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In Depth: National Guardsmen Face Higher Unemployment Rate


LEXINGTON, Ky. – Across the U.S., the unemployment rate sits at 9.1 percent. In Kentucky, it's 9.6 percent.

But among Kentucky's National Guard members, the amount of people without a full-time civilian job is 15-20 percent, depending on how many units are on active duty deployment. Brenna Angel reports on why it's hard for citizen soldiers to find and keep a job, and what the military is doing to help.

More than 60 Kentucky National Guardsmen sat in a crowded conference room at a Lexington hotel recently, all of them either unemployed or under-employed. They're part of a three-day workshop sponsored by a Department of Defense organization called Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve.

"One out of four of my soldiers doesn't have a steady income."

That's Lt. Col. John Bates, Commander of 2/138th Field Artillery. He says high unemployment can lead to an unstable Guard unit. 45-year-old Henry Ethington is one of Bates' sergeants taking part in the workshop.

"Kind of depressing cause this if the first time I've never had a job."

Ethington returned from a year-long deployment to Afghanistan in February. The steel factory where he worked underwent layoffs while he was gone, and now that job is no longer an option. Sgt. Ethington was feeling good about a recent job interview, but hit a road block.

"When they found out I was still in the National Guard, they said they would call back. I'm not saying that's directly what caused it, but they've never returned any calls. The interview process stopped at that point," says Ethington.

Members of the Guard and Reserves typically train one weekend a month and two weeks a year. But with the ongoing war in Afghanistan, some employers don't want to hire and train someone who could have to deploy for several months. And as workshop facilitator Lisa McCammon points out, the current economic climate makes it difficult for anyone to find a job.

"The economy is bad right now, whether you're military or civilian. I've had reps tell people in the military that if you're in and if you can stay in for another year or two until the economy picks up, to do so. But those are their personal recommendations."

McCammon's advice is to go after a job you enjoy. Over the course of the workshop, she teaches the guardsmen about goal setting, creating resumes, and job interviews.

23-year-old PFC Steven Frost knows what kind of civilian job he'd like to have. He has an Associate's degree in computer networking. Frost graduated two years ago, and still hasn't been able to find a job. So far the private hasn't had to deploy overseas. He lives with his parents and finds work through a temp agency.

"It really fluctuates week to week. A lot of times I do get full time, but then there are some weeks where we're just not that busy."

The three-day workshop culminated in a job fair. Some of the employers included large government agencies like the Federal Bureau of Prisons and Kentucky State Police, along with trucking companies and the hiring firm for Toyota Motor Manufacturing.

21-year-old Specialist Cody Bruce didn't go home with a job right away. But he did leave the workshop with a lot more confidence about his guardsman qualities that could make him an attractive employee in the civilian workforce.

"Turns out we got punctuality, work ethic, working hard, able to be trained. Trainable is a big thing in this sector."

The workshop was a first for Kentucky's National Guard, and more service members are on a waiting list for future events. Organizers say they also hope to expand to other military branches in the future.

Lexington native Brenna Angel anchored local morning newscasts for WUKY through May 13. She joined the station in March 2010 after previously working for WHAS-AM in Louisville.
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