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Returning From Battle, Veterans Fight Unemployment

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Cris McRae, left, discusses his educational options with student advisor Dwayne Bourgeois on the campus of Prince George's Community College.
Elliott Francis
Cris McRae, left, discusses his educational options with student advisor Dwayne Bourgeois on the campus of Prince George's Community College.

As troops return home to the D.C. region from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, they face the same thing as many of their fellow soldiers around the country: difficulty finding a job. 

Cris McRae, 23, is one veteran in Prince George's County on a mission to apply lessons learned in battle to launch his post-military career. McRae served as a scout sniper in the army's 101st airborne division for more than five years in Iraq and Afghanistan. McRae's worst moment during that period came while on patrol in Afghanistan near the Korangal Valley, which has been dubbed 'the deadliest place on earth' in the war documentary Restrepo.

"As we patrolled, a deep buried roadside bomb went off -- an IED -- and it catastrophically destroyed our first vehicle," he says. "There were three in the vehicle: Ben Chisholm, Charles High and Carl Petrie. Carl was the only survivor; we lost Ben and Charlie at the scene. But they died doing what they loved." 

Now McRae is back in the U.S. for good, and working on his future. He's enrolled at Prince George's Community College with his eye on a career in government. But it won't necessarily be an easy task, considering the current unemployment rate for veterans in his category is 14 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics records. 

McRae says despite some opinions to the contrary, his experience on the battlefield makes him the perfect hire. 

"A lot of employers have a hard time hiring veterans. They look at the veterans as the crazies," he says. "The way they should look at it is this guy is so professional, he's been doing one of the hardest jobs in the world and now he can bring his experience here. He can bring that professionalism, that leadership, and that drive to succeed anywhere he goes."

Fellow veteran Dwayne Bourgeois is McRae's student advisor. 

"Just tell a veteran exactly what he needs to do. 'You need this, this, this and this, and we'll hire you,'" Bourgeois says. "A veteran will do just that. All they're looking for is a hand up, not a hand out."

The U.S.Senate yesterday approved a portion of President Obama's jobs package that offers tax credits for employers who hire veterans in a unanimous vote. The House is expected to vote on the measure next week.

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