Gabriel Bowman left the Marines nearly two years ago with a plan. Hed hit the books hard in his home state of Washington, earn a degree and launch himself into a new career in law enforcement.
Now a student at the University of Washington Tacoma, the two-time Iraq veteran is lobbying lawmakers to help other veterans find their own footing in the civilian world. The downsizing of the military has given many of them a nudge.
A lot of guys who want to reenlist cant, he said. Theyre having a hard time finding work.
Bowmans message hits home with lawmakers who are pursuing a pack of bills to make it easier for veterans to find work in the Evergreen State.
The proposals include:
n Providing tax benefits for businesses that hire unemployed former service members.
n Giving extra preferences to veterans when they apply for jobs with public agencies.
n Waiving the waiting period for more troops to receive in-state tuition at public colleges.
The bills are moving forward at a pivotal time for service members looking to new careers. The Army in particular is downsizing, shedding more than 70,000 soldiers from its peak strength during the Iraq War.
Young veterans face an especially difficult time. Last year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 29.1 percent of veterans between the ages of 18 and 24 were unemployed, 12 points more than their civilian peers.
In the South Sound, between 400 and 600 soldiers are leaving the Army out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord every month, said Robin Baker, the bases transition services manager. The Army expects about 40 percent of them will settle in the region, at least for a time.
Rep. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, wants the Legislature to help service members get a softer landing if they leave the military from here.
It lets them know their career in the military did not go for naught, that theyre valuable citizens to the state of Washington, he said.
The efforts in the Legislature dovetail with other partnerships to boost opportunities for veterans, such as the Hire Americas Heroes job fairs in Seattle and the Boots to Shoes nonprofit that provides mentorship for former service members seeking work.
Retired Maj. Gen. James Collins, president of Hire Americas Heroes, advises service members to start early and seek help starting their new careers.
Its never as easy as you think, he said.
Both organizations offer programs to help veterans describe their military service in such a way that private employers can understand how their experience would benefit a company.
Youre stuck trying to figure out what you do, and if you cant enunciate that to a company, they dont have time to help you figure it out, said Army Reserve Col. William Andrew Leneweaver of Tacoma.
Leneweaver, 55, last week volunteered at a Hire Americas Heroes job fair in Seattle, connecting junior soldiers with recruiters. Hes looking for work in the private sector, too, and figuring out how to market himself as a project manager based on his varied experiences as an officer in the Washington National Guard.
The recent emphasis on life after the Army marks a change in tone from the height of the Iraq War, when the military handed out lucrative reenlistment bonuses and sought to keep soldiers in uniform.
For so many years of war, the whole mindset was keep everybody, Baker said.
She is working to bring more soldiers into transition programs as early as 18 months before they expect to leave the service. Participation in the classes accelerated dramatically after Congress passed the Veterans Opportunity to Work Act in late 2011. It requires service members leaving the military to attend classes about finding work in the private sector.
We spend almost a year training them up to learn their job and be an effective soldier. We owe the same time, training and preparation on the other end to transition them to civilian life, she said.
Bowman planned his shift out of the Marines by building on his previous studies at South Puget Sound Community College. He went home to Shelton in the summer of 2011 and earned an associates degree.
By then, the Marines were phasing out his job specialty maintaining a type of helicopter thats being retired. Future promotions would have been harder to earn.
He expects to graduate from UWT in June and is spending his winter quarter as a legislative liaison for the school. He chose to focus on the veterans bills because he thought hed have the most impact there.
He likes one in particular that would require public colleges to give service members a chance to finish a course and earn credit if called away for a deployment. That could empower soldiers to check off their educational goals without fear of losing tuition money in case of an emergency.
I know guys coming out of the military and I think its important that everyone has access to public education, he said.
Adam Ashton: 253-597-8646
Bills favorable to veterans:
Helping them in college
Sponsors: Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor; Rep. Sherry Appleton, D-Poulsbo
What it does: Waives the one-year waiting period to receive in-state tuition at public colleges and universities for service members who enlist in the Armed Forces as Washington residents and maintain that residency at other duty stations, and their spouses; students who separates from the military under honorable conditions, and their spouses.
What it does: Ensures that service members enrolled in college classes do not suffer negative academic consequences if called away for a deployment. The college could allow the student to withdraw, reimburse the students tuition, issue an incomplete until the student returns from duty or give the student credit for the class.
Sponsor: Rep. John McCoy, D-Tulalip
What it does: Requires public colleges and universities to adopt policies considering awarding credit for military training courses.
Helping them in the workplace
Sponsor: Rep. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, requested by Gov. Jay Inslee
What it does: Allows businesses owned by a veterans spouse or domestic partner to qualify as a veteran-owned business when competing for state contracts; encourages state agencies to award 5 percent of contracts to veteran-owned businesses, up from the current 3 percent.
Sponsor: Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, requested by Inslee
What it does: Provides a tax credit to businesses of up to $3,000 each time it hires an unemployed veteran of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan; provides a tax credit to businesses of up to $1,500 each time it hires an unemployed veteran of other conflicts. Total tax credits cannot exceed $10 million in any fiscal year.
Sponsors: Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood; Rep. Steve OBan, R-University Place
What it does: Enhances preferences veterans receive in applying for work with state agencies.
What it does: Calls on the state departments of Licensing and Health to clarify how they consider military training when awarding certificates applicable to civilian professions.