Almost eight years ago, I deployed to Iraq, at a time when the insurgency was at its most powerful level. Although the mission of my Civil Affairs team was to rebuild the destroyed infrastructure, we were attached to a Marine infantry battalion that saw intense fighting practically every day. During one of our combat patrols, I was shot in the back of the head by an enemy sniper.
Thanks to the courage and skill of Navy Corpsman George Grant, I survived, and then began the long process of reconstructive surgeries, recovery, adjustment, and ultimately, a sustainable career where once again I was a productive member of society.
Of course, I have faced significant challenges along the way, but a recent New York experience reminded me that in this next stage of my life and career, I have the opportunity to support a new mission: helping other service members make a smooth, successful transition into civilian life. And it’s a mission that’s drawing some awesome allies.
Recently, I had the privilege of serving as the guest of honor with legendary rock band KISS at their long-overdue induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But instead of this making me nervous, the band members immediately made me feel comfortable.
Gene Simmons told me that their awards that night paled in comparison to the Purple Heart and Combat Action Ribbon on my chest; Paul Stanley insisted I was the guest of honor and asked for my input on what more they could do for our transitioning service members.
Simmons pointed out during his acceptance speech that a portion of their ticket sales from their upcoming tour with Def Leppard would go to a handful of military-related nonprofit organizations, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes program.
It was a cool experience spending time with KISS, and they were very appreciative of my military service and sacrifice, but I am more excited about what they are doing for today’s newest veterans and wounded warriors.
KISS not only talks the talk, but truly walks the walk, even in 7-inch Demon Boots. The next morning on the NBC’s "Today," surrounded by service members and Wounded Warrior Project Alumni, KISS and Def Leppard announced that they will hire two veterans as roadies this summer (veterans can apply here). These incredibly important positions involve a high degree of trust, long hours, hard work and commitment.
Anyone who has felt the power of a KISS production can understand how detail-oriented they are and how many moving parts are in play. That KISS will entrust these two coveted positions to veterans not only demonstrates their commitment to our troops, but also that they truly value the experience and skills that today’s transitioning service members bring to the workforce.
KISS and Def Leppard are doing something that all of today’s veterans can understand – they are leading from the front and leading by example. “I Support Our Troops” is not just a bumper sticker for them, but a call to action. Like KISS and Def Leppard, many employers across the country have realized the inherent value of hiring veterans, primarily because of our integrity, loyalty, leadership skills, dedicated work ethic and belief in teamwork.
Still, the unemployment rates for our post-9/11 veterans, and especially our wounded warriors, remain far too high. My incredible wife and my strong support network were a critical part of my reintegration back into society. KISS and Def Leppard are now offering to be that support network for two very deserving veterans.
In 2012, KISS hired veteran Paul Jordan as their roadie for their concert series with Motley Crue. The long hours and hard work reminded Paul of his time in the military, and he described it as a “dream job.” This is exactly what is waiting for this year’s two lucky hires. Together we can defeat the problem of veteran unemployment, and with the millions of corporations across America, it literally can be done one or two hires at a time.
Just like KISS is doing, employers of every kind can work with organizations like Hiring Our Heroes to connect with thousands of highly-qualified transitioning service members, veterans and military spouses actively looking for sustainable careers. You don’t have to be a rock star to hire a veteran, but you will feel like one when you do.
Lieutenant Colonel Justin Constantine, USMC (ret), is a Purple Heart recipient and international speaker. He is the senior advisor to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.