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Honor Veterans Year-Round: Offer Them a Job

America is celebrating her veterans today.

JPMorgan Chase is surprising a veteran tonight at the Anaheim Ducks game with a free home.

Applebee's is offering free meals to veterans and their families.

7-11 is handing out free Slurpees to active and retired military personnel and their families. (Since the hubby qualifies, I'm going for the free Slurpee. Thank you, America!)

If you see a veteran today, say thank you.

You might also want to offer him or her a job.

The unemployment rate for veterans who've served since September 2001 is 12.1 percent, higher than the national average . Many soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are having a difficult time convincing employers their battlefield skills can translate to the workplace. Job search firm Simply Hired is partnering with the government to help connect veterans to job opportunities , and the President is proposing tax credits for companies which hire unemployed veterans.

Sometimes, though, a company just has to decide it's the right thing to do.

That's exactly what happened at a Silicon Valley startup known for live streaming everyone from Barack Obama to Charlie Sheen.

"There's not enough veterans in Silicon Valley," says Brad Hunstable, co-founder and president of Ustream . "This industry can benefit from their skill sets." Hunstable is a West Point graduate who originally helped create Ustream as a way for service members overseas to communicate with multiple friends and family at once. Since starting in 2007, the company has grown into a network of online channels with more than 13 million registered users and 150 employees worldwide.

Ustream recently hired Craig Mullaney, another West Point graduate who boasts an eye-popping resume: Rhodes Scholar, Bronze Star, history professor, best-selling author. In 2003, Mullaney led an infantry rifle platoon along the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan, a platoon which earned "the most combat decorations in the division."

"We've always tried to hire from the military. You need people that can run teams, that can lead teams." -Co-founder, president, Ustream, Brad Hunstable

Yet when Mullaney returned to civilian life, he says interviews were harder to land than he expected. Employers would marvel at his resume and then say, "I don't know exactly how I would plug you in." Mullaney would have to convince them, "I wasn't a square peg in a round hole."

He says more needs to be done to teach returning servicemen and women how to convince employers that their military training translates to the office, as in, "I was responsible for X amount of equipment." Mullaney says the Army has a "reverse boot camp" that helps returning personnel prep for interviews and write a resume, and the Iraq Afghanistan Veterans of America has gotten companies like JC Penney to help provide business attire for vets going on job searches.

Ustream's Hunstable says he'd like to double the number of veterans he employs. "We've always tried to hire from the military," he says. "You need people that can run teams, that can lead teams." He says anywhere from 5 percent to 10 percent of his sales and marketing staff is made up of veterans, but there are only a few in engineering. "Not a lot of veterans know how to code, though that is changing."

He hired Mullaney to help in operations and strategy, partly because of the veteran's connections in Washington. Mullaney worked on the national security policy staff of President Obama's 2008 campaign. When I asked Mullaney about the difference between leading a platoon in hostile territory in Afghanistan, and hanging out at an internet company in San Francisco, he laughed. "It doesn't feel that different for me." Both jobs leave him a lot of space for innovation, and both have "the dynamic of building and leading a team." On the other hand, "No one comes to work in a uniform."

Finally, Mullaney says fewer Americans than ever have any connection to the military, and that's a challenge for those returning from war. "Veterans are a sound investment," he says. "Maybe there's some adapting necessary for the time it takes to learn (a new job), but you're investing in leaders."

"This is the next greatest generation." ?



email: patricia.orsini@nbcuni.com

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