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Job fair helps veterans starting over
Ex-military work seekers attend event aimed at them
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John Crowe fills out paperwork at the Department of Corrections booth at a job fair Thursday at the Georgia Department of Labor’s Gainesville Career Center. Crowe was in the Army until 2015, and he has been searching for jobs within 50 miles of Gainesville with no luck. - photo by Erin O. Smith

At 35, John Crowe thought he would have a smooth transition to life outside the Army.

“I figured I’d be so much further in life than where I am now, but I’m starting over at 35,” he said. “The struggle is real.”

Crowe scoured job sites in a 50-mile radius around Gainesville, turning up nothing that would support his three kids.

“I’m exhausted mentally and physically from it all,” he said.

On Thursday, he said he had a promising outlook at one of his first career fairs targeted toward veterans. While open to all job seekers, the Georgia Department of Labor hosted the event for roughly 20 employers recruiting veterans at the career center on Atlanta Highway.

“A lot of times, you get out of the military and you don’t really have a good set of job skills. It’s kind of hard to find work sometimes,” said U.S. Army veteran Scott Wilkerson.

After his discharge in 2005, Wilkerson said he didn’t want to go into law enforcement and sought opportunities in electrical maintenance. The Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008 and subsequent legislation made it possible for the veteran to get an associate degree in computer and electronic engineering technology at ITT Technical Institute.

The school, however, closed in September, which Wilkerson said “doesn’t exactly speak volumes” when it’s listed on his resume.

“It’s like I wasted my GI Bill to go to a college that doesn’t exist,” he said.

Wilkerson made the circuit around the employers’ booths, which include Jackson Electric, KIK Custom Products, Kipper Tool and Kubota, among others.

“Apparently everybody’s looking for an electrician, so that’s convenient,” he said.

Crowe filled out his application at the Georgia Department of Corrections table, as Sgt. Zach Harris shook hands with others passing by his booth.

The sergeant said the majority of the staff in corrections is ex-military.

“Most people watch too many movies … and think that’s how it is inside the facility, which it’s not,” Harris said, who serves as the field training officer coordinator.

Crowe, who said he considers himself a “jack of all trades but a master of none,” said he was trying with the corrections department to “trade one uniform for another.”

Forklift, hazardous materials, personnel development — Crowe said he just wants a shot to show his skills.

“I look back and think about all the things I actually did, and it doesn’t transition over,” he said. “You don’t have a piece of paper saying, ‘I did this. I did that.’”

Entering the military in 2001, the 14-year veteran got out as a sergeant to be with his family.

After seven doctors in seven locations, he’s been waiting on the Department of Veterans Affairs “to do anything.”

While he feels he can’t show his skills at some workplaces, others have told him he’s overqualified.

“I just want a job,” he said. “I don’t want the job or your job.”

The job search now takes him to Atlanta and hours southbound like Savannah and Waycross, with the hope that something will turn up.

“That’s why this event is important to me, because I actually get to see the employer face-to-face and say, ‘I can be this person for you. What kind of person do you need?’ … And that’s the only hope I really got right now,” Crowe said.