Chicago-area military veterans graduate from job-training program

April 10, 2012 10:00:00 PM PDT
Wednesday was graduation day for some Chicago-area veterans. Most had been unemployed. A training program is giving them new skills in the workplace and a chance for a new start.

It was called a graduation, but the hard lessons that led to this day began long before they enrolled.

"A huge milestone. It's a path for the next 20-plus years, hopefully," said Iraq War veteran Robert Czerniak.

For years, these former military members struggled to find work.

Former enlisted service member Thomas Garlic became hooked on painkillers after sustaining multiple injuries overseas. After getting healthy, he couldn't land a job, and even contemplated suicide.

"It got that bad to where, 'Hey, this might be easier.' But then I looked at my son, my wife, and I was like, there's got to be something else," said Garlic.

Nationwide, about one in three young war veterans are unemployed.

At her lowest point, former soldier La Vaughn Harlston found herself homeless and sleeping on the el. Wednesday, she shed a tear for where she was, and where she is going.

"It's tears of joy, just to know now that I'm going to be stable and don't have to worry about tomorrow or the rent or food," Harlston said.

Help finally came when they were chosen for an intensive seven-week training course to become electricians, made possible by the Associated Builders and Contractors and the non-profit USA Cares.

These former military members received free tuition and were even paid for their time spent learning.

On Monday, all seven begin their new jobs as electrician's apprentices.

"There are people who care," Garlic said.

"It's finally done, you know. It's surreal to me it's done, and I have a permanent job," said Harlston.

These former military members still have three more years of training before they are fully certified. But compared to where they have been, they say the road ahead seems easy.