Twenty-three-year-old Jesse Kiser waited patiently in a long line to find work at the Chattanooga Career Center on Thursday.
The room set aside for the veterans career fair was buzzing with retired military and young men and women back from war. Some had their hair combed back and wore nicely fitted suits. Others were in a jeans and T-shirts.
They shook hands with recruiters from T-Mobile, Volkswagen, Parkridge Hospital and Dollar General.
Even though Kiser has been out of work since March -- he couldn't continue driving 45 minutes from Athens to Dayton every day for the job he had -- he felt good about his prospects.
Kiser, who has been back from his tour in Iraq since 2010 when he worked as a U.S. Army intelligence analyst, said he was eager for a career job. For the past months he's been relying on his girlfriend. He started the military right out of high school and said he feels like he is coming into the job market behind everyone. College graduates are even scraping to find work.
"It sucks," he said. "I had a lot of money and then I didn't."
Thirteen career centers across the state were hosting veterans career fairs on Thursday. The events, organized by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, were arranged to help out-of-work service men and women find a foothold in the tough economy.
Local jobless figures released Thursday show that unemployment rates fell across Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia counties during September. But unemployment among veterans remains at nearly double-digit levels.
The jobless rate for Gulf War Era II veterans, those like Kiser, is 9.7 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The overall unemployment rate for all U.S. workers was 7.8 percent last month, data shows.
"They feel betrayed," said Billy Hewitt, Chattanooga chairman of Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve. "Most have not worked anywhere but the military."
Still, Hewitt said they have skills to offer. A lot of veterans are qualified for tech-savvy jobs. They are clean cut, can show up for work on time and follow authority, he said.
"A lot of young people don't have those qualities," he said.
Tables were set up around a small room near the sitting area where people wait for unemployment checks and extensions. The Volkswagen table has a stack of 100 resumes for 25 job openings, said Rosie Russell, a recruiter for the German car manufacturer.
She said Volkswagen has confidence in veterans because they are structured.
For the crowd Thursday, she said she is sure some will be reviewed by managers.
Art Sherman, a 39-year-old Navy retiree said he was looking for work to supplement his pension. He had moved to Tennessee from Texas several years ago because his sister was being threatened with foreclosure and needed help financially.
He hopes to find a tech job in the area, maybe at Volkswagen, he said.
"I am a gear head," he said.
He was going to work at the Wacker plant in Bradley County, but those jobs were delayed recently. The company announced that it would be 18 months before hiring occurred.
So he's on the trail again.
Joan Garrett McClane has been a staff writer for the Times Free Press since August 2007. Before becoming a general assignment writer for the paper, she wrote about business, higher education and the court systems. She grew up the oldest of five sisters near Birmingham, Ala., and graduated with a master's and bachelor's degrees in journalism from the University of Alabama. Before landing her first full-time job as a reporter at the Times Free Press, ...