I became a Marine at the age of 17. I jumped at the chance to challenge myself, serve my country, and explore the world outside of the small Kentucky town that I'd grown up in. I traveled to foreign countries, deployed to combat zones, and fought in one of the most harrowing battles in Afghanistan.
I spent years training under elite instructors and training others in turn, leading teams, and managing projects from start to finish, but by the time I separated from the military, I had never searched for a job. My resume probably would have been incomprehensible to civilians. I took part in three days of transition workshops and preparation, and then I did what most service members and their families do -- I went home.
It was a struggle to say the least. I quickly missed the camaraderie and the sense of meaning that I had found in the military. Then, in 2011, I got a call that would change my life. President Obama told me I would be receiving the Medal of Honor for my actions during the Battle of Ganjgal in Afghanistan in 2009. But, that day had been the worst day of my life -- a day in which I lost some of my closest friends. I told him I didn't want it.
Over time, I realized the Medal of Honor was, of course, bigger than me. It was an opportunity to tell my story on behalf of thousands of other veterans who don't have the platform to make their voices heard.
By the time I left, post-9/11 veterans were facing an unemployment rate greater than 12 percent. For veterans like me under 25, the rate was closer to 30 percent. Those statistics are getting better, but with 300,000 service members and their families expected to separate from the armed forces each year for the next five years, this battle is far from over.
Soon after receiving the Medal of Honor, I realized how I could still have an impact. I teamed up with Toyota and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation on their Hiring Our Heroes program -- a program that is specifically designed to aid veterans and military spouses in more effectively marketing themselves to employers. As part of my involvement in Hiring Our Heroes, I have helped develop tools like the Resume Engine that show veterans how to translate their technical jargon filled resumes and present themselves in interviews. This is a great first step for all the service men and women returning to the workforce, but in terms of improving veteran unemployment, that is only one piece of the puzzle.
This Veterans Day, I intend to make best use of the opportunities I've been given, and I am calling on America's employers to step up to the plate. If there isn't a veteran on your staff, you are missing out.
We are men and women with years of some the most thorough training in medicine, logistics, information systems, and other essential fields. It doesn't matter whether you are recruiting for a large corporation's new plant or a small business looking to expand, you and your company want candidates that have not only the highest of qualifications, but also the utmost of character. We are men and women who are proven leaders, and possess the discipline and problem-solving skills that come with responsibilities. We are men and women who know how to communicate effectively, manage multiple tasks, and ultimately, get the job done and done well.
My bias is not only the result of serving my country; indeed, I am also a business owner. I launched Dakota Meyer Enterprises because I wanted to put former service members back to work. My business has benefitted tremendously from hiring veterans, and for that I am very grateful. In my advocacy work with Hiring Our Heroes, I have had the opportunity to meet some very special veterans whose service after leaving the military has been just as exemplary as it was when they served to protect our freedom. While hundreds of employers are benefiting from members of their teams who are military veterans, there are just as many companies, if not more, that could also benefit from the great pool of veteran talent out there.
I know that the economic crisis over the last few years has made HR representatives' and recruiters' inboxes more crowded with applicants than seemingly ever before, but I can assure you that it will be worth your time and effort to take the extra step to hire a veteran.
So today, as we take a moment to think about how we can honor the great men and women that have served our country, consider hiring employees that will make your business smarter and stronger. Hire a veteran, and then hire some more.