Wounded troops flock to job fair

Staff Sgt. John Stevenson wants to stay in the Army after being seriously injured in Iraq, but he understands that might not be possible.

So Stevenson, 34, joined hundreds of other wounded soldiers during the six-hour Hiring Heroes Career Fair on Tuesday to learn more about job opportunities if he's medically retired and must find work as a civilian.

"In the event I do have to get out ... I'll have a pretty good feel for what I want to do," he said.

On hand were representatives from more than 70 employers that either have active programs to recruit and hire people with disabilities or can accommodate their needs, said Roger Shepard, regional chief for the Army Career and Alumni Program, which helps soldiers leaving the Army find work. Among those employers were Boeing, FedEx and numerous state, federal and law enforcement agencies.

While the injuries the soldiers suffered might prevent them from resuming military duties, they in many cases haven't robbed them of job skills sought by other employers, he said.

"The strength is still there, whether they're severely wounded or not," said Shepard, who works at Fort Lewis.

Stevenson needs six more years of service to reach 20 and qualify for Army retirement benefits.

His life was sidetracked Dec. 22, when he was injured in a bomb blast in Baghdad while with an infantry unit based in Germany.

He lost most of the vision in his right eye, and his right arm was shattered.

He's assigned to a medical holding company at Fort Lewis until doctors determine whether he's fit to return to duty.

He said he appreciated the Army arranging an opportunity for him to explore his job options.

"I think this is a good forum to give the soldiers a leg up," he said. "When they get out, they got a head start already."

Members of all the military service branches who were wounded in conflicts past and present were invited.

The Department of Defense sponsored the event and has had about a dozen similar activities nationwide.

Some who showed up suffered injuries far from the combat zone.

Spc. Jose Moreno, 21, missed the deployment of his unit, the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team), after he was diagnosed with asbestos poisoning. The unit is now returning home after a 15-month deployment.

Moreno was working in the aging barracks as they were being remodeled, exposing him to high concentrations of the contaminant. The poisoning left him unable to sweat; instead, his skin turns red, and he breaks out in hives.

He expects to leave the military in December, and he attended the fair looking for an office job that is away from the sun and heat.

"This is just showing that there are people willing to help us, but we've got to meet them halfway and come out to these things," he said.