Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Aden Swim

A sailor jumps off the stern gate of the amphibious transport dock ship USS New Orleans during a swim call in the Gulf of Aden, March 30, 2012. The New Orleans and embarked Marines are part of the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group, which supports maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. The Marines are assigned to the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

Wisconsin National Guard educates employers on value of veterans

By 1st Sgt. Vaughn R. Larson
Wisconsin National Guard Public Affairs

More than 130 business representatives convened in the workplace of champions Friday (March 30) to learn about championship-caliber members available to their teams.

The goal of the inaugural Wisconsin National Guard Business Summit, held during the "Year of the Veteran" in the Lambeau Field Atrium in Green Bay, Wis., was to educate employers about the value military veterans can bring to their organization. The summit received significant support from the American Legion.

Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, adjutant general of Wisconsin, asked those in attendance to make hiring veterans a priority. He noted that U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics indicate that the national unemployment rate for veterans who served since 2001 is 50 percent higher than the national average of 8.3 percent, and that the Department of Defense recently estimated that unemployment among currently serving members of the National Guard and Federal Reserve to be more than 20 percent.

Dunbar noted that one reason employers don't hire veterans is because they don't realize the value of veterans. He related that the skills, experiences and character veterans have developed should mesh with the qualities employers are seeking.

"In order to mine gold you have to literally move tons of dirt," he said. "In terms of human capital, when it comes to our veterans, we in the military have already removed tons of dirt and these veterans truly are pure gold.

"My message is simple," Dunbar continued. "I do not suggest charity. I'm not asking you to give anybody anything. But I do believe it's in your best interest as an employer to hire veterans."

He urged employers to understand the value of veterans and make hiring veterans a priority.

Mike Hinz, vice-president of driver recruiting for Schneider National - who makes hiring veterans and service members a priority - echoed Dunbar's sentiments.

"I don't want you to get the impression that all people coming out of the military are perfect," Hinz said. "They're not. But they have the raw materials, the raw skills and developed skills, the potential to be anything you want them to be in your organization."

Hinz noted that the company's founder, Al Schneider, recruited his first drivers from the Wisconsin National Guard 76 years ago.

Maj. Scott Southworth, Wisconsin National Guard education officer, said that the military teaches teamwork and leadership, occupational skills and adaptability. He pointed out that 42 percent of Army National Guard Soldiers have education beyond high school.

"We're training people every single day to succeed at the next higher level," Southworth said. "I promise you that we will continue to train and equip the military leaders of tomorrow, many of whom are ready to serve as business leaders in your organizations right now."

1st Lt. Johnny Simmons, Wisconsin Army National Guard marketing officer, pointed out that many service members already pay for TRICARE health insurance, which has lower premiums than most health care plans employers provide. The average yearly cost of health care plans in Wisconsin is $7,233 for single coverage and $29,000 for family coverage, compared with $595.44 and $2,371.18, respectively, under TRICARE Reserve Select.

Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch reminded the gathering of the Gov. Scott Walker administration slogan, "Wisconsin is Open for Business," as well as 2012 being the "Year of the Veteran," another Walker initiative.

"We believe that they must go hand in glove," she explained. "We understand that the future of Wisconsin commerce often rests in the hands of a veteran, because our veterans are outstanding employees."

Kleefisch noted that the unemployment rate among Wisconsin veterans is double the state unemployment rate, and said that was unacceptable. The "Year of the Veteran" initiative emphasizes numerous employment services.
"Our employers should see our veterans as an opportunity to be successful," she said. "We need to make sure our employers in the state understand what an asset our veterans are. Veterans are essential to job growth and, in fact, prosperity in the great state of Wisconsin."

State Command Sgt. Maj. George Stopper, senior enlisted leader in the Wisconsin Army National Guard, said that the seven Army Values - loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage - groom many veterans to be outstanding employees. He said that enlisted leaders are responsible and accountable, from a team of four and nearly a quarter million dollars of equipment at the sergeant level to as many as 3,500 Soldiers and up to $350 million in equipment at the command sergeant major level.

"[Veterans are] someone who comes to you as an employee who understands how to operate in diverse environments, who promotes diversity, who also is very resilient, [and] shows up for work," Stopper said. "They are absolutely team players. The ability to give and receive direction is something everyone can benefit from."

Chief Senior Master Sgt. Gregory Cullen held up "the little brown book" - an Air Force manual on the enlisted force structure - detailing the expectations of junior enlisted and noncommissioned officers. Those expectations include personal readiness, leading and developing subordinates, correcting deficiencies that may jeopardize the mission, and clearly communicate the leader's direction.

"We're developing not just a Soldier, not just an Airman, we're developing a good person," Cullen said, adding that service members receive regular mandatory training on such issues as suicide awareness, human relations and diversity, and sexual assault prevention. "I feel we can bring [our values] to help your organization become stronger."

Craig Benzen, marketing director with the Green Bay Packers, thanked the business representatives for attending the summit. He said that the summit coincided with the Packers examining players in the current free agency period and upcoming draft.

"It occurred to me that there are a lot of similarities between the type of players the Packers recruit and the type of workers most businesses are trying to recruit," Benzen said. "The Packers are looking for players who are dedicated and loyal, who spends a certain amount of time perfecting their craft, somebody who knows there is a right way and a wrong way to do things, and guys who know what 'team first' means. These are the same values I think we've all witnessed in those serving in the military."

Alex Arriola and Alison Kavanaugh, sourcing diversity specialists with American Family Insurance, said that they wanted to hear more about the hiring veterans initiative as they have agency and agents-in-training opportunities. Arriola said he was impressed with what he learned about veterans' leadership qualities.

"They want to take charge," Arriola said. "They want to be the ones that bring the groups together. For an agent, and an agent-in-training, we need leaders."

Tom McGrath, regional account manager for Adecco, was looking for ways to partner with the Wisconsin National Guard. He was impressed to learn the wide range of skills veterans can bring, as Adecco is a recruiting agency representing a variety of employers.

"I think there could be a fit for many organizations, depending on the need," McGrath said. "I'm seeing entry-level to professional-level skill sets. I feel much more prepared to have conversations [with veterans] and close that gap to get people out to work."

VA Makes Progress on Pledge to End Veteran Homelessness

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 3, 2012 – The Veterans Affairs Department is making progress on its pledge to end homelessness among veterans, with a focus on getting all homeless veterans off the streets by 2015, VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki told American Forces Press Service.

Shinseki joined President Barack Obama in announcing the plan in November 2009, proclaiming that no veteran should ever have to be living on the streets.

VA is working toward that goal, Shinseki told Congress last month, reporting that the number of homeless veterans on a given night dropped from 76,300 in 2010 to about 67,500 in 2011. The next goal, he said, is to drive those numbers down to 35,000 by the end of fiscal 2013, and ultimately, to zero.

As Shinseki set out to transform VA after arriving in 2009, he made the homeless issue a top priority in getting to the bottom of what he viewed as an institutional problem.

“Homelessness among veterans was a demonstration to me that we didn’t have all our programs knitted together,” he said. “As good as we thought we were doing in health care and other benefits, … we had people who were slipping through the gaps in our programs -- most visibly, the homeless.”

Getting homeless veterans off the streets, particularly within such a tight timeline, would be the driving force in creating positive change throughout VA, he explained.

“If you say you are going to end homelessness, then you have to be good at everything else,” he said. “If you declare to end it, you have to figure out all the pieces that contribute to it so you can begin solving the pieces in order for the whole to be solved.”

That, he said, requires making sure VA is addressing the root causes behind homelessness.

It means more than simply getting veterans into school; it means making sure they graduate, he explained. It’s not just sending them for vocational training; it’s ensuring they finish the training and are postured to land a job.

“That’s how you beat homelessness,” Shinseki said. “It’s not the front door. It’s the back door. What did they gain out of the program?”

To support this effort, VA’s budget request for fiscal 2013 includes nearly $1.4 billion for programs designed to prevent or end homelessness among veterans. This represents a 33 percent increase, or $333 million, over the 2012 funding level.

The additional funding will provide grants and technical assistance to community nonprofit organizations to maintain veterans and their families in current housing or get them quickly into new housing. It also will provide grants and per diem payments for community-based organizations offering transitional housing to 32,000 veterans.

Shinseki also plans to hire 200 coordinators to help homeless veterans with disability claims, housing problems, job and vocational opportunities and problems with the courts.

Since announcing his homeless initiative, Shinseki said, he’s come to understand that dealing with homelessness is really a two-part challenge.

It’s one thing to get homeless veterans physically off the streets in what he calls the “rescue” part of the challenge. Shinseki said he feels confident that this part of the mission to be completed by 2015, as promised.

But the less visible and more challenging part of the problem, he said, is addressing a population that’s at risk of becoming homeless. These, Shinseki explained, are veterans who are “one paycheck, one mortgage payment, one more missed utility bill away from being evicted.”

“We never see that. But if we are going to truly end homelessness, we have to have a better picture of [that]… and go into prevention mode,” Shinseki said. “Otherwise, you will never be able to solve this.”

So while he expects the rescue mission to wrap up in 2015, Shinseki said, he’ll be able to dedicate more resources toward an ongoing prevention effort.

“If you don’t stop this faucet, you never end homelessness,” he said.

Chief of Naval Personnel and Sailors Recognized for Volunteer Work

From Chief of Naval Personnel Public Affairs

WASHINGTON (NNS) -- Chief of Naval Personnel was honored for his command's volunteer efforts during a Naval District Washington Regional Community Service Program awards presentation March 27 at Naval Support Facility Arlington, Va.

During the ceremony Vice Adm. Scott Van Buskirk accepted the World of Thanks Award, which recognizes commands and organizations that made a significant contribution in the coordination of a Naval District Washington Community Service projects.

"I'm constantly impressed - in fact, awed - by the service and dedication of the Sailors I have the privilege to lead," Van Buskirk said.

In a one year period, from July 2010 to June 2011, Van Buskirk said nearly 240 volunteers in his command completed more than 2,270 hours of community service, supporting a number of diverse projects and touching the lives of almost 20,000 people.

Some of those projects included leading a holiday donation drive and summer backpack drive that raised more than 400 pounds of food for the Arlington Food Assistance Center. Volunteers also participated in Operation USO Care Package on Fort Belvior, which put together more than 8,500 care packages for service members overseas, and volunteered more than 500 hours in the Washington, D.C. scouting program. Chief of Naval Personnel Sailors also gave their time to help with last summer's D.C. Special Olympics and conducted a blood drive at the Navy Annex.

In addition to the award for the entire command, five individual Sailors were recognized for their individual contributions with the Inspire by Example Award. The award recognizes those Sailors who display a selflessness and strong commitment to helping the military family, encouraging team work and inspiring others to volunteer.

Personnel Specialist 1st Class Andrew Lucio, Yeoman 2nd Class Tamoris Gordon, Yeoman 1st Class Dewayne Toon, Chief Machinist's Mate Douglas Baker, and Chief Operations Specialist Jessica Myers each received the award.

According to Myers, who serves as command volunteer coordinator, most of the command's volunteer efforts aimed to help youth under the age of 18.

"The project that has been the most rewarding thus far has been our Future Leaders Club at the Arlington Career Center (ACC)," said Myers. "It's important to give back and impact today's youth, our future, and serving as positive role models they can emulate."

The Chief of Naval Personnel signed a formal partnership with the ACC in April 2010. Through the partnership, Navy volunteers hold individual and group mentoring sessions with students, provide lectures, lead practical exercises, and act as guest speakers with the goal of equipping students them with the skills to be college-bound. The ACC serves nearly 1,100 students each day.

"You truly serve as an example to us all of what can be accomplished when you dedicate your time, creativity and energy in serving others," Van Buskirk said.