As War in Iraq Ends, Suits and Jobs Are What We Need, Not Yellow Ribbons and Unemployment Checks

We live in an era of yellow ribbon patriotism, with plenty of talk about helping those that protect us, but very little action. In rough economic water like these, no one's going to get a job handed to them, not even a vet.
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Inspired by Tuesday's Huffington Post Game Changers Awards and the success stories of some of my fellow Game Changers, I woke up Wednesday eager for progress in the veterans' employment movement. For once, I didn't have to wait very long.

"We ask our men and women in uniform to leave their careers, leave their families, and risk their lives to fight for our country," President Obama said in Virginia, speaking about the veterans' jobs initiatives that are a part of his proposed American Jobs Act. "The last thing they should have to do is fight for a job when they come home."

The President is right on the mark. We live in an era of yellow ribbon patriotism, with plenty of talk about helping those that protect us, but very little action. In rough economic water like these, no one's going to get a job handed to them, not even a vet. But it's always struck me as odd that the very people that can help a company bounce back -- new veterans are motivated, technologically savvy and independent -- are the ones most struggling to find work.

This is why IAVA started our Combat To Career Program. We launched it at the start of the year in Washington with our annual grassroots membership advocacy event, Storm The Hill. And now, months later, it's really starting to show its impact on the ground in communities nationwide. Earlier this month during Fleet Week, IAVA hosted our first Smart Job Fair in San Francisco. It's an innovative and high-touch approach to providing employment support to some folks who really deserve it. Over 150 Iraq and Afghanistan vets from all over the West Coast directly connected with companies committed to hiring them, and we provided them with the tools, resources and support they need to help them in their job search.

And forward-looking companies like jcpenney already understand what young vets can offer, and are setting a trend by committing to hire them, strengthening their ranks for decades to come.

But jcpenney decided that hiring vets isn't enough. Today, they unveiled a joint program with IAVA called 'Welcome Heroes', which provides over $1 million in free certificates for new veterans to purchase business attire and apparel at their local jcpenney or at IAVA members across the country can visit now to enter to win their certificate. Over six thousand service members and vets will be eligible for the $200 gift certificates. It's a great example of a private/nonprofit partnership that will make a difference. And it also happens to be pretty damn cool.

The 'Welcome Heroes' campaign features real IAVA Member Veterans--not models (although they look as good as the pros). These men and women represent all branches of the U.S. military, and are in various stages of their transition from combat to career. One of these young heroes is Tyler Tannahill, who deployed to Afghanistan with the Marine Corps to Iraq twice. He and his unit went on countless counter-IED patrols, raids for weapons caches, and diligently trained up the local Iraqi Police force. Tyler was responsible for hundreds of thousands dollars worth of equipment, not to mention the lives and safety of the Marines on his left and right. If you are hiring right now, he's the kind of guy you want on your team. When he graduates from Kansas State University in a couple years after using the New GI Bill, Tyler deserves a job worthy of his potential and capabilities.

It's up to the rest of us to ensure that's the case for Tyler, and hundreds of thousands of other men and women returning from war. Professional clothing is a great start for ending new vet unemployment. But it's only a start.

We also need government to play its part and make it easier for businesses to hire vets. With twenty-three days until Veterans Day, Senator Reid has the opportunity to bring the much-needed Hiring Heroes Act to the Senate floor for a vote. And all of Congress must work together to pass tax incentives for employing vets. These are ideas that should cross partisan lines--even in times like these.

If American business and government leaders follow jcpenney's lead, this era of yellow ribbon patriotism can give way to the era of practical patriotism. And practical patriotism means a rejuvenated (and well-dressed) America.

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