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Frank Gray

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City rated as best in state for veterans

Two different organizations, one called USAA and another called military.com routinely release best places lists.

Last week, both organizations released a list of the best places for people in the 25 to 35 age bracket to go when they’ve left the military, and Fort Wayne was listed as the best city in Indiana.

The organizations were looking for places with low unemployment, an affordable cost of living, low crime rates and access to education.

Any city with an unemployment rate 1 percent more than the national average, a cost of living above the national average or crime rate 25 percent above the national average was scratched off the list.

I suppose any city likes to be listed as the best at this or the best at that, whether it’s the best place to get a pork tenderloin sandwich or the best place to ride a bike.

The purpose of the latest survey, though, wasn’t to let the city stick a feather in its cap, but to actually give veterans a road map to follow to find places that hold promise when they leave the military.

A young person leaving the military after just a few years certainly might want to just return home.

However, according to Ward Carroll, a retired Navy commander, who is with military.com, many veterans have been involved in what he called heady stuff.

True, some veterans return home with physical or emotional damage. There’s no denying that, Carroll said. The public sometimes also has its own perception of veterans, and it will vary from place to place.

In Manhattan, for example, veterans might be viewed as victims.

Bruce Springsteen will sing for them then and they’ll be invited to stand at home plate in a baseball stadium.

Too often, though, something that is left out of the public perception of veterans is what Carroll called the great consequence of some of the jobs that they have had.

Many veterans just want to take their experience and their skills and find jobs that are profitable and seem like they matter, Carroll said.

Some skills are easy to recognize. An aircraft mechanic might want to go to an airline to find a job working on airplanes.

Someone who had worked in nuclear power on a nuclear submarine might want to look for work in the energy industry, or a person who served in intelligence might want to look for a job in cyber security, Carroll said.

When veterans leave the military, there is a certain amount of anxiety involved in job change, Carroll said. There is some indecision about where to go, and even some uncertainty about how their military experience translates into civilian life.

Military.com offers what it calls a skills translator for veterans, and USAA.com/bestplaces offers a list of the 10 best places for veterans to find opportunity.

Fort Wayne didn’t make that top 10 list, but it did come out as the best place in Indiana.

So Fort Wayne might be able to take a certain amount of satisfaction in knowing it is the best place in the state, but this isn’t about stroking communities’ egos.

“This survey is about vets coming in with a sound strategy” when re-entering civilian life, Carroll said.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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