In a hopeful move for a National Guard family, Ashley and Kyle Laganiere bought their first house this week.
It might seem like an unusual move since Kyle Laganiere is still stationed in Kuwait and doesn't have a job waiting for him when he returns. But it's a move they've been planning for a long time.
"I've definitely lost some sleep over it, but we went forward with the loan just based on my income," Langaniere said. "So if the bank gave me a loan and they knew it was just my income, we could make it. Kyle will take the first job he can get. "
Langaniere, 27, who served in the National Guard for three years and now works for the Department of Department of Veteran's Affairs in St. Paul, said she and her husband are confident that he will find work.
"He's got to hit the ground running when he comes home," she said. "Let's take a couple of weeks and spend time with the family and have some fun and see everybody, but then it's back to real life."
But that isn't certain. When the 2,700 members of the Minnesota National Guard begin arriving home beginning in May from Kuwait, one of the biggest challenges for many will be learning how to present their experience in a way employers will find useful.
About 19 percent of the state's Red Bulls brigade won't have a job lined up for themselves when they return, according to Guard officials. Unemployment rates for Minnesota veterans are more than three times the state's overall unemployment rate of 5.7 percent.
With that in mind, the Laganieres are carefully making choices as they look to the future. Their 4-bedroom, $172,000 new home won't break their budget.
After her husband's last deployment, Langaniere started working on a degree in human services. Kyle is already sending resumes to prospective employers, including the Minnesota Department of Corrections and the Hennepin County Jail. He may also try to restart his landscaping business -- one he repeatedly has had to shut down each time the National Guard called him to duty.
Kyle Laganiere, 29, has struggled to find work after his previous tours of duty overseas in Kosovo from 2003 to 2004, and again from 2007 to 2008.
"It got to the point where, sadly, he didn't want to tell people he was in the guard because he didn't want to have to say he was getting deployed," Langaniere said of her husband's experience after returning home four years ago. "When you get turned down for so many jobs that you're qualified for, you start to wonder if it's because they don't want to deal with your deployments anymore."
“I was there, I understand coming back and I understand it's frustrating. And when they say it can't be done, I'm an example it can be done.”Scott Metcalf
Many in the Red Bulls are not waiting to return home to look for a job, said Maj. Aaron Krentz, deployment cycle support chief for Minnesota National Guard.
"They are not waiting to come home to really start this process," Krentz said. "They're well in tune with what's going on and they are being proactive in getting their resumes out there."
The veterans bring valuable experience to the civilian job market, Krentz said, but sometimes have trouble describing technical skills or specific job descriptions in a way that prospective employers will understand.
"They need to translate that into something the corporate world, that employers will understand. The platoon leader is a supervisor or they could be a manager of things in a logistical world." Krentz said. "But it's really important that they articulate that so a potential employer can understand the level or amount of responsibility that they've had."
Scott Metcalf helps the veterans articulate their military experience. He's a Disabled Veterans Outreach coordinator at the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development Workforce Center in Rochester and part of a new support group for Red Bulls returning from Kuwait. The employment resource team will work with soldiers at job fairs around the state and regional workforce centers through the spring.
Metcalf recently critiqued a resume he received via email from a guardsman in Kuwait. Within seconds, he noticed problems on the resume. The soldier guardsman lists his qualifications as "thorough, reliable and dedicated to achieving goals."
"What's that mean? What kind of goals?" Metcalf asks. "You want to make it more specific. What job did they do? I drove 10,000 miles in Iraq without any accidents. That gives you something right there instead of 'achieving goals.' "
Metcalf will send this resume back and forth to the soldier over the next few weeks until it is polished enough for the veteran to send it to prospective employers.
He wants the guardsman to know that it's possible to restart civilian life after serving overseas. In 2005, he was injured in a Humvee accident in Iraq while serving with the Red Bulls.
"I was there, I understand coming back and I understand it's frustrating. And when they say it can't be done, I'm an example it can be done," Metcalf said. "I'm a disabled vet. But I was able to find a job, get back in the saddle again."