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Veterans find work at 'Hiring our Heroes' job fairs

In an effort to reduce the unemployment rate among veterans and their spouses, job fairs sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are being held around the country in partnership with NBC News. NBC's Chris Jansing reports.

By Jay Blackman
NBC News

Long after the welcome home ceremonies, the standing ovations at sporting events and in airports, and the hugs and tears, reality sets in for veterans returning from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. For a large number of them, the new battle is for a full time job in an economy where so many other folks are out of work. The numbers tell the story. According to the United States Department of Labor, veterans who have served on active duty since Sept. 11, 2001 are experiencing a 12.1 percent unemployment rate, with young male vets under the age of 25 suffering the worst -- a 29.1 percent unemployment rate.

There is hope, however, in the form of job fairs sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The program, which started last year, hosted 100 job fairs nationwide, successfully pairing veterans with positions in the private sector.  This year, the Chamber of Commerce partnered with NBC Universal to host ‘Hiring our Heroes,’ and expanded the number of job fairs to 400.   

So far, 5,000 employers have hired more than 8,000 returning veterans.

Click here to find a job fair near you.

For one veteran, Marine Sgt. Edzavier Reese, it wasn't just his skills that got him a job, it was incredible timing and luck.  He had bounced from job to job in California after finishing his five deployments -- four to Iraq and one to Afghanistan -- but now Reese was looking for more.

"I was still stuck trying to be like, ‘I want to like something the way I like being in the Marines,’" he said.

Marine Sgt. Edzavier Reese found a job at GameStop in Atlanta, Ga., through the 'Hiring our Heroes' job fair.

Reese made the decision to return back home to Atlanta, Ga late last year. At first, he was going to take it slow, but once he got behind the wheel of his blue Mazda6, he decided to make the drive straight through, arriving at his mother’s house late afternoon.  A friend told him about a vets-only job fair at the Georgia Dome.  Reese wanted to take a nap, but said he knew he had to go.

"I went into the house, took a shower and shaved my head, and went over there," he said. 

When he got there, the fair was almost over.  As luck would have it, GameStop’s Mark Qualls noticed Reese. 

"I saw a guy coming through, great suit, shoulders back, walking straight, great presence -- he's got to come talk to me," said Qualls, a regional manager at the computer and video game retailer.  

After a brief conversation, Qualls saw in Reese what he says he sees in other returning veterans. "These days most of our veterans coming in have had some type of military service on the war front. So add to that high stress environment, a lot at stake -- quick decision making ability is really important -- and then lastly you have things like determination and honesty and honor and loyalty and that's not just words for them. They take an oath on that and they really believe it. So the better question is, ‘How can you not hire our veterans?’" 

Lisa Rosser, who is also a veteran, now runs a group called The Value of a Veteran, which helps organizations improve veteran recruitment. She says hiring veterans just makes good business sense.

"The military person has the skill sets you need,” she said.  Eighty-one percent of the jobs fit what you have in your organization, and the other skills that we bring are managerial and operational and training and leadership experience. What employer doesn't need those types of skills in their workplace?"

Lisa Rosser, founder of The Value of a Veteran, talks about the benefits of hiring military veterans.

Reese was eventually offered a management trainee job at a GameStop in Atlanta. He says he is eager to get his own store soon. 

“I was pretty excited on the inside,” he said. “But like I said, you’ve got to maintain your cool, you have to.”  

For more on Hiring our Heroes, an initiative from NBC News and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that aims to get veterans back into the workforce, click here. Learn more about job fairs for veterans here.