That’s the message Lt. Gen. Dennis McCarthy, former commander of Marine Forces Reserve and a former Assistant Secretary of Defense, gave to members of the business community during the 61st Annual Military Affairs Luncheon sponsored by the Cobb Chamber of Commerce on Monday.
The government, McCarthy said, has a role in assisting with the transition.
“The Department of Defense, in my opinion, has not done as much as it should in the area of transition assistance, in smoothing out that transition, in really preparing people who are leaving active duty to make the next step,” McCarthy said.
The general said the U.S. Department of Labor could do a better job as well.
“But in my opinion, the real center of gravity for this problem, the real place where we can influence it best and most is right here in this room and in rooms like this around the country,” McCarthy said, looking out over a crowd of about 600 at the Cobb Galleria Centre.
McCarthy called on the business community to use its economic strength to provide the kind of opportunities that help young people transfer from wearing the uniform to reintegrating into the civilian workforce.
“I would say don’t wait for veterans to show up and then find out whether or not they fit your needs,” he said. “Let’s find ways to go and recruit them. Let’s find ways to train them. Let’s find ways to orient them, and let’s find ways to mentor them once they get on the job to increase the likelihood that they will succeed in the long run.”
To the employers, McCarthy said his message is, “Hey folks, it’s payback time. These people have done a lot for us. They’ve done a lot to create the conditions of freedom and opportunity in this country. It’s time to pay them back.”
True business leaders excel in transforming outstanding raw materials — in this case, the service members — into profits, he said.
“Well, here is a bundle of great raw material, if we could figure out how to make that transition, how to get it from the base to the plant, from the base to the place of enterprise, and to do so in a way that’s meaningful both for the veteran and for the business,” he said. “So I conclude by saying that it’s not enough just to put a yellow bumper sticker on that says ‘support the troops.’ It’s not even enough to buy a ticket or buy a table at this event. All those are great things. We should all be doing them. But it’s not enough.”
The best way to support the troops is to ensure they have the resources needed on the battlefield. And when they do come home help them reintegrate with their community, he said.
After the lunch, county Chairman Tim Lee said when a reservist who works for his government is called to active duty, the policy is to place a hold on that position until the service member returns.
“We continue to pay our folks while they’re serving for any difference between the amount of money they get as a service person and the amount that they get with their position with Cobb County,” Lee said.
The county also places a priority on hiring veterans, Lee said.
State Rep. Earl Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs) said the Georgia General Assembly must continue providing incentives for returning service members. This year, the Legislature passed a bill that helps veterans become employed by allowing the skills they acquired in the military to count toward civilian licensing in such fields as plumbing, HVAC and mechanical engineering. Ehrhart said incentives are also needed to help businesses hold the jobs open while service members are away.
“The tough part is generally these types of people, they’re your key employees,” Ehrhart said. “They’re the people that are trained, especially if they’re reservists or guard members, they’ve got great training, you hire them because of the skills they gained in the military, but if they’re gone for two to three to four years, and you’re a small business, it’s tough.”
The state can’t legally require a small business to hold a job open if doing so could put that company out of business, Ehrhart said.
“So we need to find ways to make it (work), whether through tax incentives or ways to support the businesses and these returning vets,” he said.
Cobb Chamber of Commerce president and CEO David Connell said the chamber targets the issue through its Honorary Commanders Association, a program that pairs commanders of area military bases with civilian leaders.
“We’ll never do enough, but we need to do a lot more, and there’s a lot already going on in our community,” Connell said. “Our cities are embracing that, all of our companies are doing it already, Home Depot hires vets, we’ve got other companies here that hire vets, so we’re already doing a lot of what he was describing. He’s not familiar with Cobb County. We can always do more, and we’re going to continue to push that as an incentive, but I want to stress, companies are doing this already.”
Monday’s luncheon was hosted by the Atlanta Regional Military Affairs Council, a group that works to build partnerships between the business and military communities of metro Atlanta.