After a week on the road, James Little descends from his big rig looking every bit his 37 years.
The long-haul truck driver was tired but glad to be home Friday afternoon, even if it was only for the weekend. Two days before, his employer, Jones Light Loads, sent him to a neighboring state with a load of grocery or other retail goods. Little just completed his first week on the job -- and on the road.
Little, who lives in Twin Falls with his wife and two children, is grateful for the job and the Veterans Serving Veterans program that helped him land the gig.After 15 years with the military, including a stint with the Army in Iraq, and then returning to the war-torn country as an independent contractor, Little was ready for a change of pace and set out to find a new job after returning to Idaho.
He spent more than a year unemployed, his search taking him to the local Idaho Department of Labor Office.
Once there, Little was directed to department employees specializing in assisting veterans find employment.
"After spending 15 years being told what to do and how to do it, you really aren't prepared to do what it takes to find a job on your own," Little told the Times-News.
Little identified with Department of Labor veterans representative Johnny Moreno, who served in the military himself.
"He understands what veterans have gone through," Little said. "He just told me exactly what I needed to do, what it was going to take to get a job. When you leave the military, they tell you to register with your local labor department and continually search for jobs online, but Johnny went a step further."
Moreno knew Little's enhanced driver's license could open a door and suggested he watch for trucks pulling into the stop with employment advertising posted on them.
"A lot of companies will announce they are hiring and have a number to call right there on the truck. So that's what I did, I looked for trucks with that information and wrote it all down," Little said. "If I were just scanning the Internet, I still wouldn't have work. But I do have skills that businesses are looking for. I am a self-starter."
Also helping Little with his job search was Allison Converse, an AmeriCorps member who, through a grant, is working with the Idaho Department of Labor as a veterans liaison with the newly formed program, Veterans Helping Veterans.
The program liaisons assist former military members with work registration, job searches, resume preparation and more.
Converse, 62, is also a veteran. She had been looking for a job for months before applying for the newly created position.
Converse and Carl Owen, her Mini-Cassia labor office counterpart, started their jobs on Oct. 1. If they are successful in placing veterans on area payrolls, the grant will likely be refunded after this initial year.
"We're serving veterans that are just returning from tours in Iraq and Afghanistan to older veterans," Converse said.
She said many veterans don't know how to create a resume, lack interviewing skills and need more hands-on computer experience.
She said more than 1,000 veterans have registered on the Department of Labor's job search website over the past year and worries that many are still without work.
"When veterans come through the door, they are brought to me first," Converse said. "I help them with the basics. Over time, I'm going to be going out and visiting with area businesses about hiring veterans, building networks of support."Moreno, who has worked for the department for decades, said Veterans Helping Veterans dovetails perfectly with the services he's been offering for decades at the Department of Labor.
He said most south-central Idaho employers are supportive of hiring veterans. Others simply need to be educated, he said.
"There is a misconception, a stereotype, of what a veteran, especially a disabled veteran, is. Many veterans don't have visible wounds; they carry their wounds on the inside," Moreno said. "Once we educate employers about the skill set many veterans have and how they can accommodate any special needs they may have, most are very open and willing in bringing a veteran on."
Robert Higgins credits the Veterans Helping Veterans program with his getting hired at the C3 call center in Twin Falls.
Higgins, of Twin Falls, said he turned to the program after failing to find work on his own, although he hasn't been in uniform since 1987.
"It was a real team effort," Higgins said. "We're lucky to have them here."
Owen is hoping they are able to help enough veterans to keep the program funded through AmeriCorps.
"This is a very veteran friendly area and our employers and businesses are great to work with," Owen said. "But we still have many veterans that are struggling."
Once the now-deployed Idaho National Guard's 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team returns to Idaho later this year, Owen and Converse know their services will be needed more than ever.
"We have to be prepared when they get home. While some of them will have jobs waiting, others won't and we have to help them," Converse said. "That's why I'm here, to help other veterans, to give back."
That's the reason Little's boss, Glenn Odle, general manager for Jones Light Loads, encourages veterans to apply.
"Their being in Iraq is a lot more important than driving a truck here at home, but when they come back they still need a job," Odle said. "I've found that veterans are loyal, hard working and self-starting. If they see a problem, they'll fix it. They know how to get things done."