Veterans, civilians flock to Marine Corps base job fair
By Will Hoover
Advertiser Staff Writer
They showed up by the hundreds — young, old, military and civilian. And they all had one thing on their minds: jobs.
The occasion was the Marine Corps Base Hawaii Job Fair yesterday afternoon, offering opportunity at more than three dozen booths.
While most booths were military friendly — Northrop Grumman, Mission Essential Personnel, National Security Agency — there were other everyday enterprises, including real estate, banking and staffing outfits.
"We got tons of jobs," FBI Special Agent Kal Wong told a group of Marines gathered around his booth. "Seriously. No age limit. You don't need a degree. If you've got a high school diploma or a GED, you can work for the FBI."
That got the men's attention, although Wong was quick to add that while a college degree is required to become an FBI agent, two-thirds of the bureau's employees are office staff.
Marine Sgt. Trevor Gorham was intrigued. He asked questions. He picked up some literature. And then moved on to the next booth.
"I'm just trying to get some options," Gorham said. "I've still got three years left. And the best job I'm going to get is if I've got a degree. So, I'm here trying to find out what kinds of degrees are best for certain jobs."
The job fair, which ran from noon to 4 p.m., was held on the same day that the U.S. Department of Labor released figures showing that military veterans in Hawai'i had an unemployment rate last year that was higher than that of the general population — 8.3 percent compared with 6.8 percent.
And as those in the military near the end of their careers, their thoughts inevitably turn to what they'll do next.
After 24 years in the Marines and 12 deployments — including Iraq and three tours in Afghanistan — 1st Sgt. Melvin Chandler said the time seemed right to try something different. His field is aviation, so something in that line would be preferable. Still, Chandler wasn't taking any chances.
"I wouldn't mind being in the FBI," he said after signing up for a 90-minute bureau seminar. "It just depends on what they are looking for."
In previous years, the base job fair has attracted around 300 people. Last year, that figure jumped to more than 1,400, according to Ric Paguio, family member employment assistance manager, who organized the event.
Much of that increase happened because last year's fair was open to the public for the first time. The public was invited again this year and turnout was expected to be even greater. Attendance, however, may have been limited by the closing of H-3 Freeway due to a fatal accident, Paguio said.
Still, of the 617 job seekers who did make it to the Kahuna's Community Ballroom to register, nearly half were civilians.
Hawai'i's unemployment rate remains near a 30-year high, with the January rate recorded at 6.9 percent, up slightly from the month before. But other figures released this week by the Labor Department showed nearly 1 in 6 people in Hawai'i — about 15.5 percent — were either unemployed or underemployed last year.
Among the civilians hoping for a change in fortunes yesterday was Keith Baxter, 60, of Maui.
"This is my first job fair," said Baxter, who spoke of making — and losing — a bundle in his wind-surfing equipment business. "We were doing millions. I had several homes. We were doing really well. Then I went to Asia, and didn't know anything about working with Asians. And I put everything in one basket.
"Now I'm here looking for a job."
Back home on Maui, the jobless rate — 8.5 percent in January — was higher than the 6 percent recorded in Honolulu.
Leon Bothelho, 21, of Kane'ohe was looking to find something full time in construction.
"I was hoping to find something less technical," said Bothelho, who works part time for a housing maintenance company. "I was doing some roofing, too. But it's been slow. My boss actually told me, 'You should go check it out.' "
Krystle O'Connor, 23, wife of Marine Cpl. Moe O'Connor, said she had been a mortgage specialist in San Diego before coming to Hawai'i.
"I did mostly the processing side — qualifying," O'Connor said. "Of course, the housing market in California wasn't all that great."
Like others at the fair, she had her fingers crossed for better luck in Hawai'i.
"I've actually had a few good prospects," she said. "A lot more than I thought from looking at the list. And I have an interview lined up with Office Team."