Opinion Columns & Blogs

Vets strengthen our community: Keep them here

Adaptable, resilient, committed and disciplined. These are just a few of the qualities that describe today’s veteran. They are also the same qualities employers want in their people.

Recently, Joint Base Lewis-McChord hosted its largest-ever job fair. Sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, the three-day event attracted approximately 3,000 transitioning service members; veterans and military family members; and more than 200 employers, educators and service organizations.

The Army is expected to scale down to 450,000 soldiers by the end of fiscal year 2017 and potentially as low as 420,000 if sequestration-level cuts go into effect in fiscal year 2016.

What does this mean for our community and the state of Washington?

We anticipate nearly 9,000 service members will transition from JBLM, per year, over the next few years, and 30 percent of those leaving the service will stay here in Washington. This is a considerable pool of talented young adults who employers and educational institutions should want to hire and recruit.

Already, leading companies such as Starbucks, Amazon, JPMorgan Chase & Co., State Farm and agencies across Washington have seen the value in our veterans, and as a result, have pledged to hire more, including military spouses, over the next few years.

This commitment sends a message, not just here in Washington but across the U.S. that industry values the work ethic and character of our veterans. The skills that our service members have learned over the course of their time in uniform are transferable into the civilian world. They possess unique abilities that bring value to any position they choose to take on, and companies recognize and appreciate the quality and professionalism they get when they hire a veteran.

I am often asked by members of this community, “What can we do to help our soldiers and veterans.” My response is always the same: “Hire them!” As a community and state, we have a golden opportunity to lead the nation by recognizing the value and worth of our veterans and placing them into quality jobs. Our veterans are not looking for a handout; they only want an opportunity to succeed.

The U.S. population of 17- to 24-year-olds is approximately 33 million, and about 23 percent, or 7.7 million, are qualified to serve in the military. This same age group also has the highest unemployment numbers; however, despite their obvious qualifications, the numbers for our young veterans is starkly higher than their civilian peers.

Approximately one month ago, on Oct. 7, America’s longest war turned 13. Never in our history has our nation been at war so long, and never has such a small share of its population shouldered such a monumental effort. More than 3 million men and women have raised their hands to serve since 9/11. This generation volunteered, leaving their homes, neighborhoods and communities for a cause greater than themselves. In serving their country, they did so without thought of recognition or gain.

The 9/11 veterans are an integral element of the fabric we call America. They come from small towns and big cities across this great land of ours. They weren’t born a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine. They are simply Americans who put the welfare of the nation before their own. The greatest casualty would be if we didn’t provide the opportunity for these young men and women who served our nation so well to continue serving in our community.

We cannot let these talented young adults leave the state of Washington. It’s time we help these heroes, and their families. It’s time we commit to making sure that the emerging image of this generation’s veteran is the one we want as American citizens.

Lt. Gen. Stephen R. Lanza is commander of I Corps at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.