Making the transition from military to civilian life can be a difficult one for many veterans but finding a meaningful job where they can utilize their skills while learning new ones can ease that transition.
That’s why King County launched the Heroes Employment Reintegration Opportunity (HERO) Program back in 2012.
“Veterans returning from deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan face a job market with high unemployment rates, and a civilian workforce where their valuable skills may not be recognized,” Councilmember Reagan Dunn said. “We have a responsibility to support those who have fought in service to our country. I sponsored legislation for the HERO program, currently called Vets 4 Hire, in an attempt to ease the transition and increase the employment rate of veterans in King County.”
One of those veterans is former Field Artillery Officer Steve Stamper.
Stamper was in the Army for almost six years, stationed at the 101st Airborne Division in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, followed by a stint in Germany, before being deployed to Iraq in 2008 for 10 months as a Motorized Rifle Platoon Leader.
“I think I had a pretty standard experience being in the Army at the time, a lot of moving around, a lot of uncertainty – with the job, where you would live, what your next job would be, those kinds of things.”
While he enjoyed his military experience and found it extremely valuable, he was ready to move on and do other things after his service.
After his honorable discharge, Stamper and his now-wife, a former Army nurse, made the move to Seattle where he completed a master’s degree in Public Administration at Seattle University and she quickly found a job.
He learned about the HERO program while doing fundraising work for United Way and speaking on behalf of chronically homeless veterans.
“I had never worked in local government; I didn’t know much about it but was interested in it, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to see what it was all about and see if it was a good fit for me.”
Stamper started in King County’s Human Resources Division (HRD) where he supported the HERO program and helped build connections between the different branches of the military and King County employment opportunities. After his initial six-month internship, he was extended as a term-limited temporary employee for an additional six months, splitting time between HRD and the Executive’s Office of Performance, Strategy and Budget (PSB), where he supported outreach efforts for the updated King County Strategic Plan. He is now employed full time as an analyst with PSB.
Stamper is very aware of the difficulty that many veterans experience when transitioning from military to civilian life.
“While you’re in the military you have an identity, you’re a Machine Gunner, Squad Leader, Platoon Sergeant, whatever your role might be, and typically you’re proud of that,” Stamper said. “When you get out you’re just a guy in Seattle trying to find a job, and that can really weigh on a lot of people, especially if you grew up in the Army, Navy or Air Force and that’s been your way of life since 18, it’s a tough transition for a lot of people.”
He believes that for him, the HERO program did what it was designed to do.
“It was a job but it was something I was interested in; I got used to how the office atmosphere is in the civilian world, how people communicate – it’s very different from the military way – and it was enough time to get exposure to that and do some networking and hopefully find another opportunity.”
The HERO program has now moved into a new phase called the Vets 4 Hire Fellowship Program. Vets 4 Hire offers veterans living in King County three levels of opportunities based on military rank held, education level and type of fellowship learning experience, rather than the one level in the original phase.
King County is hoping to have 16 veterans employed in Vets 4 Hire by the end of 2015, and to hire another 16 in 2016.
Stamper is a big supporter of King County’s efforts to be a Veteran Ready employer.
“When they [veterans] get out it’s a whole new world, one that they don’t totally understand because they’ve been in that military structure for so long. So it takes some transitioning.”
The King County Vets 4 HIRE Fellowship Program is made possible by funding from the Veterans and Human Services Levy.