In early 2011, American Legion Post 754 in New York City hosted a special screening of “Chosin,” a documentary film on the Korean War, for more than 300 Legionnaires and locals. The film left an immediate impact on those in attendance – especially Post 754 members.
“Part of the film deals with interviewing veterans who came back from the Korean War looking for jobs,” said Richard Sweeney, commander of Post 754. “There wasn’t a dry eye in the house because it’s the same kind of challenges we see today with our returning veterans … they’re unemployed, looking for jobs and trying to target their skills to a business.”
The film inspired Post 754 members to tackle these challenges, and they are doing so by networking with local organizations who have the same mission – helping returning veterans with employment and education. In an effort to spread awareness of its mission, the post recently hosted a dinner reception at the New York Athletic Club, the post’s home. The reception featured National Commander Fang A. Wong as guest speaker.
Wong emphasized the need to find an answer to how servicemembers will be taken care of upon their return home. “I’ve had a lot of opportunity to talk to troops, and I always get the feeling that they are ready to do their job if we give them our support,” Wong said. “We are doing that. But then, when you look at when they come home, how are we supporting them? I’ve realized that when the troops come home, three things, not necessarily in this order, are most important to them: job, education and family.”
Post 754’s alliance with veteran-focused organizations that share the same mission is one of the many ways NYC locals are supporting returning servicemembers. Sweeney and Post 754 member Rick Miners currently are creating relationships amongst the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, NYC Mayor’s Office of Veterans’ Affairs, Department of Veterans Affairs and the Robin Hood Foundation.
“We are all putting together a concerted effort to identify what exactly is the problem with veterans finding jobs, how many veterans are looking now for a job and how many New York City residents will be coming back looking for jobs,” Sweeney said. “And rather than put the veteran out looking, we want to train them beforehand on how to look and prepare for a job.
“The good thing about this (alliance) is that if we can get something successfully done in a huge metropolis like New York, than it’s easily transferable to regionalize it.”
Miners then emphasized that, “We want to give veterans the confidence to go out there and present their credentials successfully so they can engage with whoever is interviewing them. We want to help veterans portray their skills in a positive light.”
Wong echoed Sweeney’s and Miners’ sentiments on ensuring that veterans are well-prepared for finding and interviewing for a job. “People hiring like to look for those buzz words – words that will fit exactly what they are looking for,” Wong said. “If you put yourself down as an infantry officer, they don’t understand what that is. Human Resources has no clue what military personnel will bring to their company if the veteran doesn’t highlight his or her skills. They are the best trained, the most intelligent, the most dependable, the most capable and the most disciplined employees you can find.”
In addition to its focus on veteran employment and education, Post 754 is looking to educate the hiring population on how to interview veterans. “We see time again where people who are interviewing the veterans don’t know what to ask them,” Miners said. “They never ask about their service, branch of service, what they learned or what skills they had.”
Sweeney has been searching for organizations or individuals who train employees how to interview veterans; his search has come up empty. “It’s important that those interviewing veterans recognize his or her service because if not, oftentimes the veterans walk away saying, ‘I’ve been humiliated, and it’s already tough enough that I have to look for a job,’” Sweeney said. “Educating the hiring population is one of simple things that we can work on to make a difference for our veterans.”
Legion Post 754 was chartered in 1919, is located on the 12th floor of the New York Athletic Club and has nearly 230 members. A few of its former members include World War I Army Gen. John Pershing, and political leader, Medal of Honor recipient and Legion founder Theodore Roosevelt Jr.