Veteran who works at Lakewood Walmart is face of TV ad campaign

Walmart is promoting efforts to hire at least 100,000 former military personnel over 5 years

Staff writerMay 25, 2014 

If you watch TV, chances are you’ve already met Steve Smith.

He’s a captain in the Army Reserve, a veteran of Afghanistan, and these days — after 15 frustrating months looking for work — he is a developmental shift manager at the Lakewood Walmart.

He likes the job. His boss has nothing but good things to say. So life is good.

That wasn’t always the case.

An Olympia resident since 1993, Smith, 43, spent 15 years on active duty. His 25 years in the service have included posts with the Military Police and Logistics. About to be married for the second time, he counts a teenage daughter and son.

Since late November, he’s been at Walmart.

He began his job search more than a year before.

“I got a lot of hoopla from a lot of companies,” he said. “They were saying they wanted veterans, then when it came to hiring, they said they hired from inside. “

He applied at Amazon, Starbucks and several other companies.

“It was very frustrating,” he said last week. “It was rough. … I wasn’t working. I got a lot of lip service. I was getting disenfranchised. They didn’t live up to their obligation. I understand what a lot of guys went through.”

The worst, he says, was the state of Washington. “They say, ‘We want vets. We want you.’ It’s garbage. I was angry with the state.”

Smith had not thought to try Walmart — until he met a friend of a friend.

“I bumped into him at a Seahawks game. He said, ‘Call me on Monday.’ I’d heard that a lot, but I knew he’d follow up,” Smith said.

So on Monday, he called. He offered a résumé. In less than two weeks, he had a job.

“I think there’s a talent pool out there, and that’s how we’ll prosper 20 years from now,” said Smith’s supervisor, store manager Jerry Kadolph.

Kadolph also is a veteran, having served 20 years with the Air Force.

“They have the leadership skills and the training,” Kadolph said. “It works really well.”

He noted the “common core” of similarities between the sustaining ethics of the military, “integrity, service before self and excellence in all you do,” and Walmart, with “respect for the individual, service to the customer and excellence.”

“When you take somebody from the military, you have proven talent,” he said. “When Steve came in, I knew we understood each other. Every day is a battle. He understands that.”

According to a Walmart spokeswoman, the company has hired some 42,000 veterans nationwide as part of its “Veterans Welcome Home Commitment” launched last Memorial Day.

That commitment guarantees a job offer to any honorably discharged veteran within his or her first 12 months off active duty. The company expects to hire at least 100,000 veterans in five years.

And now, Smith is a very public part of that effort.

It began last March with an interview with a producer of commercials Walmart planned to showcase its veteran employment outreach. Other interviews followed.

And the commercials began airing last week.

How has Smith reacted to the attention?

“It’s not my focus,” he said. Any success will come “if a vet watches it, and says, ‘Let me check this out.’”

Smith also works with veteran outreach at Goodwill, mentoring job-seekers, and with the Army Career and Alumni Program, attending job fairs.

The message from the commercial in which he stars, he said, “is ‘Give Walmart a look. We’re looking for you.’”

There’s Smith driving past the Murray Morgan Bridge. There’s Smith addressing employees. There’s a brief shot of his uniform, unworn.

If the commercials help veterans find employment, well, that’s the goal. But Smith has no desire for fame or celebrity.

“Mr. Smith is not going to Hollywood,” he said.

C.R. Roberts: 253-597-8535

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