Obama: New program will transfer military skills into civilian credentials
President Barack Obama swooped into Minnesota on Friday to make a pitch for hiring veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and to raise some campaign cash.
The president told a crowd of 1,700 gathered at the Honeywell International headquarters plant in Golden Valley that now the war in Iraq is over and the war in Afghanistan is winding down, more than 1 million military service members will making the transition to civilian life, and the nation must do more to help them find jobs.
“I believe that no one who fights for this country should ever have to fight for a job when they come home,” he said.
Obama announced he has ordered the Defense Department to create a new program, in cooperation with manufacturers, to transform veterans’ military skills into the certificates and credentials they need for civilian jobs. He said it would help provide jobs for 126,000 veterans.
“Unfortunately a lot of heroes with advanced skills not hired because they don’t have certificates,” he said.
But they have leadership experience and technological skills learned on the battlefield.
“You can’t get those skills in a classroom,” he said. “These are the kinds of Americans that every company should want to hire.”
He cited the case of a combat medic from Minnesota who couldn’t get an emergency medical technician job back home because he lacked the required credentials.
“Let me tell you something, if you can save a life on a battlefield, you can save a life in an ambulance,” he said.
The White House chose Honeywell for the speech because the company is a partner to two administration programs to hire veterans. Honeywell has hired more than 900 veterans since 2011, including 65 in the Twin Cities. It employs 5,500 veterans, who comprise 11 percent of its workforce, a company spokesman said.
Honeywell offered tickets to its Minnesota employees on a first come, first served basis, the spokesman said.
Ryan Sullivan, a Navy veteran and Honeywell electrician, introduced Obama to the Golden Valley crowd. Sullivan served off the coasts of Iraq and Yemen before he was discharged and hired by Honeywell in February through a veterans’ employment program.
Among those watching was Honeywell maintenance manager Nick Phillippi, who served in the Navy during the Vietnam war and he was excited this year to receive an application from Sullivan, an electrician and fellow Navy vet in his early 30s.
“I hired him about four months ago, and his Navy service was part of the consideration given when he was hired,” Phillippi said. “It wasn’t the sole thing. I liked what I saw. I liked what I heard.” He’s hoping more employers will do the same.
“Honeywell made it a mission to hire more veterans,” Obama said during his speech. His new initiative will “make it easier for a lot of companies to do the same thing.”
The president spoke on a stage with a bleacher full of veterans employed by Honeywell as a background.
He closed his 26-minute speech with a message to veterans: “You sacrificed for us. We’ll keep fighting for you.”
Afterward, nine-year-old Cora Fett was all smiles. She got to shake the president’s hand while attending with her mother Vanya Hagen.
“I basically agreed with the whole message,” said Hagen, a St. Paul resident and attorney for the Fond du Lac band of Chippewa. “I think it’s great that he’s taking executive action to do it and not waiting for Congress, which doesn’t work very well.”
Bill Green of Maplewood never saw combat, but he spent over a year with the military in Korea in 1968. The maintenance millwright was excited to hear the president during the speech put so much focus on younger veterans returning from war and the sacrifices they and their families have made.
“I’m hoping that that’s going to work, because these veterans need the back-up,” said Green, a Honeywell employee for 33 years. “They’re looking out for the country, and they need to be looked out for too.”
Bob Poretti, a technical writer in defense and space engineering at Honeywell’s Stinson plant in northeast Minneapolis, said he’s seen older veterans retire as the defense industry shrinks. He’s nevertheless optimistic that the government and private sector can team to find jobs for younger vets.
“You’d have to get back into an arms race if you’re going to do it on the defense end … but there’s plenty of things for them to do. Commercial aviation is starting to come back,” Poretti said. “It’s not a Republican solution. It’s not a Democratic solution. It’s an American solution.”
Before Obama arrived, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a surrogate for Mitt Romney’s GOP presidential campaign, told reporters in a conference call that Obama’s economic policies are stifling job creation. He noted U.S. employers added only 69,000 new jobs in May, the smallest number in a year.
After the speech Obama was scheduled to revert to his role as a candidate to attend three big-buck fundraising receptions for his re-election campaign at the Bachelor Farmer, a Minneapolis restaurant owned by Gov. Mark Dayton’s sons. About 100 contributors paid $5,000 to $50,000 to attend a luncheon, photo opportunity or round table discussion with the president. Those events were closed to the press.
Air Force One landed at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport at 10:47 a.m. Gov. Mark Dayton, U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak greeted him on the tarmac. U.S. Reps. Betty McCollum and Tim Walz accompanied the president on the flight.
Bill Salisbury can be reached at 651-228-5538. Follow him at twitter.com/bsalisbury.
Frederick Melo can be reached at 651-228-2172. Follow him at twitter.com/Frederickmelo.