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Witness Testimony of Captain Aaron L. Robinson, ARNG, Des Moines, IA

My Name is Aaron Robinson. I reside with my wife and two children in Des Moines. I am a commissioned officer in the Iowa Army National Guard. I recently returned from a one-year deployment to Afghanistan. In my civilian career, I am currently pursuing jobs related to business, Project Management or data-analysis.

I want to share with you today three impressions I have from looking for a job, post-deployment.

First, repeated military deployments have given Iowans like me world-class skills and experiences, but that these are not widely recognized or rewarded when searching for civilian work in our home state.

Second, employers are nearing the exhaustion of their patriotic feelings toward veterans. Despite the existing laws protecting against discrimination based on military service, employers seem to shy away from hiring citizen-soldiers.

Third, searching for a job while deployed overseas is next to impossible—and waiting until after deployment adds more stress to an already stressful situation: reintegration with family and friends.

Let me tell you where I’m coming from:

I grew up on a farm approximately an hour west of Des Moines in Yale, and graduated from Perry High School in 1992. I studied Mass Communication at Grand View College in Des Moines. After college, I bounced around various retail jobs. I enlisted with the Iowa National Guard in 1998, and was trained as a tank mechanic.

In 2002, I commissioned as an officer specializing in tanks and other armored vehicles. I married my wife Katie, in 2003 and I deployed to Kosovo, where I commanded a platoon. My first child, Amelia, was born while I was overseas.

When I returned home, I transferred to Military Intelligence and attended multiple military schools. In my civilian career, I worked as an employment counselor for homeless veterans, and as a general manager of a convenience store. After that I spent a number of years on temporary full-time active-duty here in Iowa, helping train and mobilize more than 16 National Guard units for overseas deployment.

Last year, I was deployed to Afghanistan where I served as the Intelligence Officer of Iowa’s 113th Cavalry Squadron. The experiences that I received there were excellent and I could not have received them anywhere else.  Since coming home to Iowa in late July, I have been steadily seeking employment. As of today, however, I have been unable to find work.

I am not alone.

For example an enlisted soldier friend of mine was the database manager for our unit’s personnel records pertaining to security clearances. (That’s 500 records—the size of a good-sized company.) However, now that he’s back at home, civilian employers don’t seem to recognize his abilities to learn new computer systems, and to manage highly sensitive data on a daily basis.  To add insult to injury, he can’t even find work in his old civilian occupation—he’s a welder.

I’ve faced similar challenges to that of my friend, trying to figure out how to translate military language into civilian Human Resources-speak. After some resume coaching, I found my work in intelligence most closely applies to business analysis and project management. However, unlike my purely civilian counterparts, I’m not necessarily versed in the latest business acronyms and buzz-phrases, which decreases the likelihood of getting through H.R. filters. Also, while I am proficient in military computer software and hardware, I am not specifically trained in systems most-familiar to potential civilian employers.

Employers, politicians, and even the media talk up certain ideas about veterans: that we’re hard-working and motivated, that we’re mission- and people-focused, and that we handle pressure extremely well. Beyond this, however, and the occasional job-fair and “welcome home” PowerPoint show, veterans don’t seem to get a lot of practical help in getting hired. I have said many times that everyone wants to help, but no one seems to know how.  I have received lots of well intended suggestions, sometimes conflicting, but none of them have gotten me much farther in my job search.

Maybe employers are getting burned out. Ten years of war—and Iowa’s river floods and blizzards and other state emergencies—might do that. Maybe they’re worried that we’re going to get deployed again. Maybe they really don’t see the economic values inherent in our military skills and experiences.

I know times are tough for a lot of Iowans. I don’t want to get a job just because I am a returning veteran, but I would at least like a chance to get to an interview and prove I am a good employee. I also want to keep my family in Iowa, to give my kids the same kind of values and experiences I had.

For now, however, our life is on hold. The military gave me time off after the deployment to unwind and reintegrate into “normal” life.  I do not feel like I have done that. I plan to go back to school, but I am putting that off because of a lack of stability in my life and the life of my family. Interviewers do not ask me about my military experience, but they know it is there. If I didn’t put it on my resume, you would be able to tell just from talking to me. I am proud of the work I have done and the people with whom I have served.

I’m just an Iowa farm kid that just got a chance do some exciting things, in some pretty unpleasant places, with some really great people. I just want to get back to my civilian life, get a normal job, and be a regular person for a while.

My family would like that, too.

Thank you for this opportunity to talk about my experiences looking for employment.