When an American soldier's tour of duty ends, it is America's duty to help them successfully move back into civilian life. A major part of that transition usually is the resumption, or beginning, of a civilian career. More than 112,000 service members, including active duty soldiers and members of the National Guard and Reserve, are from Georgia. These patriots have a lot to offer in the civilian work force.
Civilian careers are put on hold when National Guard or Reserve duty calls. Soldiers who joined the service right out of school often find when they seek first-time jobs that they have to learn how to write a resume and effectively translate military experience and skills to the civilian workplace.
The great news is that the qualities America's soldiers are known for - discipline, strong work ethic, leadership and technical skills - are in great demand by employers.
America's freedoms were won and protected by the more than 43 million Americans who have served in the armed forces. More than 168,000 are now fighting for freedom in Afghanistan and Iraq. Most are full-time enlistees, many having entered the service as teenagers. National Guard and Reserve forces on active-duty put their civilian careers on hold when they were called up.
The U.S. Department of Labor is intensively engaged in helping America's soldiers transition to civilian life and jobs. This administration has made it a top priority to increase and protect our soldiers' civilian re-employment rights.
As part of our Hire Vets First campaign, we have partnered with private entities and media organizations to conduct military and job fairs around the country to bring civilian employers together with veterans.
Last year, our first-ever National Veterans Employment Summit drew 200 companies and nearly 2,000 veterans. Through Transition Assistance Employment Workshops, the Department of Labor coordinates with the Department of Defense to help soldiers who are soon-to-be civilians, write effective resumes, hone job interview skills and link up with our 3,200 one-stop career centers across the nation.
America has a special obligation to assist soldiers who have been harmed in the line of duty. In 2004, I announced the first phase of REALifelines, a comprehensive initiative to provide veterans wounded in the war on terrorism, with individualized job training, counseling and employment services.
These efforts, together with the patriotism and good sense of American employers, are having an effect. Last year, the unemployment rate for veterans ages 20 to 24 - who frequently had little or no civilian job experience before going on active duty - fell significantly, to 10.4 percent from 15.6 percent in 2005. That was the largest decline in more than a decade.
The qualities that typify America's soldiers are at the top of the list of every successful employer. With that in mind, hiring veterans should be at the top of the agenda for every civilian job recruiter.
On Tuesday, Atlanta will host a job fair for transitioning military personnel and veterans at the Cobb Galleria Centre. For the latest information on this and other job fairs, soldiers and veterans interested in civilian jobs and employers looking for good men and women, should check out "upcoming events" at www.hirevetsfirst.gov.
Elaine Chao is the U.S. secretary of labor. Have any thoughts about this column? Share them with us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters should be no more than 200 words and are subject to approval by the publisher. Letters may be edited for style and space requirements. Please sign your name and provide an address and a daytime telephone number. Address letters for publication to: Letters to the Editor, Gwinnett Daily Post, P.O. Box 603, Lawrenceville, GA 30046-0603. The fax number is 770-339-8081.