FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas (Army News Service, April 3, 2007) - Wounded warriors and their families were a hot commodity March 27 as dozens of interested employers vied for their attention during the Hiring Heroes Career Fair here.

The career fair, customized for servicemembers wounded in operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom, attracted 75 prospective employers from the Department of Defense, other federal agencies and private-sector companies, including financial institutions, universities, law-enforcement organizations, correctional facilities, high-tech defense companies and several local San Antonio firms.

"Today is about celebrating our servicemembers and the talents and skills they bring to the table," said Patricia Bradshaw, undersecretary of defense for civilian personnel policy, in her remarks to the employers. "Thank you for putting your money where your mouth is in hiring our talented service men and women."

The career fair was the third at Fort Sam Houston and the ninth in the nation for DOD, which sponsors the fairs in partnership with the office of the secretary of defense, the Civilian Personnel Management Service and the Defense Applicant Assistance Office.

In the third year of the program, the career fairs have attracted about 2,000 service members and their families, said Karen Hannah, Hiring Heroes program manager.

"The career fair at Fort Sam Houston was by far the largest with more than 250 service members and their families in attendance," Hannah said.

Spc. James Johnson hopes taking steps now will pay off in the future. Although still a year away from separation, Johnson is ensuring he's well prepared.

"I'm feeling it out," said Johnson, who visited several booths at the fair. "I'm looking into several career paths; I'm not ruling anything out at this point."

Johnson was injured in September when he took the brunt of the blast from a thousand pounds of explosives in Iraq - he was standing only five feet from the suicide bomber.

"When you come back wounded, you start to question whether you'll have any value to society," said Johnson, who sustained burns, a fractured ankle and hearing loss from the explosion. "Job fairs like this one let wounded service members know there are opportunities and companies that want them. It's a huge support and morale boost."

While servicemembers expressed gratitude for the opportunities, the employers said they felt the servicemembers were the ones who should be thanked.

"Military members make terrific employees," said James Critz, who was manning the Northrop Grumman Corp. booth. "They're loyal and have the skills and work ethic you can't find in other places."

Linda Springer, director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, predicted the private sector would have stiff competition from federal employers at the fair. "Across the federal government, over the next nine or 10 years, we will lose roughly 40 to 50 percent of the federal workforce; 60 percent are eligible for retirement, so that means there is an abundance of opportunity."

"We need to give these Soldiers a chance," said Hilbert Rodriguez, a retired sergeant major who now works for the Defense Contract Management Agency. "They've made their contribution by defending us; now it's our turn to take care of them."

(Elaine Wilson serves with the Fort Sam Houston Public Information Office.)