CBP's Minneapolis Hiring Center Saluted for Veterans Support
Like many soldiers returning from war, Brandon Woody, a human resources specialist at the CBP Minneapolis Hiring Center, was a bit apprehensive about going back to his civilian workplace after serving in Afghanistan for more than a year. Woody, a battalion officer in the U.S. Army Reserve, had been deployed to the Logar Province near the border of Pakistan.
"It's hard to adjust going from a really stressful and tense situation where your adrenaline is rushing all the time to sitting in an office environment," said Woody. "It has a big impact when you go from two extremes."
Woody, who had only been in the job for a year before leaving to do his service, had other concerns."I had changed teams and had a new supervisor when I came back," he said. "I hadn't built a relationship with that supervisor in the past, so I was a little nervous."
But Woody's fears soon vanished. When he returned to the hiring center, he was greeted enthusiastically by his new supervisor and his peers. "I was a little surprised. It was almost like a welcome home celebration," he said. "My supervisor bought bagels and everyone thanked me for my service. That was a very gracious thing for them to do."
It was also typical of the kind of support that CBP's Minneapolis Hiring Center, which was honored yesterday as the first federal entity to receive the state of Minnesota's Yellow Ribbon designation, gives to military veterans and their families. A proclamation ceremony, officiated by the Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie and Major General David J. Elicerio, commander of the 34th Infantry Division of the Minnesota Army National Guard, was held at the center.
The Yellow Ribbon Recognition Program was formed in 2008, after the Minnesota Department of Military Affairs realized that the state's reintegration training program, designed to help National Guard and reserve members transition back into civilian life, wasn't sufficient. "When Minnesota started its reintegration training, it did a great job of providing classes for service members and their families to help them identify all of the resources that were available, but it didn't take us long to realize that transitional problems didn't end at exactly 60 days or 90 days, the length of the training," said Annette Kuyper, the director of military outreach for the state of Minnesota.
Working with the governor's office, the Department of Military Affairs created a Yellow Ribbon recognition program that reached out to Minnesota communities for their commitment to support service members, veterans, and military families. "It was working so well, we took that same concept to companies," said Kuyper.
That, too, was successful. Scores of Minnesota companies such as Target, 3M, Best Buy, and Cub Foods as well as academic institutions and other organizations fulfilled the necessary requirements and earned the Yellow Ribbon Company designation.
In August 2010, shortly after Gary Olson joined CBP as the director of the Minneapolis Hiring Center, he contacted Kuyper to see if a federal agency could be part of the Yellow Ribbon program too. "We were aware that we were doing a lot of things to support veterans and the hiring of veterans," said Olson, who had served in the Minnesota National Guard for 30 years and retired as a full colonel last November. "I wanted to have a formalized program that captures all of the things that we do here at the hiring center as it relates to veterans."
Olson also wanted the hiring center to be certified because of its national reach. "We're hiring from Maine to the Marianas Islands from Alaska to Puerto Rico, so we touch every state, territory and the District of Columbia as it relates to hiring," he said, explaining that the Minneapolis center primarily hires entry level law enforcement and non-entry level positions for the agency's Border Patrol, Field Operations, and Air and Marine offices.
"If we can bring this kind of focus for hiring and taking care of veterans, this can be a toehold for other federal entities to adopt similar types of programs to help their veterans, members of the guard and reserve who are employees of these agencies, and their families while they go off to do our nation's business overseas," said Olson.
Over the course of a year, the Minneapolis Hiring Center has been working on meeting the Yellow Ribbon recognition requirements. A key element of the center's program is keeping a connection with employees when they go off to war to serve the country and then helping them adjust to the workplace after they complete their tours of duty.
"When they come back, we assign mentors to help them get back into the civilian workforce," said Olson. "When they go off to war, most members of the military live a very regimented life. They are told when to get up, what their mission is going to be, their days are very scripted," he said. "They're on adrenaline, especially if they're in a combat unit. They're making life and death choices pretty much on an hourly basis. Then when they come home, they are basically back into making decisions about things we take for granted such as what time they want to go to bed or what they want to eat. We wanted to make sure that there's somebody there who can coach them and be their sounding board -- to provide that safety net," said Olson.
For Woody, having a mentor enabled him to regain his footing. "It was a crawl, walk, run type of mentality. My mentor trained me and then let me find myself in my new position. If I said that I couldn't complete something, she would take it away and give it to someone else. She didn't try to swamp me right away," he said. "The hiring center was trying to set me up for success rather than failure. They were concerned about my needs."
During the ceremony, Minnesota Secretary of State Ritchie presented CBP's Deputy Assistant Commissioner of Human Resources Sharon Snellings with a Yellow Ribbon proclamation certificate signed by Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton. The ceremony also included a special recognition of the hiring center's eight-member veteran's outreach committee that prepared the center's yellow ribbon action plan. Recognition was also given to the 25 veterans who are members of the Minneapolis Hiring Center staff. Two of the individuals are currently serving overseas.
One of them, Sandy Anderson, a human resources assistant and the mother of three, was deployed at the end of September to serve in the U.S. Air Force Reserve in Operation Enduring Freedom. "The support from the people in the office is overwhelming. I did not realize the support that is actually there," said Anderson. "They exchanged names and numbers with my family members so that they are able to contact them to see how things are going or if my family needs anything," she said. "I miss my family and my friends, but with the help and support I have back at home I do not have to stress. I can achieve over 100 percent of what I have to do here to succeed in my mission."