Dozens of employers and services visited the Solomon Center this week to meet with veterans, military retirees and spouses as a part of the nationwide "Hiring our Heroes" campaign.

Hiring Our Heroes is an initiative of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce designed to connect veterans and members of the Reserve and National Guard up with employers who need their skills. A requirement for participation in this week's event, with took place Oct. 17 at the Solomon Center,
employers must have jobs immediately available, said Carolyn Andrews, Soldier for Life Transition Assistance program manager.

"The service providers are giving information for the VA and the South Carolina Work Force," she said. "So, if you need additional help after today, (they can help). This isn't just for today, it's an ongoing relationship."

"We're also putting a lot of emphasis on military spouses," said Maj. Gen. (retired) George Goldsmith, an ambassador with the Army Reserve. "Basically, what we want to do is be sure the employers have an opportunity to find out the quality of these people, the men and women absolutely committed to supporting out services."

Making the transition from the military to a civilian life can be a challenge, he said. Ernie Lombardi, a senior associate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, was a testament to that challenge. After leaving the service, Lombardi said he once not only unemployed after leaving the
service, but was homeless.

"I know what it's like to live in my car, and I know what it's like to be unemployed," he told the audience at the start of Tuesday's event. "I don't consider (Hiring Our Heroes) a job, I consider to be a personal mission."

The Columbia area makes that mission a little easier, he said.

"We can't do these kinds of events with local support," Lombardi said. "Every time we come to Columbia, we get open arms. So employers, you have a mission today: Talk to these veterans, talk to these military spouses, talk to these Soldiers and offer them an opportunity."

"There are a lot of resources here at Fort Jackson," said Sgt. Maj. Michael Kouneski, a career counselor at Fort Jackson. "Many with the Soldier for Life program, but you also have a lot supporting agencies … that help Soldiers with resume writing, interview techniques and mock interviews … to help (Soldiers) ease into the transition."

Kouneski is among the Soldiers at Tuesday's job fair who is transitioning. He's retiring from the Army after 31 years of service.

"Absolutely it's scary," he said. "When you have spent 31 years of your life doing one thing, the thought of doing something else is very scary. But, I am looking forward to the challenge of it."

Capt. Ryan Knott is in the process of retiring, and said he was interested in the opportunities provided by Hiring Our Heroes.

"I start my transitioning in November so it's right around the corner," he said. "I think (the career fair is) a great asset and it's awesome that they put something like this together. In my mind it's a doing a lot of leg work for those of us who are transitioning. It brings everybody together instead of me having to run out and go 20 different directions."

Fort Jackson has a terrific pool of potential employees, said Col. Joseph McLamb, Fort Jackson's deputy commanding officer. The attributes of a Soldier are generally appealing to employers, regardless of the sector.

"(Soldiers) have a set of common characteristics that, I think, employers are very interested in," he said. "For example, they're all team players. They all work well with others. They understand the big picture. They're not committed to individual success, but organizational success.

"If those are the kinds of employees you're looking for ... then I think that you're likely to find them today."

(Editor's note: Mr. Robert Timmons (IMCOM) contributed to this article.)