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

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

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

The Pentagon is Spending Taxpayer Dollars on What?

The Department of Defense has continued to cry wolf about the possible results of sequestration. But before making serious claims about not being able to promote our soldiers, or move them to new locations, or attend military schools essential for career advancement, they should probably take a closer look at what the Pentagon is spending taxpayer dollars on.

In an attempt to persuade congress from letting sequestration happen again next year, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel recently sent a letter to Congress stating that the DOD would have to inflict “an extremely severe package of military personnel actions including halting all accessions, ending all permanent change of station moves, stopping discretionary bonuses and freezing promotions,” in addition to cutting weapons programs and other actions that will hinder military readiness and weaken national security.

Well, that just sounds terrible doesn’t it?

Before you panic, thinking our military has no money to conduct business, consider the following expenditures that are currently a priority to the Pentagon in the wake of sequestration.

The military recently spent $34 million on a construction project in Afghanistan. The money was spent building a headquarters for planning U.S. military operations. Unfortunately, the structure is unoccupied and will most likely never be used. It will either be demolished or handed over to the Afghans.

Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State received $3.5 million from the Department of Defense to purchase land around the base to protect gophers that inhabit the area. The DOD also gave Eglin Air Force Base in Florida $1.75 million to save a tortoise habitat.

Less known, but even more wasteful is the military’s acquisition process. The U.S. Army has been attempting to find a replacement for the current light attack/reconnaissance helicopter, the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior for over 3 decades. First came the Comanche helicopter program, but after 21 years and $6.9 billion the program was cancelled.

Next the Army developed the ARH-70 (Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter) program which was cancelled after 4 years and cost the taxpayers $3 billion. Most recently, the U.S. Army decided to put on hold their $6-8 billion Armed Aerial Scout helicopter program.

30 years and $10-15 billion of taxpayer dollars later, the U.S. Army only has an updated version of the original OH-58D helicopter they’ve sought to replace. The Kiowa Warrior (as aged as it is) was an essential aircraft through out the war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan and maintains the most successful mission capability and readiness rate of any other helicopter in the Army’s fleet.

What this comes down to is uncontrollable waste. The Pentagon’s spending priorities are disheveled in addition to their fiscal mismanagement and decision-making abilities. Spending millions on gophers and vacant buildings is a classic example of fraud, waste, and abuse of not only military assets, but taxpayer dollars as well. The Department of Defense even has a hotline people can call for waste like that. And wasting billions on mere attempts to improve military equipment shows a completely broken system that must be addressed.

When sequestration happens in fiscal year 2014, the Pentagon is facing $52 billion in defense cuts. While it is excessive for the Pentagon to have to make the majority of the cuts (in FY13 DOD received 50% of the cuts) it should look at this as wake up call to decades of irresponsible spending and an expanding bureaucracy whose priorities must be checked.

Secretary Hagel must reform the spending practices within the Department of Defense if he wants Congress to take his words of warning seriously. If the Pentagon had cut the waste and was spending appropriately previously, he would have a legitimate complaint. But making panic-stricken statements about the budget shows a lack of resolve with regard to the department’s spending problem. Basically, it is easier to keep receiving money than to address the real problem: out-of-control appropriations with zero accountability, and wasteful programs within the DOD.

Words of advice: before you go to Congress threatening all sorts of dramatic consequences for sequestration, eliminate the vast amount of waste within the DOD. Trim the fat, not the muscle.

Also published at The Daily Caller: http://dailycaller.com/2013/07/23/the-pentagon-is-spending-taxpayer-dollars-on-what/

Follow Amber on Twitter: @AmberBarno