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Among Nevada’s deployed, fears of being unemployed
by Steve Ranson — Nevada Appeal
Dec 18, 2011 | 1223 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
KANDAHAR AIR FIELD, Afghanistan (AP) — Sgt. Stephen Belcher is the face of the Nevada Army National Guard in Afghanistan.

So is Staff Sgt. Craig Shean of Incline Village, and many more who are serving overseas.

While their camaraderie at Kandahar Air Field bonds them together as soldiers, unemployment is the common denominator that will affect them when they return to Nevada in January from their yearlong deployment.

Since the 422nd Expeditionary Signal Battalion left Reno in January for two months of training and then deployed to Afghanistan, Uncle Sam has gainfully employed these soldiers.

The future, though, scares all of them.

“I don’t have a job to go back to,” said the 29-year-old Belcher, who lives in Logandale, a 45-minute drive from Las Vegas. “My wife doesn’t work, and we have three children ages 6, 3 and 1.”

While Belcher and his fellow guardsmen are counting down the days to returning home, the notion of soldiers not having jobs weighs heavily on him.

“Many of our soldiers will be unemployed when they return home,” he explained. “Though we have many skills and abilities to provide the employment market, it will still be difficult to find employment.”

The latest, unofficial estimates taken of the two Nevada companies indicate that 40-50 percent of the soldiers in each unit — or about 140 soldiers total — do not have a civilian job waiting for them.

Because of the unemployment guardsmen are facing when they return home, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., Gov. Brian Sandoval and Caleb Cage from the Nevada Office of Veterans Services have pledged their assistance.

Capt. Gordon Steinmann, commander of Charley Company at the Washoe Armory north of Reno, said the poor economy is prompting soldiers to seek extensions in Afghanistan.

Because of that, he is encouraging soldiers to look for jobs now and obtain more information before leaving to Nevada.

Steinmann said he was encouraged when Sandoval visited the battalion in August and said he would work on a veterans outreach for jobs.

1st Sgt. Rodney Medina of Bravo Company, the lone Las Vegas unit in the 422nd, said battalion personnel including him are working hard to set up its soldiers for success and help them find jobs.

“We’re giving them classes for résumé writing,” Medina said. “I’ve been looking at the websites to see what jobs they can apply for. ... As a leader I like to give them the tools, and then they go to run with them. It’s tough love. Not only do we train them to get by in the Guard but also get them out in the real world.”

Medina, a postal carrier, said he would hate to see the soldiers waste their knowledge if they can’t use it.

“It would break my heart if they don’t take what they learn out here and take it to the civilian world,” Medina said.

The lack of jobs

Staff Sgt. Craig Shean, a tactical communication NCOIC (noncommissioned officer in charge), has spent eight years in the National Guard. He had previously been employed as a project manager in construction jobs but those opportunities have disappeared during the poor economic times.

While in Afghanistan, Shean has been busy perfecting his communications work. He said it has been a challenge trying to get the locals in Afghanistan to understand technology.

“They can do it, but it will take time,” Shean said.

He added the high point of his deployment has been working with Coalition partners in order to make communications work along the units and out to Forward Operating Bases (FOBs).

“It’s one team, one fight,” he said.

But he has anxieties about returning home to Nevada in January.

In fact, he would like to extend his deployment with another unit, the only sure way for him to receive a paycheck.

“I am going home with no job and going to Nevada with 13 percent unemployment.” he said. “Something is to be said of staying in a war zone to have a job.”

On top of having no job waiting for him, he will not have the same home to go to. The Incline Village guardsman said he and his wife are in the process of obtaining a divorce.

“There’s not a lot of joy for me when I climb off the plane,” he said. “When the commander says ‘Dismiss’ — dismiss to what?”

Looking ahead

Staff Sgt. Adam Fenner said he hopes to use military benefits for education and eventually obtain a college degree.

“I want to get an education,” said the 27-year-old soldier who is completing his fourth deployment and also served in the U.S. Marine Corps in Iraq after the 2003 invasion. “I’m looking at the economy, and any job requires a bachelor’s degree.”

Fenner has completed three semesters in between deployments, but he doesn’t worry about the future. Fenner said he has time to think about the future, but if he could extend his deployment in Afghanistan until the economy improves, he would do so.

Although his tour is nearing an end, Fenner remains upbeat and said he learned much while assigned to the 422nd.

“I like the unit as a whole,” he said. “I learned a lot with the guys here. I made a few new friends . money is a plus. The 422nd has taken care of us. There’s no glamour or glitz but a mission.”
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