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Job fair focuses on their abilities, not disabilities

Injured veterans are encouraged by their life-after-military possibilities at a Defense Department-sponsored career fair in San Diego.

August 01, 2007|H.G. Reza | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — With Iraq behind him but never out of his mind, Army Pfc. David Foss has begun making plans for life after the military. The 25-year-old Irvine resident, who lost his left leg three months ago to an improvised explosive device in Iraq, has started talking to potential employers about jobs.

Foss, who wants to be a police officer, was one of more than 100 active-duty servicemen and servicewomen who attended a job fair Tuesday at the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego, featuring representatives from about 70 corporations and government agencies. Foss, who is in a wheelchair, came with a group from Naval Medical Center in San Diego.

"My life has changed. I've gotten over losing my leg. There's nothing I can do about it but move forward," Foss said. "I hope my prosthesis doesn't hold me back. It's all mental. If you think you can do it, you can. I can do it."

The Hiring Heroes Career Fair, sponsored by the Department of Defense, is part of the agency's "continuum of seamless service" for wounded warriors, said Deputy Under Secretary Patricia S. Bradshaw. Eleven such events have been held over the last two years, but Tuesday's event was the first on the West Coast, she said.

Not all the soldiers, sailors and Marines who met with prospective employers were disabled, but a number of them, like Foss, were maneuvering wheelchairs around the display tables.

There were no signs of self-pity in the base officers' club, where the event was held; instead, plenty of compassion and tenderness were on display. Some young warriors pushed their friends' wheelchairs; others offered their shoulders to buddies struggling to balance themselves on wobbly canes.

It was that can-do attitude and spirit of teamwork that Michael J. Moran of Northrop Grumman Corp. said he has been looking for in job applicants. He talked Tuesday with Marine Cpl. Josiah White, who lost most of the hearing in his right ear and had his left leg nearly shattered by a suicide bomber in Iraq two years ago.

White, 22, of Colorado Springs, asked Moran what kind of job he could qualify for at an aerospace company if his background in the Marine Corps was as a grenadier.

"You've got other qualifications that appeal to us. Don't limit yourself to a particular skill," Moran said.

He offered White a job on the spot, but the Marine said he did not know when he would get his medical discharge because he did not know when his rehabilitation would end.

It was the same predicament facing many of those who attended.

Still, White said he was encouraged by the prospect of getting a good job.

"It makes me feel really good. I don't think I'd get this opportunity if I had been injured in civilian life," White said. "This tells me that my service means something to somebody."

Bradshaw said Pentagon officials did not know how many service members have been placed with companies through the job fairs. But she said many job offers have been extended to people still undergoing rehabilitation.

She said employers were willing to give their new hires some time before they have to report to work because "they know our veterans are disciplined and committed to continuous learning and training."

Bradshaw said the Pentagon did not want today's veterans to experience the indifference Vietnam veterans experienced when they returned home -- or to face chronic unemployment, as many Vietnam vets did.

"We learned from that horrible event," she said. "Those mistakes will not be repeated."

Among the employers attending the fair were the Lowe's home improvement chain, Ashford University, the CIA, and various law-enforcement and fire agencies.

Like many of those who attended the fair, Marine Sgt. Anthony Duran, 26, said he thought his military experience gave him an edge over civilian job applicants. Duran injured his pelvis in a training accident in Kuwait and gets around in a wheelchair these days, but he is confident about his future.

"Some people think I'm disabled, but I'm not worried about finding a job," said the former fire team leader. "The Marine Corps has given me the foundation to make my life a success. It's drilled into us; a good work ethic."

Foss made a similar case for the Army.

"Where else can you get leadership training that helps you keep cool under pressure," Foss said. "I'll never quit until the mission is over. I'll never quit until I can walk again."

hgreza@latimes.com

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