Hundreds of Oklahoma families are thrilled that many members of the Oklahoma National Guard's 45th Infantry Brigade are home from overseas, but many young soldiers are facing another battle here at home: the fight to find a job.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, the unemployment rate for those ages 24 and younger is 29.1 percent; that's 12 points higher than the average non-veteran unemployment rate for the same age group. The unemployment rate for members of the 45th is even higher: 36 percent of soldiers who just returned are unemployed or underemployed.
Tuesday, Oklahoma lawmakers passed a bill to help show recently-returned soldiers how to use their skills in the workforce.
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a non-profit advocacy group, says many recent combat veterans they've surveyed reported a stigma associated with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the hiring process. But the Oklahoma National Guard says companies on the home front are not worried about soldiers' mental health, and are answering the call to help veterans find jobs.
"I think Oklahoma's different than the rest of the nation when it comes to hiring soldiers. There's not a stigma with having PTSD," said Lt. Col. Max Moss, Oklahoma National Guard Public Affairs Officer. "There is no scarlet letter that attaches to our soldiers. What we know is our Oklahoma employers care for and want to hire our soldiers."
More than 3,000 soldiers with the 45th are back home from deployment and readjusting to life at home. More than 1,000 need work. Lt. Col. Warren Griffis, the Employment Coordination Program Director for the Oklahoma National Guard, is ready to help connect the soldiers with employers ready to hire our heroes.
"Some of this territory is pretty new. I think the difficult thing is finding out where they are," Lt. Col. Griffis said.
Lt. Col. Moss says employers are asking for hard-working soldiers, and he hopes soldiers will coordinate with the Oklahoma National Guard's new employment service to help them get back to work and readjust to civilian life.
Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait combat veterans with Oklahoma's National Guard and their families can link up with the latest employers wanting to hire soldiers at their next yellow ribbon meeting, or on Facebook.