Alexandra Ayala, a military spouse, right, speaks with Sheri Kimes, director of community outreach for Troopswap, during a Hiring Our Heroes job fair Wednesday at Fort Hood’s Club Hood
Katherine Velazquez, a military spouse, fills out paperwork during a job fair Wednesday at Club Hood. The event was designed to highlight the diverse skill sets of many military spouses and connect them with employers. There also were several workshops on resume building and interviewing.

By Colleen Flaherty
Killeen Daily Herald

FORT HOOD — The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Capital One Bank challenged employers to hire 500,000 veterans and military spouses by the end of 2014 during hiring fairs across the country Wednesday, including one at Fort Hood.

Of the four Hiring Our Heroes fairs, including one on the USS Intrepid in New York City, Fort Hood’s was the only one specifically for military spouses.

The event was designed to highlight their diverse skill sets and connect them with employers, said Laura Dempsey, head of military spouse programs for the chamber.

Despite the national military spouse unemployment rate of 26 percent, spouses are, on average, more educated and volunteer more than their civilian counterparts, Dempsey said. Although many employers want to hire military spouses, they may not know how to retain them or support them, she added. “There’s a communication gap.”

Darin Cline, a Navy veteran and senior partner at Capitol One, said military spouses learn team-building, problem-solving and leadership during their military tenures and are a “key ingredient to keeping our military strong.”

He called on employers throughout the country to commit to hiring them.

The chamber will host several hiring fairs for military spouses this year. The first was in Washington in January, attracting 1,300 job-seekers. Nearly 1,100 registered for Fort Hood’s fair, with many more walk-ins.

“We’re really happy,” Dempsey said of the turnout. “It means we’re really effectively getting the word out.”

All 88 employers present had at least five positions available. Local employers included the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, Walmart, the city of Killeen and Aegis.

Teresa Shipman, head of Fort Hood’s Army Community Service Employment Readiness Branch, said a large-scale hiring event geared toward military spouses helped boost their confidence and chances of finding employment, while educating employers about their value.

Military spouses are innovative and resilient, she said, and, due to recent Defense Department attempts to increase stability in military households, don’t relocate as often as they once did.

Ann Campbell, wife of Fort Hood and III Corps commander Lt. Gen. Donald M. Campbell Jr., said she’d moved 23 times in 33 years and knew firsthand it is hard to “get a job and keep a job” as a military wife.

But, she said, military spouses can be among the most adaptable and loyal of employees and “work for you as long as they can.”

Carly Montgomery, a 1st Cavalry Division spouse, said she arrived at Fort Hood from Michigan in December and found only seasonal work so far. Her biggest challenge is that she had to interrupt her college education to be with her husband after his recent return from Iraq. Without a degree, she wasn’t qualified for many jobs.

The 20-year-old will continue her nursing studies this spring, and said she found a medical receptionist position at the fair that looked promising.

Being able to meet and interact with so many employers in one place “gives me hope that there are jobs out there,” she said.

In addition to several seminars throughout the day, DeVry University hosted resume-writing and interview workshops.

DeVry has a long history of working with military personnel, veterans and spouses and the challenges they can face in the civilian job market, said Ernest Gibble, senior director of communications for the school.

Helping them succeed is often a matter of helping translate their experiences into civilian speak, he said.

A field artillery veteran, for example, has experience handling multimillion-dollar weapons systems.

For spouses, he said, frequent moves may mean gaps in resumes, but also experience “dealing with big transfers and figuring out how to do that. That’s a pretty powerful demonstration of management skills and responsibility.”

Since launching Hiring Our Heroes in March 2011, the chamber has helped more than 9,000 veterans and military spouses find employment.