LESTER HOLT: Tonight we're proud to announce our NBC News network-wide initiative in partnership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to help more than a million unemployed veterans get back into the workforce. Tonight we're focusing on unemployed women veterans and the mentors helping them realize their full potential.
NBC's Rehema Ellis joins me now to begin our series, "Hiring Our Heroes." Rehema.
REHEMA ELLIS: Good evening, Lester. Women now account for more than 7 percent or 1.8 million of the nation's veterans. And according to the Department of Veteran Affairs, more than 135,000 are unemployed and there's a growing demand for programs to help women vets work their way into the civilian labor force.
Thirty-five-year-old Dawn Smith is used to action. As a single mom of four and an Air Force veteran, she spent eight years as a logistics specialist moving people and equipment in and out of Iraq and Afghanistan, but that experience didn't help when she returned to North Carolina.
DAWN SMITH [Veteran]: I have two masters' degrees and unable to find a job that actually fits my qualifications.
ELLIS: She found work as a secretary, making just over $30,000 a year, but she wanted work in her field, accounting. For help, she turned to the Business and Professional Women's Foundation. Sandy Smith, a career counselor, is Dawn's mentor as she adjusts to civilian life.
DAWN SMITH: One thing that they talk about in the Air Force is transition, but they don't give you the tools necessary to transition to the civilian sector.
ELLIS: Sandy gives Dawn those tools: how to write a resume, interview skills and negotiating a salary.
SANDRA SMITH [Career Counselor, Business and Professional Women's Foundation]: Sometimes I'm a coach. Sometimes I'm an advocate. Sometimes I'm just helping them explore options and possibilities.
ELLIS: Carolyn Allen found out Sandy does even more. The 40-year-old mother who served 20 years in the Army landed a job on her own in Kentucky, but turned to Sandy for something else.
CAROLYN ALLEN [Veteran]: I don't want to just know how to get a job. I want to know how to keep a job.
ELLIS: In the civilian workplace, she says, the strict regulations of the military world no longer apply.
ALLEN: They tell you how to dress. And that's the way you would dress. You have no choice. But to know that you have choices in the way you present yourself and your appearance in the civilian world -- as simple as it sounds, I was not prepared for that.
ELLIS: Now it's Sandy's mission, getting Carolyn, Dawn and others prepared.
DAWN SMITH: She told me that she would be there until I find the job that I need and she's proving it every day.
ELLIS: You believe her.
DAWN SMITH: Yes. I definitely believe her.
ELLIS: In programs like the Business and Professional Women's Foundation have helped tremendously in lowering the unemployment rate among female veterans. But the need will continue as the war in Afghanistan winds down, Lester.
HOLT: All right. Rehema, thank you.
Dateline NBC, March 25, 7:00 PM
LESTER HOLT: Now, as NBC News kicks off this week's Hiring Our Heroes campaign, a story about how you could help change the lives of American veterans. We have followed the veteran at the center of our next story from Baghdad to his battle to find a job back home. Last summer an Illinois couple watched one of our reports and decided to take a chance. It's a journey that began for us 10 years ago with a young soldier going off to war. Here's Tom Brokaw.
TOM BROKAW reporting: When I first met Charles Weaver at his base in Fort Stewart, Georgia, in 2002, he was a fresh faced 31-year-old Army staff sergeant. His 3rd Infantry Mortar platoon was preparing to deploy to Iraq.
CHARLES WEAVER: Nobody wants to go to war, nobody. But if you have to do it, you do whatever you have to do.
BROKAW: Weaver would have to leave behind his wife, Dawn, and their two young kids on what would be his first combat mission.
WEAVER: We were just talking about how I got to go update my will and stuff like that just in case.
DAWN WEAVER: You hope for the best, but you have to prepare for the worst.
As the US attacked Saddam Hussein's regime with massive force, Weaver and his men fought their way into Baghdad and had to be sharper than ever.
BROKAW: When it came time to pull the trigger, no hesitation?
WEAVER: No hesitation. Pulled the trigger. You just have to make that on the spot call to do it.
BROKAW: Weaver survived the war and came home. However, nine years later, when I caught up with him last summer in Sparta, Wisconsin, he was a changed man. He had overcome thyroid cancer, but was fighting an injured back and symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder. His experiences of combat seared into his mind.
BROKAW: Did you lose some friends?
WEAVER: Yeah, I did. So--but...
BROKAW: Weaver retired from the military, then found himself caught in the great recession without a job, when the unemployment rate of post 9/11 war veterans was more than 13 percent, about 30 percent higher than the national rate. Charles' military pension and Dawn's special education teaching job barely kept the Weavers above water while potential employers gave Weaver scant consideration, he says, fearing combat veterans were too much of a risk.
BROKAW: Do you think the country owes you something now?
WEAVER: The only thing I think that is owed to me is at least the opportunity to go to work for somebody and prove to them that somebody coming from the military has a lot to offer.
BROKAW: Do you ever get angry about that, that he can't find a job after having served in uniform?
DAWN WEAVER: I find it disappointing. But I don't like to lose hope. And I know that eventually something will come up.
MIKE COSTIGAN: We saw him on TV and thought what a travesty that the poor guy couldn't get a job.
BROKAW: Last August, Mike and Susan Costigan in Crystal Lake, Illinois, watched as Weaver told his story on DATELINE.
SUSAN COSTIGAN: He really touched us. And we just--we couldn't get over that someone is entrusted with people's lives and millions of dollars of equipment, but when they get home, nobody has any time to hire them. It just blew us away.
BROKAW: Had you been thinking about what the rest of us owe veterans before you saw Sergeant Weaver on television?
MIKE COSTIGAN: Sue and I talked a lot about it. It was really our time to pay something back.
BROKAW: Two days later, they drove four hours to Sparta to meet Weaver and his family.
MIKE COSTIGAN: We told them we saw him and said we would like to hire you. And he asked us `How much is this going to cost me, sir?' And I said, `Son, you've paid more than enough.'
BROKAW: The Costigans are media entrepreneurs and own online businesses including Kelly Car Buyer, a venture that recycles used cars for scrap or resale. They took Charles on as a salesman.
WEAVER: We'd like to make an offer on your vehicle.
BROKAW: Today Weaver works from home buying and selling cars mainly in the Midwest.
WEAVER: Of course we would come pick it up free of charge.
BROKAW: And he seems to be a different person than the man I met last summer.
BROKAW: When I saw you, you didn't have a job and you didn't know where you were going to get one.
WEAVER: It was very tough for us, for both Dawn and my kids. And of course I got the opportunity to work for the company I'm working for now and it's a--it has drastically changed our livelihood as well as the emotions and the feelings everybody has in the family.
BROKAW: Trading 10 cars a day earns Charles about a thousand dollars a week, and he says he takes pride in his work and himself now that he can provide for his family.
BROKAW: What is it in your military background that helps you do this job?
WEAVER: Anybody who's in the military has the ability to adapt and overcome and to be able to integrate themselves into a team. It's not about yourself. It's about everybody else around you.
BROKAW: You're probably dealing with people who find themselves having to sell their car because in this economy, they need the cash.
WEAVER: Oh, most definitely. I mean, and we always tell them, we want to get them the most we can get them for the vehicle, that we can do it. We can't buy it, we hope you actually do get to sell it to somebody that can pay you more.
BROKAW: That might not be the best hard-edged sales technique, but it works for Weaver's boss.
MIKE COSTIGAN: We were the ones that got lucky because he was such a heck of an asset. He has none of the innate skills of sales, but he cares. I mean, he has a lot of people call him back and say, `You didn't offer me the most for the car, but I'm going to sell it to you.'
BROKAW: In fact, Charles was working out so well after just a few weeks on the job that the Costigans hired two more veterans. In August they took on former Marine Mike Morales. He now runs the company's social networking sites.
MIKE MORALES: I was unemployed for the last several years.
And I'm just fortunate and lucky enough to find this job and I love what I do.
BROKAW: And then in October they hired John Kendall, who once worked on the engines of warships. He now fixes up cars for resale.
JOHN KENDALL: Working for the Costigans is like working for your mom and dad. They treat you very heart warming, everything's very respectful, and they care about you. They care about your well being.
BROKAW: The Costigans' three veterans now make up a quarter of their workers.
MIKE COSTIGAN: They embrace the task and they get it done. We've been amazed.
BROKAW: Charles is very lucky because he had you watching him and you had a job for him. But we need to have a national effort, don't we?
MIKE COSTIGAN: There has to be a way for us to organize some sort of effort on a national basis to just identify these people. Training is very expensive. And these veterans come back with such training that we don't have to do. The hardest things to teach them, they already have.
SUSAN COSTIGAN: I think that you need to take a chance. Hire a vet.
HOLT: On Wednesday, tune in to the "Today" show for a Hiring Our Heroes job fair that will be broadcast live from the USS Intrepid. You'll see more of the Hiring Our Heroes initiative all week on... (Voiceover) NBC News, MSNBC, CNBC and Telemundo. You can also visit our website at datelinenbc.com.
Today (NBC), March 26, 8:35 AM
ANN CURRY: Back now at 8:35 with a special initiative across the platforms of NBC News called HIRING OUR HEROES. We have partnered with the US Chamber of Commerce to help unemployed veterans get back into the workforce. On Wednesday, job fairs will be held at Fort Hood in Chicago, New York City and online. And NBC's Tom Brokaw is here with more on this story.
Hey, Tom, good morning.
TOM BROKAW: Ann, it's a big problem in this country. Last year the veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had a jobless rate that was almost 30 percent higher than the national average. And over the next five years another one million men and women will leave the active duty ranks, come home to a civil society. How they fit into our struggling economy depends a great deal on how their skill set is understood by American business.
MIKE WRIGHT: Good morning again, everybody.
BROKAW: When Mike Wright came out of the nuclear submarine Navy in '92, he joined the National Guard, and then got called up to Iraq and Afghanistan.
WRIGHT: Got quarterly 27 bravo.
BROKAW: He's back on the job now as a maintenance coordinator at the Indian Point nuclear power plant.
You were probably way thought of as the old man by the young troops that were under you.
WRIGHT: I was. I was. The National Guard tends to be a little older, but I was still one of the--of the older guys.
BROKAW: Are you a better man for having served?
WRIGHT: I believe I am. I think I'm a better employee and I think I'm a better leader.
BROKAW: There is a tradition of American business drawing its leadership from the military ranks. In the aftermath of World War II, the tidal wave of returning veterans threatened to swamp a recovering American economy, but their military experience created a wealth of team players, innovative thinkers, bold leaders. One studied at length by Harvard Business School historian Nancy Koehn.
NANCY KOEHN: It's pretty clear that those 16 million, again, mostly men coming back turned out to be a huge boon for the American economy and American society.
BROKAW: Over time, they proved to be the driving force behind an unprecedented march to prosperity.
WRIGHT: We've got a high pressure turbine and then this is our generator.
BROKAW: When you were in Iraq and Afghanistan, slightly different environment.
BROKAW: When you were overseas, because of the company that you worked for, did you have concerns about your job security when you came home?
WRIGHT: Not at all.
BROKAW: Entergy, Wright's employer, supported his deployments. Veteran hiring is a priority for the company, not out of sympathy but as an investment in the bottom line.
GARY TAYLOR (Group President, Entergy): There's a real need to bring this talent in, bring the skills. I mean, the military really invests in the servicemen and servicewomen. That's a real competitive advantage to really tap into.
KOEHN: It's not like we can download the software for commitment and a sense of one's own role and importance in service to a larger end. You can't just buy that, and you can't import it in a weeklong training session.
BROKAW: Although the military emphasizes teamwork and goal achievement, both critical skills in the business world, veterans face an uphill battle on the job market. One million are unemployed. Thirty percent under the age of 24 are jobless.
Generally, what did you think of the young people who were serving under you?
WRIGHT: They're amazing. They're amazing. They are willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish the mission. They're mission focused. They believe in what they're doing. They're just very willing to learn.
BROKAW: What is it that they have to do that's different when they come back to a civilian society and want to get a job?
WRIGHT: We need to better communicate to corporate America how that translates because it's not a college degree. It's not a bachelor of science. You wrote a book called "The Greatest Generation" and I think what we have right now is the next greatest generation. I think the leaders of tomorrow are being forged and have been forged, you know, in that crucible of Iraq and Afghanistan.
BROKAW: And Mike Wright and Entergy, that's how it's supposed to work. But we have an all-volunteer service and it is critical that our veterans have the same kind of positive experience in the military as in the working world that Mike Wright has been able to have. I think it's also worth noting that Mr. Wright had two children of age, and based partly on their father's experience, they've both decided to join the military, to make that part of their lives. Ann:
CURRY: All right. And we also thank you, Tom. That was an excellent report.
And we now want to bring in four-star General Stanley McChrystal, a former commander of US and international forces in Afghanistan and joint special operations command.
Welcome, as well. I know you've told me I could call you Stan, although it feels uncomfortable. But, Stan, let me...
RETIRED ARMY GEN. STANLEY McCHRYSTAL: Please do.
CURRY: Let me start with you and ask you...
BROKAW: Call me "General" but call him Stanley.
CURRY: May I?
You know, where is the disconnect? We have the most highly trained, the most experienced fighting force in the history of this country and the world. Why do we have a 30 percent unemployment rate for veterans under the age of 24?
McCHRYSTAL: I think we need to understand where soldiers come from because I think it's difficult sometimes to appreciate what they bring. The average young person will have been in high school and they're thinking about joining the military, particularly during war time, sometimes out of college. That's their focus. They're not focused on what other job, they're not focused on preparing a resume. In the military, we stress team.
We stress learning your individual skill but pulling that together as part of a larger team. And what that does is, it's subordinates the idea that, `I am special as an individual.' And so when a person moves on to--back into society, they sometimes lack the connections, networking that they might have developed over that time. But also, they haven't thought about writing resumes. They haven't thought about telling someone how being a cannoneer or an infantryman translates into being a great leader.
CURRY: But we were in the same boat after World War II, Tom, as you well know, that many of the millions who came home after World War II had not even graduated from high school. So how was it that this country enabled them? What did we do that allowed them to become the greatest generation?
BROKAW: Well, in part, it was because everybody was involved in World War II. We have a society in which 99.5 percent can put these wars entirely out of their minds. In World War II, everybody participated. There was a meat rationing going on, people were growing more food, everybody was working in the wartime industry. And when they came home from World War II, everything needed to be done. We needed to build houses and build highways and build big dams and build new industries, so there was a job for everyone. It was a different time.
These young people are coming back during the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression, obviously. And also the skill set now is much, much different. In those days you could go to work in a factory line and if you could stand there and put parts on a car that would be fine. Now a lot of these factory lines are computerized, there's a kind of different skill set that is required, and we all have to be conscious of that. We have no greater obligation, I think, as a society than to knit ourselves back together at the end of these two very difficult wars.
CURRY: And one of the things that might be a travesty is if this ability, at least the "can-do mission" oriented, "get it done" kind of attitude that people in the military have, that these veterans coming back after these wars, also many of them at a very young age have had command experience. It just seems that it might be a travesty if that energy was not used to help fuel this economy that really needs it, Stan.
McCHRYSTAL: I think it would be an enormous opportunity missed because we've got not just technical skills but this wealth of very rich leadership experience, real dealing with the stresses and strains, and making themselves stronger in that--through that turmoil.
CURRY: And one of the bigger issues, in addition, is that there is a national security question. If these guys don't find jobs, what will encourage young men and women to go into the military?
McCHRYSTAL: There's a great, great quote from General George Washington, who said that, `If we don't take care of the current generation of veterans, we won't have future veterans when we need them.'
CURRY: All right. General Stanley McChrystal and Mr...
BROKAW: And General Tom Brokaw. Right.
CURRY: ...Tom Brokaw. Thank you both.
McCHRYSTAL: Thank you.
CURRY: Very important perspective.
McCHRYSTAL: I appreciate it.
CURRY: And again, we've partnered with the US Chamber of Commerce for a series of jobs fairs this Wednesday. We'll be live from one of them aboard the USS Intrepid here in New York City. To find out how you can attend, go to today.com/veterans.
Today (NBC), March 27, 8:45 AM
ANN CURRY: Back now at 8:45 with HIRING OUR HEROES TODAY, our initiative to help military veterans find work when they leave active duty. The Pentagon estimates 300,000 service men and women will retire this year alone. And as NBC's Kerry Sanders explains, many of those about to hit the job market say the one thing they want is to work for a company they can believe in.
KERRY SANDERS reporting: Fifty-eight paratroopers climb on board a US Air Force C-130. This night, at 800 feet, Army Captain Heatherann Bozeman is a jumpmaster...
ARMY CAPT. HEATHERANN BOZEMAN: (Unintelligible)...go!
SANDERS: ...responsible for each soldier's safety. Life-and-death situations have been an everyday assignment since she joined the military at 19. With nine overseas deployments, including three tours and war tour in Iraq, Heatherann is retiring.
I know that you bleed red, white and blue, so after 20 years, why retire?
BOZEMAN: Mainly because I'm a mom. That's the main reason. I don't want to deploy and leave my daughter. I really don't want to--I don't want to be a country away from Noelle, ever.
NOELLE [Bozeman's daughter]: My boot.
BOZEMAN: That's not your boot.
SANDERS: This 42-year-old single mother, who adopted her daughter, Noelle, from Russia, is now about to begin a new life as a civilian.
BOZEMAN: Absolutely. I mean, thank you for the kind word. I'm scared. It's a fearful time in America. I see it on the news all the time. Job rates, job rates, job rates.
SANDERS: But defining what a member of the military has done and how it fits into the private sector can be a challenge.
How do you translate your abilities to fieldstrip weapons in Iraq to the civilian world?
BOZEMAN: I'm trainable. I'm--I can adapt and overcome. It's kind of cliche in the military, but it truly is what we bring to the table.
MARINE CORPS COL. ROYAL MORTENSON: Take your seats, please.
SANDERS: Fifty-five-year-old Marine Corps Colonel Royal Mortenson is also set to retire after living that can-do spirit for three decades.
MORTENSON: (From file footage) There's going to be enemy, there's going to be friendlies.
SANDERS: I was embedded with his battalion in those early days of the Iraq War.
MORTENSON: (From file footage) What are you thinking about right now?
U.S. SERVICEMEMBER: (From file footage) Just ready to go north, sir.
SANDERS: I know what you can do on the battlefield and I saw no fear at all. Is there any sense of trepidation leaving the military and going into the private sector?
MORTENSON: I'd be lying to you if I said that I--that there wasn't some.
(To group) Conflicts of the 21st century...
SANDERS: Even from a senior level officer, who today is the director of the Marine Command and Staff College in Quantico, Virginia, the private sector means uncertainty.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Did you get any other leads?
MORTENSON: Not really. I think it might be a little bit too early, you know?
SANDERS: Another challenge transitioning service members face, selling themselves.
MORTENSON: We've gone through our lives as Marines or as service members. You get orders, you go here, you go there. You do your job and you try to do it with the best of your ability.
SANDERS: In Afghanistan, Army Staff Sergeant Gregory Melz is on his fourth and last tour.
ARMY STAFF SGT. GREGORY MELZ: The multiple spikes...
SANDERS: An expert in high-tech communications, his exit after 20 years is a compounding trend.
MELZ: We're a little bit older. You know, some corporations might be looking for that young man or woman, so I think we might be a little bit of a disadvantage.
SANDERS: But no one we spoke to believes America now needs to pay them their due.
Does the private sector now owe you something coming out, like a job?
BOZEMAN: No. That just kind of really hit my heart. I want to do it because it's fair, because it's good, because it's the right reason, not cause there's any other, you know, pity or obligation. I don't want that. I don't think any veteran wants that.
SANDERS: An emotional time for those retiring...
OFFSCREEN VOICE: (Unintelligible)
SANDERS: ...who now take on a different battle: trying to find a job. For TODAY, Kerry Sanders, NBC News, Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
CURRY: And we here at the TODAY show will be holding job fairs across the country tomorrow in partnership with the US Chamber of Commerce, including one aboard the USS Intrepid here in New York City. If you are a veteran or an employer who would like to get involved, please go to today.com/veterans.
NBC Nightly News, March 27, 6:30 PM
BRIAN WILLIAMS: And that brings us to our final report tonight, help for U.S. military veterans. When you think about it, their job while in uniform is to get the job done. Now ask yourself if you?re an employer, don?t you want someone like that on your payroll?
That?s the gist of our company-wide campaign called Hiring Our Heroes, a joint commitment by NBC Universal and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which in the past year has held more than 100 job fairs for vets and their spouses, thousands of people have been hired.
NBC?s Chris Jansing has the story of two of those vets who got the help they needed.
CHRIS JANSING: After five deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, Marine Sergeant Edzavier Reese wasn?t expecting a struggle like this: 18 months of bouncing from one temporary job to another.
EDZAVIER REESE [Veteran]: I had stored up all my money, said I got to prepare for the fact that I may not get a job when I get home.
JANSING: Frustrated, he packed his 2005 Mazda and drove 40 hours straight from California through Phoenix and Albuquerque, Memphis to Birmingham and finally Atlanta, where he heard about a job fair at the Georgia Dome and off he went without sleep.
REESE: I?ve got to work. You know, a man who don?t work, don?t eat.
JANSING: Sergeant Reese?s struggle is devastating common. The unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans is 12 percent; 29 percent for vets under 25. That harsh reality was not the welcome home Joshua Rafe (ph) hoped for after a tour in Iraq working convoy security.
JOSHUA RAFE [Veteran]: Applying for all these jobs but getting nowhere is very difficult.
JANSING: Experts say military experience and skills easily translate to jobs in the private sector.
LISA ROSSER [The Value of a Veteran]: About 81 percent of the jobs we have in the military have a direct or very close civilian equivalent.
JANSING: That?s the message at Hiring Our Heroes job fairs around the country. In Portland, Oregon, the Red Cross interviewed Rafe and hired him as a lab technician. Five thousand employers have hired 8,400 veterans including Sergeant Reese, who got a management job with GameStop.
REESE: Yes. I was pretty excited on the inside. But, like I said, you?ve got to maintain your cool if you have to, if you have to.
JANSING: Mark Qualls hired Reese because of his military experience.
MARK QUALLS [Veteran Employer]: So much to offer from leadership ability to great communication. Typically they?ve got exceptional work ethic, reliability, accountability.
JANSING: For Sergeant Reese, real life battles fought and won from Fallujah to Atlanta, successes at war and now at home.
Chris Jansing, NBC News, Atlanta.
WILLIAMS: Now, this movement, Hiring Our Heroes, is expanding to sponsor 400 job fairs in the next year. Starting tomorrow morning, in New York, aboard the aircraft carrier and floating museum, the Intrepid, the ?Today? show will be broadcasting live from there. There are also fairs tomorrow in Chicago; Fort Hood, Texas; Stuttgart, Germany. All the information is on our website, nbcnightlynews.com.