FORT CAMPBELL– First Lady Michelle Obama announced Friday a new online tool to help military veterans connect with employers and said some of the nation's biggest companies are expanding the number of veterans they hire.
In a speech at a veterans jobs summit that was the kind of pep talk you'd expect for new college graduates, the first lady offered a twist -- the notion that soldiers who have seen combat in Iraq and Afghanistan can probably handle a job interview at Xerox or UPS.
"Today we need you to start thinking and talking about yourselves for a change," she said. "Don't be afraid to brag a little bit about yourselves."
Obama announced new private sector commitments to hire veterans, including 55,000 veterans and their spouses by Capital One Bank, a doubling of UPS' commitment from 25,000 to 50,000 jobs, and 10,000 new jobs for veterans at Xerox.
"Today, more than 100 companies have come here for one purpose -- to hire you," she said. "We've got your backs."
She urged veterans not to be shy about their experiences and what they can bring to the job.
"If you want a job, you can't be modest about your qualifications," Obama said. "Anyone out there would be lucky to have you on their team."
The new Veterans Employment Center, available at www.ebenefits.va.gov, will allow veterans to see the benefits they've accumulated during their service, post a resume and learn what kinds of jobs they might be able to do, based on their skills.
Roughly 700,000 to 800,000 military veterans are in the job market at any given time, said Rosye Cloud, senior adviser for veteran employment with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. That number includes about 240,000 people who have become veterans since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Nationwide, 172,000 post-9/11 veterans were unemployed in March, down from 207,000 the year previous, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That translates to a 6.9 percent jobless rate, compared with 9.2 percent a year ago. The overall national rate in March was 6.7 percent.
Cloud said the new web tool is the first of its kind from the federal government.
"As my husband said, you fought for us; you shouldn't have to fight for a job," the first lady said.
Obama also recalled some of the historic accomplishments of the 101st Airborne Division, based here at Fort Campbell, including its support role during the 1957 desegregation of Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., and World War II battles involving the storied "Band of Brothers."
"You all deserve nothing less than our best," she said. "You can do this. We need you out there. Go get the job!"
Earlier at the summit, Maj. Gen. James C. McConville said it is the Army's responsibility to make sure its veterans can move smoothly into civilian life with good jobs.
The commanding general of the 101st Airborne Division here at Fort Campbell said his father, also a veteran, was able to "send all his kids to college and live the American dream" thanks to the G.I. Bill and steady employment.
"And that's what we owe our veterans today," McConville said.
A veterans job summit was under way Apri. 23, 2014, at Fort Campbell, Ky. First Lady Michelle Obama was among the speakers.(Photo: Shelley Mays, The Tennessean)
Sgt. Clay Loymendy of Riverside, Calif., has been stationed at Fort Campbell for more than two years. He said he'll probably go to a technical school soon so he can start working in wind turbine production or as a cell tower technician.
Loymendy, 24, said he was pleased to hear that Obama will be "coming by and showing support for veterans and our transition."
Brig. Gen. David K. MacEwen, adjutant general of the Army, said employers should know that veterans are fit, drug-free and will show up to work on time.
"I guarantee you, they'll be the best employees you have," MacEwen said.
Period of change
Speakers at the forum Wednesday morning spoke of a period of major changes for soldiers, veterans, their families and the communities they live in.
Veterans sometimes have to change their mindset when they leave the battlefield for the job market, an Army general said today.
Soldiers are accustomed to talking in terms of "we" and what their team has accomplished, but they have to make a transition to "I" and individual achievements, MacEwen said at a jobs summit here.
Eric Eversole, executive director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation's Hiring Our Heroes program, said too many veterans don't know how to make a "30-second elevator pitch" about themselves and their skills.
"You have to be prepared," Eversole said, comparing a job search to a mission that requires a game plan and solid execution.
Eversole also said veterans need to put their military service front and center on their resumes. And Meg O'Grady, program manager with the U.S. Department of Defense Military Spouse Employment Partnership, encouraged veterans and spouses to pay attention to developing their "personal brand."
Medal of Honor recipient speaks
Others at the summit included U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Dakota Meyer. Meyer, a Medal of Honor recipient for bravery in saving members of his team in Afghanistan in 2009, said there was no good reason for young veterans of the post-9/11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to be unemployed.
Meyer received a standing ovation from the 101st Airborne Division.
Speaking from personal experience, he said there aren't a lot of jobs out there for former snipers.
Meyer, who is working with the Chamber of Commerce Foundation in its outreach to veterans, said the government's launch of its integrated jobs website will help bridge that gap, translating military skills to civilian terms.
He said less than 1 percent of this generation has carried the burden of America's longest war.
That means the civilian and military worlds have a difficult time understanding each other.
"It's something as small as in the military we call it a mission and in the corporate world they call it a project," he said.
Duane W. Gang and the Associated Press contributed to this report.