The American Legion's March 20 hiring fair in Washington, D.C., wasn't just an opportunity for job-seekers to meet face to face with potential employers. In the words of the Legion's Denise Rohan – chairman of the Legion's Veterans Employment and Education Commission – it was much more.
"This can be a life-changing day for you," Rohan told the dozens of veterans gathered to enter a conference room in the Washington Hilton that morning. "This can be a chance to start a new career and give you an economically sound future."
More than 60 employers – including the likes of Prudential, Citi, Visa, Home Depot, VA for Vets, Comcast, USAA and Starwood – had tables set up at the hiring fair. Approximately 400 veterans and active-duty military members attended the event.
"I always see the purpose of The American Legion as taking care of our military, of our veterans and their families," Rohan said. "One of the biggest stressors for military families and veterans is making sure their family is taken care of, and that requires a steady income.
"Lots of businesses only know about the military by what they see on TV and in the movies. They don't understand the skills and values they bring to the job. I think these hiring fairs helps bridge that gap a little bit."
RecruitMilitary co-sponsored the event with the Legion. John Lundberg, RecruitMilitary's director of events, urged job-seekers to not limit themselves when choosing which companies to approach.
"The skills you learned in the military make you a leader," Lundberg said. "A lot of the people here are looking for leaders. Think outside the box today."
Denise Montgomery, a human resources specialist for Home Depot, said her company looks specifically for the skills those with a military background possess. "There's a discipline and a dependability there that we want from our employees," she said. "And there's a sense of duty and commitment that we want, because we don't just want them to see this as a job. We want it to be a career for them.
"And the military is such a diverse culture. They come from all over and have been all over. That fits right in with what we want to have."
That's the kind of talk that Rohan likes to hear. "These men and women are a valuable asset to their country not only when they're serving, but when they come back," she said. "It's our job to make sure everyone knows that."
Army veteran Erwin Delgado, who came to the hiring fair seeking full-time employment, said events such as this one allow job-seekers to get inside information they may not get applying online.
"Some of the jobs you apply for are contingent upon a federal contract or funding, and if that funding or contract doesn't happen you're really spinning your wheels," he said. "That's the kind of information you can get here."
The American Legion had a table at the fair manned by Germantown, Md., Post 295 members Bob Ouellette and Kathie Linkenhoker to answer any questions about the organization. More than 50 new members were signed up during the day.
"We're just trying to promote the Legion and raise awareness," said Ouellette, Post 295's commander.
The Legion's Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Division also had staff on hand to answer questions about and file Department of Veterans Affairs benefits claims for veterans at the fair.