According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, there are over 19 million living U.S. veterans. Of those, 63% are under the age of 65. Nowadays, unemployment tops everyone’s concerns as COVID-19 continues to affect us all.
For many U.S. veterans, unemployment is a challenge that predated the pandemic. To raise awareness of veterans in need of job placement and to show the challenges of transitioning from the military to civilian workforce, July 25th was named National Hire a Veteran Day. One veteran who served in Somalia and Afghanistan shares his story of bouncing back into the workforce. He also shares his advice for employment-seeking veterans and hiring managers.
From Diploma to Deployment
Eddie Helphinstine knew from the age of 15 that he was going to be an Army Officer. He said it was in his blood. “My grandfather was a World War II veteran and I loved listening to him share his stories with me.” He joined JROTC and quickly mapped out his plan to making his U.S. Army career come true.
“I drove to the college I wanted to attend and went right into the ROTC office. I met with someone there and said, ‘I want to be an Army officer.’ They looked at me and said, ‘Great! How long have we been at school here?’ I smirked and said, ‘I’m not, but would really like to be! That’s why I’ve come to talk to you.” Helphinstine said they admired his tenacity, and after he was accepted into that college, he was able to plug into the ROTC department there.
After college, he immediately spent six years with the Army on active duty in Somalia and then later in Afghanistan. According to Helphinstine, “In Somalia was where my first contact with the Red Cross came in. I worked with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), providing security. It struck me, early on, just how devoted these people were. They put their lives on the line to provide humanitarian care every day.”
A Job Well Done. Now What?
Right after 9/11, Helphinstine was hand-selected to command a unit in Afghanistan, but during that deployment he was injured. The next year of his life would be spent at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. “That was a very hard year for me. I quickly realized that I would never be able to jump out of airplanes or do the other stuff required of special operations. So I was out of the military. I went through depression, questioning, ‘What will I do; does my country care?’” It was after a lot of self-reflection and determination that he picked himself up and started putting himself out there again. He put his resume out online and started taking interviews. “Interestingly enough, because of my background, I was hired to go back to Afghanistan in various training capacities.”
It wasn’t too long before Helphinstine found himself applying for a position at the American Red Cross. “During the interview, they said, ‘You’ll have to deploy to a disaster area for a few weeks. Are you okay with that?’ I told them, ‘I’ve spent years on a combat zone. I absolutely can do it.’” Flash forward to today; he is now the Red Cross Services to Armed Forces Regional Program Manager. He uses his military background and expertise to help other service members, veterans and their families in need.
Hiring Our Heroes
When asked how other veterans can find job placement he shared, “Veterans love a mission. I encourage all veterans to not shy away from highlighting the important skills learned while serving in the military. Be open and upfront about your skills; they all translate into the workforce. You’ve accomplished a lot!”
Helphinstine has a message for hiring managers too, “The big thing that any hiring manager needs to understand when looking at a veteran candidate is from day one in the military, you’re being trained to be a leader, regardless of your position, and you learn to be flexible as a leader. There’s also a strong resiliency developed because of constant changes.” He continues to explain that not many people realize how diverse our U.S. military is. “There are so many backgrounds, cultures, ethnicities. You develop a strong comradery, being a part of a team with your military brothers and sisters. You can have varying opinions and life experiences, but when we come together for a common mission, we are a team of one. Honestly, I think a lot of organizations, outside of the military, search for that special team dynamic.” Overall, Helphinstine suggests to hiring managers, “Key in on important aspects like: building teams, leadership, adaptability and flexibility. You’ll find all of that when you hire a veteran.”
When asked to summarize his feelings as a veteran reentering the civilian workforce, he fondly shared, “I’m a veteran who needs to have a worthwhile mission and I have found that with the American Red Cross.”
Employment at the Red Cross
We are proud to be a 2020 Military Friendly® Employer, it’s a testament to our long history of serving America’s military families during and after service. Veterans can map their skills to current Red Cross opportunities here: https://www.redcross.org/about-us/careers/military-occupational-specialty-translator.html