Fresh directions -- Some find new careers as result of downturn

Staff Photo: Jonathan Phillips. Darian Horn has changed careers since retiring from the Navy and faced finding a job in a tough economy. Horn has opened up an antiques store with his wife in Buford.

Staff Photo: Jonathan Phillips. Darian Horn has changed careers since retiring from the Navy and faced finding a job in a tough economy. Horn has opened up an antiques store with his wife in Buford.

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Darian Horn retired from the U.S. Navy in April after a career in which he had served as an enlisted aide to former vice presidents Al Gore and Dick Cheney.

Having moved up through the Navy's ranks following his enlistment in 1988, Horn was retiring at the rank of chief after a combined 15 years of service at the White House and the vice president's residence, which began in 1993. Working for vice presidents Gore and Cheney, Horn was responsible for preparing meals, overseeing the daily operations of their residence, caring for their families, making travel arrangements and ensuring both men had the necessities they needed daily.

Following his retirement, the married father of four expected his experience would quickly net him a job. When that didn't happen, and no longer receiving the $2,500 housing allowance from the military, the Horns' Maryland home went into foreclosure.

"I used to tell my wife, 'Don't worry about the foreclosure,'" Horn said. "If there was ever a time in the U.S. history of people understanding you've gone through foreclosure, now is the time."

After Horn's wife secured a job in Atlanta, the family moved to Buford this past December and Horn's optimism about finding work was renewed.

"I thought the same would happen with me," he said. "I thought I would be able to use my security clearance and come to Atlanta and get a job really quickly."

After months of submitting resumes and attending job fairs, the 37-year-old hadn't received a single call.

"I could give you a list of jobs I have put in applications for and haven't received a call back since," he said. "I questioned often if I was man enough to take care of my family. You get comments like, 'Don't you wish you were working for Obama,' 'Don't you wish you hadn't left that job?' It was easy to feel like that."

Meanwhile, Horn's wife's pay, combined with his military retirement, was barely paying the family's bills.

"There's an assumption that when you get a retirement from the military that you're taken care of for the rest of your life," Horn said. "Your retirement is barely enough to get by. With four kids, we couldn't sit back and wait for someone to call me. We had to create something."

Using money they had set aside in savings, the Horns opened their own business, an antique store, Angela's Antiques and Boutique, in downtown Buford.

"It was extremely hard," Horn said of the decision. "It was just an idea to go into business for ourselves, but at that point, nothing else was happening. It was so inexpensive to purchase antiques, fix them up and sell them."

Still, the Horns' business isn't booming.

"People weren't as willing to buy as previous years, so the antique shop has been struggling ever since we opened it," Horn said, "which has also prompted me to consider another direction, another career."

While he plans to partner with the owner of an interior design store to continue his antique business part time, Horn hopes to secure a job in estate management. Horn would be performing similar duties to those he performed during his service at the vice president's residence for families with large estates.

"I think that once people find out that this guy has worked with the likes of a President Clinton and Mrs. Clinton and the Cheneys and I have 17 years of experience in everything you could possibly think of, from a traveling aide to taking care of a home, not to mention I still have a security clearance," Horn said, "they will be interested."

Until then, Horn hopes his own story will inspire other veterans facing similar situations upon retirement.

"I believe there are soldiers and sailors and airmen that are dealing with this and most of it is unknown," he said. "Most veterans don't want to tell their story. They don't want to tell that a 20-year career has gone by and in this economy, they don't really have anything to show for it."

Horn thinks the government can do more to assist veterans by working with businesses to set aside jobs for those transitioning out of military service.

"How easy would it be to establish some sort of set-aside program for veterans through relationships already existing with our government?" he said.

For now, "Just be encouraged not to give up," Horn said. "You've been trained to not give up."