Editor’s note: Overseas, they fight for freedom. In America, they fight for jobs. “Voters In America: Vets Wanted?” is the first part of a CNN In America documentary series on American voters. Narrated by J.R. Martinez. Re-airing May 19th at 8 p.m. ET on CNN.
By David Matthews, CNN
(CNN) – The Georgia National Guard’s 877th Engineering Company spent most of 2011 building bridges and clearing roads in Afghanistan. But when these soldiers returned home before Christmas, they came back to uncertainty: about half of the 877th Company was unemployed. Unlike active duty soldiers who come home to a base and a military paycheck, National Guard soldiers are expected to come back to their pre-deployment jobs. But for many National Guard soldiers, these jobs don’t exist.
From Georgia and Florida, to Ohio and Alabama, National Guard units are coming back with many of their soldiers facing unemployment. The former chief for Employment and Education Outreach for the Guard believes it is a problem the military is just now coming to grips with. National Guard soldiers report difficulty in finding work in a tough economic climate and believe that their service puts them at a disadvantage.
Our CNN In America documentary follows the soldiers of the 877th on their journey back to their civilian lives. After the soldiers’ reunions with their families, we chronicle their search for jobs and their reconnection with loved ones. We will be there with them as they attend job fairs and interviews, and examine the challenges facing our veterans coming home.
Specialist Thomas Gober just came back from volunteering to deploy for the third time in five years, because he couldn’t find a civilian job to support his wife and two young kids. Some National Guard soldiers are finding themselves in vicious cycles of voluntary deployments because they can’t find work. Sergeant Christopher Wiley has lost a previous job because of what he feels was his employer punishing him for being gone with the National Guard. Now back at home, this grandfather with management experience is delivering pizzas to pay the bills.
By telling the stories of the 877th, we will look at the issues confronting many veterans and their families. As we move further into the 2012 election cycle, unemployment is a top issue for both voters and politicians. Narrated by veteran J.R. Martinez and airing in May, “Vets Wanted?” will examine the issue of veteran unemployment by focusing on the challenges facing soldiers of the National Guard when they come home.