DOVER -- Josh Denton, 30, a Portsmouth resident, served in Iraq from the summer of 2006 to the summer of 2007, in the six months prior to and six months after the troop surge. He refers to that time as "the bloodiest year."
As part of an 11-man advisory team to an 800-man Iraqi battalion, his peers assisted in aiding the foreign army and often times, fell under direct fire from insurgents.
Today, Denton waits tables and is studying for the LSAT so he can someday become an attorney. After organizing a job fair for veterans last month following Portsmouth's "End of the Iraq War" parade, though, he said he wished there could have been more employers seeking to hire veterans. There were a little more than half a dozen booths set up in the parking lot behind City Hall.
"I definitely think that having only 1 percent of the population serve in the past 10 years, and having no more draft and really no shared sacrifice, that it's not about people being hesitant to hire us. It's more about people being ambivalent," he said. "Where before there had been a draft and a lot more people served, there were more veterans in the workforce knowing what it's like with (employers) going out of their way. And that's one of the big, true reasons why veterans have some difficulty getting a job."
Mario St. Remy, 27, an Exeter native who now lives in Newmarket, said after returning from a U.S. Marine tour in Iraq in 2006 and with honorable discharge papers on the way for the fall, he is still working on figuring on what he will do with his future. He said when he returned from war in 2008, amid economic turmoil, his only option was to return to school -- a situation many young returning soldiers face, having not completed higher education before heading to war.
"Right now I'm working in Newmarket at a place that makes vinyl liners for above-ground pools," St. Remy said, which he described as a labor-intensive job. He said, however, he recently received his emergency medical services training license, and once he can get a car, he hopes to apply for a full-time position in that field.
"Trying to find a good job is a little difficult and I can see where employers have that stigma of a returning veteran -- maybe thinking they have PTSD or shell-shock or something," he said. "But I try to do the best I can and I know whatever I do, it is reflecting on the military."
Bryan Goettel works for the U.S. Chamber's "Hiring Our Heroes" program as director of communications and says employers can have a stigma against veterans, but veterans' experiences shouldn't be a deterrent.
"I think we are definitely seeing more of a willingness. We are seeing employers come out to job fairs," he said. "This isn't a public service or a charity by any means. Veterans can bring attributes to a business."
Hiring Our Heroes was put into place in March 2011 with a goal of hosting 100 job fairs for veterans and military spouses nationwide. Since then, the organization has far exceeded expectations, and now aims to host 400 fairs a year.
On Aug. 9, an event will be hosted in Rollinsford at the Martel-Roberge American Legion Post 47 for local veterans.
According to the U.S. Chamber's website, New Hampshire is among the states in the country with the fewest unemployed veterans -- 4,195 as compared to Maine's 5,038 and Massachusetts' 15,123.
Newly-released data by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the country is experiencing a lower rate of unemployment for veterans than the national average and according to ThinkProgress.com, this is the lowest unemployment rate seen in the last three years for veterans. The veterans' unemployment rate for July 2012 was 6.9 percent, compared to 8.6 percent in July 2011.
Goettel said more than 40 companies registered for the Rollinsford job fair event -- including large companies like Walmart and FedEx, and he thinks more businesses are noticing the benefit in employing returning veterans.
"They can follow orders, they have leadership skills. They have the ability to work in teams and can work under very stressful circumstances," he said. "And honestly, if you hire a veteran, you know you're going to get somebody who shows up on time."
One veteran and member of the National Guard at the Portsmouth job fair expressed that perhaps employers are hesitant to higher her because she requires certain days off for Guard events. Haley Schultz served as a combat medic in Iraq.
Denton remarked on Schultz's concerns, saying, "Shame on the employer that would not like to hire someone in the Guard or Reserve because they're in the Guard or Reserve."
Holly Shulman, a spokeswoman for the Obama for America campaign, said the administration is committed to putting Americans back to work, including veterans. In November 2011, Obama signed into the law the "Returning Heroes" tax credit, which gives businesses a credit of up to $5,600 per veteran. The "Wounded Warriors" tax credit also grants businesses that hire disabled veterans credit up to $9,600.
Denton said while he can understand the tax incentives are helpful for businesses, he is disappointed employers even need that to consider him or his peers for jobs. As a waiter seeking something better, he said he hopes there is more awareness in the years to come, as thousands of troops return home and find themselves without a job.
St. Remy said he was grateful tax incentives encourage employers to hire veterans but called it "a reflection on the country."
"People don't look at veterans the way that they used to and 99 percent of those people who sign up don't go into it for the glory," he said. "The signs of appreciation are always welcome, but it's not sought after. Though when it's lacking, you kind of notice and it's kind of troubling."