Veterans Oscar Willis, right, and James Hanley invited the newest generation of veterans to join the Medford Veterans of Foreign Wars post as part of the “soldier enhancement day” on Sunday at the Medford Armory. - Denise Baratta

Job fair helps vets in return to civilian life

Unlike those coming back from other wars, new veterans returning from Iraq or Afghanistan got a head start on life after combat Sunday at a job fair that attracted veterans from throughout Oregon.

"I think it's the greatest thing anyone's ever done for soldiers and their families," said Charles Jackson, a specialist in the National Guard who lives in Chiloquin.

Jackson, who has served two tours in Afghanistan, was one of 650 veterans who showed up at the Medford Armory to talk with representatives from 80 businesses in Southern Oregon.

He said he received instruction on how to prepare a resume, hoping eventually to get a job in a computer-related field.

Ree Ayers, apprenticeship representative with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, said many of the veterans received serious leads about jobs during the day.

She said this was the first-ever "soldier enhancement day" to help Oregon veterans re-enter life in the United States. Veterans, dressed in military fatigues, not only got job leads, they were fed lunch and transported around the state.

"We were busing them in and out all day," she said.

Ayers said a trial run of the job fair was held in January, but Sunday's gathering was the first of its kind in the state.

T.J. Santoyd, first sergeant in the National Guard, said the military makes an extra effort now to make sure veterans are eased back into society.

"We try to get them headed in the right direction," he said. "This is phenomenal," he said about the local event. "Jackson County was a huge success for us."

Oscar Willis, a veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars, said it hasn't always been easy for soldiers coming back from a war zone.

"You could be in a firefight yesterday morning and on the streets tonight," remembered the Medford resident, a Navy veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars.

He remembers coming back from Vietnam in 1967. As part of his work with the military he went to the university campus at Berkeley, Calif., and was to told not to wear a uniform because of the strong anti-war movement.

Willis said he was able to find his way back into normal life because he was a little older, but he said it was particularly difficult on the younger recruits at the time.

"I think we all drank heavy when we got back, but thank the Lord we got it together," he said.

Willis and other members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1833 in Medford were on hand to sign up younger veterans in their organization.

Dave Randal, a senior trooper with the Oregon State Police, said hundreds of soldiers stopped by his booth and 32 filled out applications.

"We're extremely impressed with the quality, not just the quantity of those who have stopped by," he said.

Jon Hudson, sergeant first class with the National Guard, filled out one of the applications for a trooper position. "I've always been interested in law enforcement," he said.

Hudson has gone to Iraq twice, to Afghanistan once and in 2000 he went to Kuwait. When he's not overseas, he works for a sand and gravel company in Eugene in the marketing department.

"Going from the front lines to office work is pretty dramatic," he said.

Hudson said he was surprised that so many businesses were involved in the job fair and appeared interested in hiring veterans.

"This is the best one I've seen," he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or

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