Joe Podelco / Photo editor
A new initiative from First Lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden could help bring stability to the uncertain lives of military families.
Obama, Biden and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis came to Columbus Thursday as part of a national tour to promote Joining Forces, a comprehensive, national initiative to support service members and their families in a variety of ways.
The event at the Sears Distribution Center in west Columbus focused on business’ efforts to provide jobs for military families and veterans.
Sears Holdings, a corporate partner with Joining Forces, announced a new program called the Permanent Change of Duty Station (PCS) Promise last Tuesday.
The program helps military spouses who work at Sears secure job transfers when the military relocates them.
Obama talked about the difficulties military spouses have in developing a career because of frequent moves with the more than 200 Sears associates in the crowd.
“We see them trying to build seniority at a job,” Obama said. “They have to start over every time they have to move to a new duty station, with that comes a whole new job search and that’s not easy.”
Grant Curell, a third-year in computer science and engineering, is a cadet in the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps. Curell grew up in a military family and said the lifestyle can be hard on relationships.
“There is a lot of uncertainty in our lives,” Curell said. “One of our primary concerns is jobs for spouses.”
Though Curell is not married, he and his girlfriend have had conversations about her career once he earns his commission as an officer.
“It’s especially hard for young families,” Curell said. “To have any certainty about anything would be great. It would help us a lot in terms of morale.”
In this economy, however, uncertainty has also spread to the civilian realm.
Despite some signs of economic recovery, 8.9 percent of Ohioans are unemployed, according an April 15 report from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. A 2010 U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics report shows that unemployment is even more prevalent among recent military veterans.
According to the report, national civilian unemployment was at 9.4 percent while unemployment among veterans of the Global War on Terror was at 11.5 percent.
“There are employment resources available through the military, but they aren’t really user-friendly,” said Avi Zaffini, an OSU alumnus and Marine Corp Reservist who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom. “I ended up just using regular resources like Google search and monster.com.”
Zaffini said finding employment is particularly difficult for guardsmen and reservists because they don’t enjoy the same career resources as full-time active duty service members.
“It’s kind of something that falls through the cracks,” Zaffini said.
After months of searching for work, Zaffini found a job with the Ohio Secretary of State’s office.
It was stories like Zaffini’s that inspired Joining Forces and companies like Sears to create special recruiting and employment services for military veterans.
Tom Aiello, Sears divisional vice president and U.S. Army veteran, said Sears employs more than 30,000 military veterans and offers unique services to guardsmen and reservists who are called to active duty.
“When they get called up, we’ll actually pay the difference between their military pay and what they were making at Sears and continue their benefits for their families,” Aiello said. “That means a lot, so they can worry about going over and doing their mission and coming home safe.”
Aiello hopes Joining Forces and Sears will inspire other companies, both small and large, to take action to help veterans and military families.
“To see my company reaching out to veterans and military families makes me very proud,” Aiello said. “It really gives me great heart to see America rising to the challenge.”