how this background applies to the desk job they are seeking to fill. This will result with your application quickly being moved to the NO pile. Ensure your military translation is clear and relevant to the civilian job position. Have your civilian friends and family members review your résumé to see if it makes sense to them.

Be honest and true to yourself, but don’t be too humble and reserved. In the military, we are used to ‘the quiet professional’ being the standard.  Your years of selfless service were about putting others ahead of yourself. In the civilian world, you need to be more vocal and even self-promotional. You have a small window of time to let hiring personnel learn about you and your experiences. Talk yourself and your accomplishments up.  If you don’t do it, no one else will.

Use social media. Coming from the military, it may seem strange to place such an emphasis on social media when job hunting, but it is critical for networking in today’s job market. If you haven’t already, consider joining Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Follow companies you are interested in working for. They will often post job positions or hiring events. Additionally, when you don’t have business cards, LinkedIn is an excellent tool for professionals to find more information about you and possibly contact you.

Use veterans’ organizations. There are many organizations whose sole purpose is to help military veterans become gainfully employed. They specialize in helping with creating resumes, generating a strategy and providing guidance throughout the job search. Contact them and use their services.

Lastly, do not forget about your GI Bill and education benefits. If the job search is not going as planned, consider furthering your education in your field, which in the long run will increase your probability of landing your desired job. Often colleges have job placement programs to help assist with employment.

Most importantly don’t give up. Remember it is better to be under-employed than unemployed. Any form of employment will allow you to get on your feet, reduce financial stress, further network, and advance your skills. Be patient but motivated and never ever give up. Those are skills that will help any veteran excel and that any employer would be happy to have on his or her team.

Additionally published at: http://www.examiner.com/article/duty-honor-country-unemployed

 

Follow Amber on Twitter: @AmberBarno

Semper Fi: Gary Sinise, Honorary Marine

Semper Fidelis now has a new meaning to actor and musician Gary Sinise. On August 29, the long time veterans advocate was awarded as an Honorary Marine at a dinner at the home of Marine Corps commandant, General James Amos. During the dinner Sinise was pinned with the coveted Eagle, Globe, and Anchor. This is quite unique an honor as only 76 people have shared the title since the Marines inception.

 “This was one of the most extraordinary nights. I was totally surprised by what the general gave me tonight, I’m humbled, shocked, moved and motivated to keep standing up for our men and women and giving back to them,” Sinise said in a statement after being awarded the honor.

General James Amos, who hosted the dinner said “There is little I can say to enhance the rich reputation Gary Sinise has earned, both in the spotlight as an immensely talented actor, and less conspicuously as a tireless advocate for our men and women in uniform. What I can do, what I am privileged and proud to do, is to recognize this humble patriot’s selfless service by making him an Honorary Marine.”  Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dempsey attended the dinner as well.

Gary Sinise is a prominent actor, known for his role as Vietnam War veteran LT Dan in the epic film Forest Gump and as Detective Mac Taylor in the TV show CSY: NY.  His interest in helping veterans was sparked in 1994 from his role in Forest Gump as LT Dan. He went on to create a music group called the LT Dan Band and has toured around the globe to different military bases to provide free concerts to military members and their families. Additionally, he created the Gary Sinise Foundation and has raised millions of dollars that provides veterans, troops, and wounded warriors and their families with programs that help give back through education, housing, and entertainment, and more.

Gary Sinise is truly an admirable American who understands the value of our troops and veterans. His continued selfless service and passion for veterans awareness has changed the lives of countless service members and their families. Thank you for your outstanding service to our veterans and congratulations on your well deserved title of Honorary Marine. Once a Marine, always a Marine. Semper Fi!

For more information on the Gary Sinise Foundation, visit: www. garysinisefoundation.org

Follow Amber on Twitter: @AmberBarno

Additionally published at Concerned Veterans for America: http://www.concernedveteransforamerica.org/2013/09/05/semper-fi-gary-sinise-honorary-marine/

Attacking Syria with no plan will only make the U.S. look weaker

Assad’s army, Hezbollah, Iran, and Russian interests versus al Qaeda-affiliated groups and other Islamic militants fighting side by side with Syrian rebels with the U.S. itching to join the fight. What could possibly go wrong?

The U.S.’s number one concern at this moment should be that if Assad’s regime falls that his cache of chemical weapons does not fall into the hands of Syrian rebels infiltrated by al Qaeda. This would lead to dire consequences and a situation that far exceeds current conditions. Assisting Syrian rebels (and therefore al Qaeda) by inflicting damage to Assad’s military through U.S. military force in not in line with our national interests nor is it morally sound to support rebels affiliated with a terrorist organization that is responsible for murdering over 3,000 American civilians.

As of right now, the U.S. has no clearly defined objective with a missile strike. There is no strategy or endgame strategy. Bombing runways and aircraft will be ineffective in preventing a future chemical attack nor will it effectively damage Assad’s military. So what might the purpose of this attack be?

President Obama has watched his creditability on a world stage sink to an embarrassing low. Russia, China, Iran, Egypt, and other nations have learned over the past five years that Obama may have a mean bark, but there’s not much of a bite. An attempt to prove to Iran and other nations that we are credible with an ambiguous military strike with no purpose, as Obama has proposed, will only result in the U.S. continuing to look weak. Iran has been dealing with possible repercussions from the U.S. over its nuclear program for decades and does not flinch easily. Obama’s attempt is too little too late for any form of redemption. Additionally, the constant infighting amongst Obama, General Dempsey, and members of Congress about Syria have created an awkward divide and contributed to a perception that the U.S. clearly has no idea how to handle this situation.

The U.S. needs to understand the ramifications of a spur-of-the-moment missile attack in an attempt to redeem Obama on a global scale for making such a bold declaration about crossing ‘redlines’ and appearing weak in the eyes of our adversaries. The Obama administration must thoroughly analyze the consequences he may be faced with following an attack on Syria and the decisions he may have to make. And again, a botched strike with no objective or strategy will make the Obama administration look sloppy and confused.

The decision to bomb Syria is more complex than a simple targeted attack on a few military compounds. It has long-term consequences for our national interests. Iran is threatening to attack Israel, Israel is preparing for war, al Qaeda has promised to rain down terror on Syrian civilians, to name a few, all in retaliation for a U.S. attack on Syria. While these threats would never deter U.S. policy, one has to wonder if Obama is capable of handling such a crisis if one arises.

Above all, Obama needs to consult with Congress before to attacking Syria. This should not be a unilateral decision and this should not be an event he should consider without the support of Congress. In the words of candidate Obama in 2007, the president does not have the power, under the Constitution, to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation. There is no actual or imminent threat to our nation at this time.

Next, he needs to wait for the facts and stop jumping to conclusions. After nine years at war in Iraq, I would hope that as a nation we have learned about rushing into any conflict without giving consideration to all aspects, including contingency operations. The White House needs to put aside their ego for awhile and start collaborating on decisions that will benefit our nation as a whole.

The bottom line is at this point, an attack on Syria a does not benefit our national security or strategic national interests. This isn’t a good versus bad conflict. Charging blindly with military force into a nation’s civil war is not beneficial to the U.S. or Syria.

Published at The Daily Caller:  http://dailycaller.com/2013/08/29/attacking-syria-with-no-plan-will-only-make-the-u-s-look-weaker/#ixzz2dNL426ao

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The Money is Gone: Army Feeling the Pressure of Sequestration

Budget cuts to the Department of Defense (DOD) are not going to stop anytime soon. The DOD was hit with $37 billion in cuts this year and is likely to face an additional $52 billion in cuts next year.

But the Army is missing the big picture when it comes to handling sequestration. It should be about making the right cuts verses the easy cuts the first time around—in order to avoid having to deal with the same problem in the near future. Unfortunately, that’s not the approach they’re taking.

A case in point is last week’s memo from Army leadership ordering commanders and staff to develop a comprehensive plan to cut 25 percent of the budget and personnel at all Army headquarters with the rank of 2-star and above. The deadline for the plans is in nearly two weeks, on September 11, 2013.

From the text of the memo:

Let there be no mistake, aggregate reductions WILL TAKE PLACE. The money is gone; our mission now is to determine how best to allocate these cuts while maintaining readiness. We expect Army leaders, military and civilian, to seize this opportunity to re-shape our Army. This effort will take PRIORITY OVER ALL other Headquarters, Department of the Army activities…

…. To ensure Army readiness at these reduced budget levels, we must make the best and maximum use of every single dollar provided to the Army.

While headquarter reductions are necessary, especially as the Afghanistan war is coming to a close, giving the Review Group a two week deadline is only setting them up for failure. There is no doubt the Review Group will meet the deadline. But it will merely mean decisions will be rushed and the outcome will likely be ill-considered and incomprehensible, rather than the careful, strategic consideration of future needs that is required.

These cuts are essential but the Review Group must be given the adequate time to make decisions that will effectively reduce unnecessary spending. Forcing commanders and other military personnel to make these decisions in two weeks is illogical and will only result in poor decision-making and reduced readiness.

Originally published at: http://www.concernedveteransforamerica.org/2013/08/23/the-money-is-gone-army-feeling-the-pressure-of-sequestration/#sthash.lGxzJect.dpuf

Follow Amber on Twitter: @AmberBarno

Finally Hollywood Advice Worth Taking

We need more people in Hollywood like Ashton Kutcher. People who aren’t afraid to speak the truth about the pathway to success and hard work. America’s youth looks up to those in Hollywood as role models from a very young age and see the glitz and glamorous lifestyle and want it as their own. Unfortunately, we live in an age where our youth have been taught to expect entitlement as a way of life and aren’t privy to what it takes to become personally successful.

The Two and A Half Men actor Ashton Kutcher took the stage at the Teen Choice Awards and surprised many with a passionate and genuine speech. Kutcher stated, “I’ve never had a job in my life that I was better than. I was just lucky to have a job. And every job that I had was a stepping-stone to my next job and I never quit my job until I had my next job. And so opportunities looks a lot like hard work.” He continued, “The sexiest thing in the entire world is being really smart and being thoughtful and generous. Everything else is crap, I promise you.” He finished his speech with “Build a life, don’t live one. Build one.”

Ashton’s words were delivered on a platform that young people listened attentively and were eager to learn how he became the successful and famous actor that so many youngsters aspire to be. It is crucial that more people in public figure positions recognize the need to motivate and inspire America’s youth to work hard for what they want and realize that they are responsible for their own success. As Kutcher said, taking charge of your life, never being too good for a job, and being really smart is sexy.

Hollywood, I’m talking to you. Follow in Ashton’s footsteps and do some good with your fame. Help spread the message that hard work, a strong work ethic, and determination is what it takes to take charge of your life and create opportunities. Young Americans need to understand that you start at the bottom and work your way up the ladder. You don’t start at the top, but you work hard to get there.

It’s no secret that making such a speech is risky business in Hollywood. He didn’t have to deliver such an imperative challenge in his acceptance speech, but he did, and quite possibly changed the path of many young Americans. So to Ashton, thank you for having a backbone and speaking the truth, something our youth get so little of these days.

Follow Amber on Twitter: @AmberBarno

The Debt Isn’t Going To Fix Itself

Convincing politicians to deal with the debt is like convincing someone to quit smoking. People know it’s bad for them, but don’t want to make any changes because in the short term they see no effects, even if they know that eventually, their habit is likely to kill them.

With all of the commotion in Washington, it is easy to overlook  our nation’s spending addiction. The debt is rapidly approaching $17 trillion, just another record level of debt, but it’s hardly news since the next record is just around the corner. Both Congress and the President seem to welcome the opportunity to turn America’s attention elsewhere.  The government spying on American citizens, the IRS targeting conservative groups, and the State Department’s failure with Benghazi are all issues that require attention, but they cannot be used as an excuse to postpone handling the debt crisis.

Americans need to send politicians a simple message when it comes to the debt:  Enough with the political small talk. We want action. We the People want spending reform and debt management to become a priority. We know that serious consequences face our nation if our debt problem continues to be ignored and mismanaged.

Sequestration helped reduce the deficit on a very small scale, but it is far from a solution to our spending problem. It is merely a temporary band-aid to a long term, severe problem. Until the White House and Congress, on both sides of the aisle, wake up and come to terms that the debt is not going to fix itself, there will be no change to the nation’s spending habits.

Importantly, any serious conversation about the spending problem has to begin with an adult discussion of reforming entitlement programs.  Sadly, no one seems to want to address the elephants in the room: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and safety net programs. Some perspective: entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and safety net programs make up 64% of the total budget while the Department of Defense makes up 17%. This was one of the key problems with sequestration:

Half of the cuts from sequestration went to the Department of Defense.

The Pentagon needs spending reform like every other department across our government, but putting the majority of the cuts on defense is foolish and allowed America to avoid a much needed, more urgent conversation about the real drivers of our fiscal imbalance, entitlement programs.  Sequestration also failed to target those areas of the budget, including the defense budget that would be the best for reductions.  This year, for example, the Pentagon was able to make the majority of the cuts through civilian employee furloughs and military training cuts.  But if sequestration happens again for fiscal year 2014, as it seems increasingly likely, it’s not going to be as easy as furloughing civilian employees or canceling public tours at the White House. This time military troops will directly feel the effects of sequestration. There will be a reduction in force (meaning soldiers will be involuntarily forced out of the military), less training, outdated weaponry, technology, and equipment. This will significantly affect our military readiness and eventually weaken our defense

This doesn’t need to happen, and shouldn’t be allowed to happen.

More members of Congress must realize that all politicians are going to have to make sacrifices and consider sensible changes to even popular programs if we are going to move toward a stable fiscal situation Reforming entitlement programs—yes, that means touching those third rails of politics—must become a priority, as we cannot afford them in their current state.  This means that all Americans have to encourage this conversation and make politicians pay a penalty for avoiding this topic.

It may be easy to forget about the accruing national debt—how many millions more were added, just in the time it took you to read this short piece?—but that doesn’t mean it’s not a serious issue.  We need to make real spending reform a priority today, before it’s too late.

Originally Published at The Tennessean: http://www.tennessean.com/article/20130802/OPINION03/308020047/2071/OPINION?nclick_check=1

Follow Amber on Twitter: @AmberBarno

No Relief in Sight for Wasteful Spending at the Pentagon

The Pentagon is at it again. More wasteful, out of control spending with zero accountability. This time the Pentagon is buying $554 million worth of Russian helicopters for the Afghan military that are unable to properly sustain such a fleet.

A lot of consideration goes into operating and maintaining a military helicopter fleet. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of forethought happening inside the Pentagon when it comes to buying Afghanistan new helicopters. The Pentagon continues to defend its decision to spend $554 million of taxpayer dollars on a contract that will buy 30 Mi-17 Russian helicopters for the Afghan military. The Afghan military currently has a helicopter fleet of Mi-17s, but due to maintenance neglect and the age of the aircraft, the Pentagon claims they need new ones to replace the neglected ones.

You don’t just buy millions of dollars worth of helicopters and say ‘here you go’ and expect them to successfully operate an aviation unit the way the U.S. military does. These helicopters don’t fly themselves, maintain themselves, or fix themselves. An effective maintenance program is crucial for an operational aviation fleet. The Afghan troops do not have the training or capability to operate and maintain these helicopters.

Not only is the Afghan military unable to maintain these aircraft, they do not have the manpower to fly them. CBS News reported:

The wing was to have 806 personnel by mid-2015, but as of late January had just 180, according to the report. Filling out the wing’s ranks won’t be easy, the report said, due to challenges of finding Afghan recruits who are literate in their own language, competent in English and can pass the strict, 18- to 20-month U.S. vetting process that includes eliminating candidates who have ties to criminal or insurgent activities.

Another key shortcoming is the dearth of pilots capable of flying at night, when most counter terrorism missions are conducted. As of late January, only seven of the 47 pilots assigned to the wing were fully mission qualified to fly with night vision goggles, the report said.

These are issues that cannot and will not be fixed in the immediate future. It takes years to properly train pilots, mechanics, and instructors and provide them with the experiences needed to become efficient. Afghanistan just isn’t there yet. Even the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) found so many shortcomings to the program that it recommended that the purchase of these helicopters be put on hold until the Afghan military is capable of such a program.

But this isn’t a trial and error program to see if the Afghan military is able to sustain a fleet of M-17s (they have had Mi-17s for years).  It’s been tried. It failed. And now we are throwing $554 million in helicopters to them? This is backward logic. You don’t throw money or helicopters at a problem and expect it to fix itself.

The bottom line is the Pentagon continues spending irresponsibly with zero consequences for their wasteful spending habits. The U.S. is nearly $17 trillion in debt thanks to out of control and reckless spending. Stop wasting our money on ‘bridges to nowhere.’ We need common sense, spending reform, and accountability. Oh, and you might want to start listening to the recommendations of the SIGAR.

Additionally published at: http://www.concernedveteransforamerica.org/2013/08/01/no-relief-in-sight-for-wasteful-spending-at-the-pentagon/#sthash.yMA70MxU.dpuf

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