Unemployed military veterans in the Valley could be taking on a new mission under a program aimed at helping them find jobs in agriculture.
The program, called Ag Warriors, is patterned after similar efforts across the country that provide veterans training, guidance and other assistance necessary to employ them in some type of agriculture-related job.
Ag Warriors was launched recently out of the International Agri-Center in Tulare, home of the World Ag Expo.
And it's an effort that veteran advocates say is much needed.
The latest figures from the Department of Labor show that the national unemployment rate for veterans ages 18-44 was 13.9%, compared to 9.7% for nonveterans of the same age group.
"We realize that there are lots of vets who are having a difficult time securing a career, and we think ag is well-suited to provide them with an opportunity," said Liza Teixeira, spokeswoman for the Agri-Center.
Ag Warriors will get its official kickoff Feb. 15 during a gala event that features a keynote speech by former President George W. Bush.
Organizers hope Bush's appearance will give the program the momentum it needs to get off to a good start.
Teixeira said the program will work with California State University, Fresno; California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo; and College of the Sequoias in Visalia to provide veterans with the training they may need to work in agriculture.
While details of the program are still being worked on, Teixeira said the goal is to expose veterans to as many potential jobs in agriculture as possible.
"We are talking about ag sales or ag education, ag mechanics or engineering," she said. "There are so many possibilities."
Veteran advocates say veterans' military training and commitment to get a job done make them well-suited for jobs in agriculture.
"Vets like the sense of freedom that comes with being a farmer and being able to control their own destiny," said Chris Ritthaler, national veteran outreach coordinator for the Davis-based Farmer Veteran Coalition.
The coalition has helped about 300 veterans in 30 states through mentoring programs, grants and training. Veterans aided by the coalition have established everything from maple syrup operations to soybean farms.
Also helping veterans gain a foothold in farming are the founders of the Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training program in Escondido.
The program is a six-week course in organic farming, hydroponics and sustainable agriculture taught in conjunction with Mira Costa College in Oceanside.
About 50 veterans have gone through the program since 2007.
The program was started by Colin Archipley -- a combat veteran who served three tours in Iraq with the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines -- and his wife, Karen.
The Archipleys run Archi's Acres, a small-scale organic farm that sells basil, kale, lettuce and citrus to retailers and farmers' markets.
"We really saw a need for something like this, and we want to be able to provide a way for veterans to sustain their families and make a good living," said Karen Archipley, vice president and marketing director for Archi's Acres. "Vets want to be employed, and hopefully we can help them do that."