TERRE HAUTE -- It's been almost a year since Luke Faulkner returned from military service in Iraq. He's been unemployed since then, looking for a job without success.
But on Monday, Faulkner and more than 60 other veterans in the Wabash Valley took advantage of a career fair hosted by the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute as a way of welcoming America's veterans back to civilian life.
"I thought this was an outstanding chance to see what they are offering," Faulkner said during the career fair, after speaking to federal prison employees. "Just knowing that they are in support of us is important. You hear it, but to see it is great."
The career fair was focused on veterans for specific reasons.
"They know how to operate within an agency. They are professional, and they are in good shape," said Marvin S. Pitt, the prison complex's public information officer. "They have a lot of expertise and training, and that enhances our workforce as well."
The prison complex hosted the career fair with participation from Bureau of Prison facilities in Marion and Greenville, Ill., the National Cemetery Administration, Small Business Administration, the VA Medical Center in Indianapolis and area employment agencies.
The organizational mindset is one of the reasons Faulkner said he is considering employment with the Bureau of Prisons.
He recently concluded eight years of service in the Army National Guard, spending 12 months in Iraq. He was deployed late in the war, the 29-year-old Faulkner said, as the American military withdrawal from Iraq was in the works, so jobs that were available while he was overseas were filling up fast with other veterans.
"The last thing on your mind as a deployed soldier is a job back home," Faulkner said. He figures that about 70 percent of his fellow soldiers were unemployed when they came home, a lot of that because of the economy and company downsizing. A lot of companies could not hold jobs open for the deployed soldiers, he said.
Among those 70 percent that he knew of, at least 30 percent are still unemployed, he said.
"So when you have a facility such as the Bureau of Prisons, that's gonna have growth, it's a benefit, just knowing we are still appreciated," he said.
Another benefit, said veteran Jeff Baize of Terre Haute, is knowing his 13 years of active military duty could count toward federal retirement.
Baize, who just got back from Iraq serving in the Army National Guard, now works as a contractor for FedEx. The organizational structure of the Bureau of Prisons is attractive to a lot of people with military background, he said.
Correctional Officer Kenny Hill, who spoke to Baize during the career fair, said that veterans can bring a lot of skills and professionalism to the prison system, which regularly has job openings through retirements and transfers.
When on a job hunt, one hold-up for many veterans can be educational degrees.
Valerie Byrd, enrollment representative with Indiana Wesleyan University, spoke to several veterans about adult learning programs that allow a student to hold a job while getting a degree at the same time.
"One of the first things they [veteran] ask, if they've been job searching, is if a degree is required," Byrd said. "A lot of them run into that."
Many job applicants who have college degrees have their applications placed on the top of the stack, Byrd said, and that is why many veterans are seeking degrees.
Cindy Tryon of Clinton served six years in the U.S. Navy before leaving the military in 1996. She has since been employed in the banking industry, but at the suggestion of her husband, she attended the career fair to see what opportunities were available to her as a veteran.
Tryon stopped at the VA Medical Center table, where nurse Lydia King explained that the Veterans Administration has a mandate to hire 40 percent veterans.
Many of those coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan as medics are well suited to be nursing assistants and health technicians at VA hospitals. Education and training programs are also available to pay for schooling and salaries of employees while they get advanced degrees.
"We encourage people to go back to school to get advanced degrees, even LPNs (licensed practical nurses) moving up to RNs (registered nurses)," King said.
The prisons' training center also offered a room with several computer stations set up for job seekers to apply online at the career fair.