John A. Tures: Still ready for service

jtures@lagrange.eduDecember 7, 2012 

This officer told about how tough the guard has it. They do many overseas deployments, but get a small percentage of the defense budget. Yet these soldiers don't complain. They can hack it. By all accounts, these guardsmen have accomplished their mission in inhospitable locations in Afghanistan, hauling and driving supplies along vulnerable routes that are attacked by the Taliban. But unlike in the 1980s, when the Mujahedeen undermined the Soviet invasion by destroying such convoys of fuel and munitions, Americans are faring much better.

Yet despite successes in Afghanistan and Iraq, these National Guard heroes have high unemployment records upon returning from service. This hasn't been helped by the recession. Others at home have had more time to craft a resume, pound the pavement and run those online job searches. Many new jobs created since 2009 have gone to these folks, instead of those just coming back from the Middle East, or even some domestic deployment far from home.

It's like that Oscar-winning film "The Best Years of Our Lives," which told the real story of World War II veterans. Not all of them had a GI Bill of Rights certificate for college, a victory parade and a pretty nurse to kiss them (and they also had the sharp and deep recession of 1946 to contend with). The guy who fought Nazis in France finds himself busted back to the lowest level in the company, having lost his managerial job to a younger man who did not serve. He also has to cope with a troubled relationship with his young wife. Others had injuries and even the stress of PTSD, which was almost unheard of back then.

"So what do you get when you hire a guardsman?" the officer told his audience at the Lions Club. "You get someone who is ready to work at 3 a.m., because he's trained to be ready. You've got someone who performs his tasks under any condition, because that's what he's been told to do."

Our speaker went on. "In our unit, most of our guys know how to drive any vehicle you need to be licensed for in the military. And maybe you don't need a driver. But that's not all you get. You get someone who knows how to learn to operate any vehicle the military drives."

It's the same thing we emphasize at LaGrange College: We craft our assignments for students not to memorize a bunch of stuff, but get them to learn how to learn. The military is like one big college that way. When they teach you how to be proficient at several dozen firearms, they're teaching you how to learn a bunch of skill sets over a given time, so you can progress to the next task. Given how quickly technology and the economy change, these are valuable assets. For someone who has learned them under enemy fire, it shows a certain degree of dependability and ability under adversity.

Before I came to LaGrange College, I worked for a defense contract firm in Washington. While in college and thereafter, I was an employee for USAA, which serves the armed services and their dependents. At both places, there was no shortage of officers and enlisted men as co-workers. It won't surprise you to learn about the incredible work ethic all of them had. I think both helped show me how to develop a professional work attitude.

So if this is what you value in an employee, see if there are any job seekers this Christmas season.

John A. Tures, associate professor of political science, LaGrange College; jtures@lagrange.edu.

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