For American troops leaving Iraq this month, there is a sense of relief but also worry about returning to civilian life and searching for jobs in a weak U.S. economy. U.S. troops along the Iraq-Kuwait border, where thousands have been transiting on their way home are wondering about their future.
Staff Sergeant Brett Bolton, an Air Force truck driver who has served for six years, is now looking at life beyond his deployment in the Iraq war.
“First thing, it would be just to get a secure job and then I'd like to start a family, me and my wife,” he says.
Jobs in the trucking industry at home are scarce. Staying in the military may not be an option, either.
Bolton is with the 387th Expeditionary Logistics Squadron, a unit created for this war. Clearing troops and equipment from Iraq is the squadron's last mission before it is permanently deactivated. Most members will go back to military jobs in the U.S., but their futures are uncertain in the face of coming defense cuts.
For many troops, the joy of going home is tempered by worries about finding a job.
“Right now the unemployment rate nationwide is through the roof," Bolton says. "I've done my six years. I feel like I've done enough and I want to go back to the civilian world, but right now it's not looking too good for me.”
The Air Force and other branches of the U.S. military have programs to help troops prepare for their job hunts and find ways to apply their wartime skills in civilian settings. The troops' battle now is to start new lives in a troubled economy at home.
They have sacrificed for their country and hope their country will now deliver to them. The U.S. government has made jobs for veterans a priority issue.