As I walked through the Hickam Officers’ Club with my cameras slung around my shoulders, I read the signs on some of the booths I passed by: Bank of Hawaii, Farmer’s Insurance, GameStop. These businesses were among over fifty employers at the “Hiring Our Heroes” job fair, sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. According to the website, this program was launched in March 2011, is “a year-long nationwide effort to help veterans and their spouses find meaningful employment.”
Although I tend to first identify myself as a photographer, I will always be proud of my time as an Army spouse, as it has exposed me to the previously unfamiliar world that is life in the military. I was born and raised in Hawaii, and met my husband after he was stationed here at Fort Shafter. Unlike many military spouses who may marry into the service very young, I was fortunate enough to have already finished my four-year college degree and be running my own business here in Hawaii before becoming an Army wife. However, as I watch my husband prepare to finish his second enlistment and be out of the military by next summer, I can understand how scary the transition to civilian life can be, especially in this economy.
First Lady Michelle Obama, the daughter of an Army veteran, has come out as a strong supporter of veterans and their spouses in post-military life. She arrived at the podium with a smile, waving to the cheering crowd of active-duty military from all branches, veterans, and their families. Escorting her was Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam Commander Captain Jeffrey James and Kevin Schmiegel, the Vice President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. After a brief introduction by Captain James, Schmeigel opened for Mrs. Obama, saying “Let me be clear, this is not charity. This is about connecting talented men and women who have served our nation with job opportunities that exist in the private sector.”
He then introduced Mrs. Obama to the crowd, and she greeted her audience with an enthusiastic “Aloha!” I was struck by how personable she was, and enjoyed listening to her speak and interact with the crowd as I snapped my photos. Besides giving her support to “Hiring Our Heroes”, she also promoted her own program, co-sponsored with Dr. Jill Biden, called “Joining Forces”, which addresses education, wellness, and employment issues for military families. As part of this initiative, she says that American businesses have pledged to hire over 100,000 veterans and military spouses by 2014.
“As my husband said, no one who has fought for our country abroad should have to fight for a job when they return home.”
My own husband says that as the wars wind down and the military reduces in size, a large group of veterans will suddenly find themselves jobless in a weak economy. He, like many, did not have time to complete college while serving, and in a society that seems to prefer a piece of paper over raw experience, that is one more uncertainty on his shoulders as he prepares for life as a civilian. We are both thankful for Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden calling attention to the influx of unemployed veterans that this nation may be soon facing.
Mrs. Obama finished her speech, and then declared she was going to shake some hands. As she made her way around the crowd (flanked by terribly intimidating Secret Service men!), she not only shook hands, but reached out to give high fives to children, and even held a baby who began to play with one of her earrings. For a moment I wished that I was along the barricade in line to meet the First Lady of the United States as a military spouse, but I was here to do a job, and I am always grateful to not only have a job, but one I love so much.
Please enjoy my photos!