Mark Nighswonger retired from the Marine Corps in 2008 and found work in the civilian world, on his own terms.
He built a 30-by-40-foot barn on 10 acres he owns in Windsor, renovated the front and back porches of his house, and installed a metal roof.
The projects kept the 53-year-old busy, but did not put him any closer to achieving his dream of using the avionics training he received in the military to build a career in engineering.
Now, thanks to Aiken Technical College and U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., Nighswonger is getting his shot.
On April 22, the District 2 representative was the host for his first Veterans Fair to help combat what some economists are calling the most staggering statistic in the U.S. job market’s slow recovery – more than 10 percent of the nation’s veterans are unemployed.
“Veterans deserve a positive future,” said Wilson, a retired colonel. “They
are highly skilled in their training, make extraordinary employees and have the potential to make a huge difference in our community.”
More than 40 companies and organizations – 15 of which were hoping to hire – attended the fair to provide a one-stop place where as many as 300 veterans could find jobs and assistance in making the transition into the civilian world.
Among the participants were large companies such as Bridgestone, UPS and Wal-Mart, and local organizations including the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office.
“It’s a tough transition, and we can make it easier by seeking them out and putting them to work,” said Capt. Nick Gallam, the jail administrator at the Aiken County Detention Center and a Marine Corps sergeant who returned from Iraq in 2009.
Gallam said veterans “bring a lot to the table” as well-disciplined workers.
Serah Taylor, of Rural Sourcing Inc. in Augusta, agreed. Taylor said she has found that veterans make “ideal candidates” for the amount of computer programming and software development her line of work requires.
Rural Sourcing gives alternatives to companies that are considering sending jobs overseas to save money by providing the same level of customer service in small towns and counties in the U.S.
In the past year, the Atlanta-based company has grown from a staff of six to 60 and is expanding to a third location.
Many veterans saw the event as a networking opportunity, including Nighswonger, who is working on a degree in engineering at Aiken Tech.
“I want to be ready,” Nighswonger said. “Turns out retirement is not as fun as people think.”