American Legion Economic Division Assistant Director Steve Gonzalez (right) speaks with Ismael Ortiz, Jr., deputy assistant secretary of labor for the DoL Veterans’ Employment and Training Services. (Photo by Craig Roberts)

Legion connects with Hispanic veterans

The American Legion Economic Division’s ongoing campaign on behalf of veterans employment has been bolstered with a new alliance — the Hispanic veteran community.

On Sept. 6, Economic Division Assistant Director Steve Gonzalez spent the day networking with organizers and attendees at the ninth National Latina Symposium near Washington, D.C. The symposium brought together congressional, government, military and business leaders, and focused on employment challenges facing transitioning servicemembers and veterans. It too was sponsored by LATINA Style, a lifestyle magazine based in Falls Church, Va., that targets businesswomen of Hispanic heritage.

LATINA Style President and CEO Robert Bard, husband of the magazine’s late founder Anna Maria Arias, introduced an open-to-the-public panel discussion of veterans employment issues. And the magazine’s HERO Initiative discussion group was moderated by retired Marine Lt. Col. Ismael "Junior" Ortiz, Jr. Ortiz is the deputy assistant secretary of labor for the Department of Labor Veterans’ Employment and Training Services and has collaborated with the Legion on numerous occasions. Fellow panelists included Pat Brzozowski of Prudential, title sponsor of the event, as well as General Motors Chief Diversity Officer and retired Navy Capt. Ken Barrett.

Rounding out the onstage quartet were retired U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Jay DeLoach, and Bryan Goettel of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Goettel is in charge of publicizing the Chamber’s Hiring Our Heroes program — a nationwide series of veterans career fairs often staged in conjunction with The American Legion.

The discussion centered on a familiar theme: the unique, positive personal attributes and highly honed job skills brought to the workplace by military veterans. Veterans’ employment challenges such as the military-to-civilian language and cultural gaps were addressed as was the prevalent Post Traumatic Stress Disorder/Traumatic Brain Injury stigma said to be fostered, in part, by well-intended but sometimes counterproductive media attention.

Barrett from GM and Brzozowski from Prudential told of their companies’ campaigns to educate their human resources operatives about the ever-increasing veteran recruiting pool’s characteristics, while DeLoach and Goettel talked of the services’ responsibilities to help transitioning and soon-to-be transitioning servicemembers prepare for civilian life reentry. Meanwhile, everyone in attendance praised the Legion for its veterans employment advocacy efforts.

"In talking with the LATINA Style event organizers and participants, it became apparent that The American Legion can play a significant and welcome role in outreach to Hispanic veterans and transitioning servicemembers," Gonzalez said.

In addition to forging an alliance with the Hispanic veteran advocacy community, the Legion’s Economic Division added a new face to its 30-plus member Small Business Task Force — Mark M. Adams, a Vietnam veteran and retired Navy commander.

Adams is now CEO of Wymond Associates, LLC, a service disabled veteran owned small business headquartered in Alexandria, Va., that supports the defense industry with project management and related consultancy work. Adams will aid the Legion in its advocacy and educational efforts on behalf of veteran owned small businesses.

He has also been nominated to represent the Legion on the White House Interagency Task Force on Veterans Small Business Development. The task force was created by President Obama in early 2010 to, in the words of his executive order, "coordinate the efforts of Federal agencies to improve capital, business development opportunities and pre-established Federal contracting goals for small business concerns owned and controlled by veterans and service-disabled veterans."