Back from Iraq, reservist faces bleak job picture, worries about fellow veterans

With 188 people under his command, Air Force Air Reserve Lt. Col. Kenneth C. Evans oversaw $38 million in construction at the Kirkuk Regional Air Base in northern Iraq.

Besides overseeing all building projects in and around the base, he was in charge of its fire department and bomb squad. He is a civil engineer who has an MBA degree.

But back home in North Las Vegas since September, Evans is looking for work.

With the Las Vegas economy in a tailspin and construction work drying up fast, Evans said he’s fortunate his small-development partnership is still operating.

“When I saw all the vacant commercial space and all the signs for available commercial space, I felt blessed to still have my office and to still have my business. … A lot of people’s businesses aren’t operating any longer,” Evans, 45, said.

Evans said other military reservists and National Guardsmen also are struggling upon returning from war.

“I am not alone,” he said. “There are other people over there, whether physicians with their own offices or small-business people, who are faced with the same challenges.”

With many of the people under his command coming from the hurting Midwest, and with many in the ailing construction industry, Evans is concerned about the future.

“There were men at Kirkuk who were doing combat missions, and I was worried about them. Now that we are away from there, I have shifted to be worried about their employment and their ongoing mental adjustment,” Evans said. “It’s a different kind of concern. It’s about the difference between acute and chronic.”

Evans, whose MTE Enterprises employs a handful of people, said employers should value veterans. He understands the reluctance to hire veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan because employers do not know whether the worker will be deployed again. But, he said, the military is trained to “improvise, adapt and overcome,” and those are skills valued in the business world.

“I would welcome the opportunity to hire veterans because I understand the skill set and discipline they bring to the table,” he said.

Contact reporter Frank Geary at fgeary @reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0277.

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