Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce receives Chamber of Valor Award

The Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce is part of a major military community, and it now has been honored with the Chamber of Valor Award for its efforts in helping troops who are leaving the service land on their feet and find gainful employment.

The honor, announced Thursday by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, comes from Hiring Our Heroes, a non-profit organization launched four years ago with the goal of connecting military veterans, personnel and their spouses with employers as they transition into the civilian world.

Eric Eversole, executive director of Hiring Our Heroes and vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, lauded the Columbus Chamber for "setting the standard" for other chambers as the effort expands.

"The Greater Columbus Georgia Chamber has been instrumental in educating and influencing employers about the great value veterans and military spouses bring to the work force," he said.

Chamber of Valor Award recipients apply to be considered for the honor, submitting packages of information to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. There are three levels for the honor, with the local chamber receiving the highest of three stars.

The Columbus Chamber routinely helps organize, promote and assist with recruiting events targeted for military members. Such events include the Veterans of Foreign Wars job fair on Victory Drive each year, as well as special events such as this week's Soldier for Life Transition Summit taking place at Fort Benning. It includes a free hiring fair and workshops on job-seeking skills.

The summit comes with Fort Benning being evaluated for possible federal budget cuts that could reduce its staffing by as much as 10,767 jobs. That includes nearly 9,500 soldiers and nearly 1,300 civilian jobs as the Army plans to reduce its overall force from 490,000 to 420,000 by fiscal year 2019.

Columbus Chamber Chair Troy Woods, who is president and chief executive officer of Columbus-based credit-card processor TSYS, said the Chamber of Valor honor shines a bright spotlight on the "exceptional partnership" between his organization and Fort Benning.

"We will continue to focus on ensuring our local veterans and their families have first-rate training and job opportunities," Woods said in a statement. "Thank you for honoring us and may God bless our great men and women in uniform."

Hiring Our Heroes said more than 1,500 employers nationwide have hired more than 25,000 military veterans and spouses since 2011, with more than 800 job fairs the primary tool for that.

The U.S. Chamber and credit-card issuer Capital One, meanwhile, started its own "Hiring 500,000 Heroes" campaign three years ago, urging businesses to hire that many military-related people by the end of 2014. That goal is now being adjusted, with 285,000 hires recorded thus far.

But the U.S. Chamber said Thursday it has received pledges from 1,700-plus businesses to hire 474,000 service members, putting it within easy striking distance of that initial half-million target.