“In Iraq, you don’t need a license to drive anything,” Noyola said. “But I come home, and I’m a young kid looking for a job and I didn’t have the credentials.”
He ended up working menial retail jobs in stores like GameStop — a far step down and a waste of his skills.
“You think, ‘Why am I doing this, when I used to do this?’ It hurts you inside,” Noyola said.
There were tales of water purification experts turned Panera Bread bakers; vets who struggled to get jobs because of disability discrimination; and even one veteran who claimed he helped write the state test for a Commercial Driver’s License, but didn’t have the money to take the test himself.
More also needs to be done to help soldiers transition to civilian life and build skills outside the military, the veterans said. Streamlining and simplifying the process for getting the services that exist would also help, they said.
“I can do anything with a machine gun ... but without special training and education, veterans like myself don’t have a future,” said David Marshall, a Vietnam veteran and senior vice commander of the Salem VFW. “Grunts like myself who joined after high school, 19 years old, come out with no education. I am still fighting the war in the back of my mind, still in the bush. I would have given my life for my country, and I still would give my life for anyone in this room, and now we need help.”
Larry Conway worked just after Vietnam as a personnel officer, one of the last people a soldier spoke to in the process of leaving active duty. Conway used a book to help soldiers figure out how their military specialties translated to civilian jobs. For infantrymen like Marshall, there were two potential jobs listed in the book: ditch digger and big game hunter.
“That was part of the mentality back then,” Conway said. “We need to open the doors up with education and get the word out.”