SPRINGFIELD, Ore. -- Specialist Alvaro Castaneda spent nine months on the front lines in Iraq. Now, he's fighting another battle: unemployment.
"The real world is really tough, you know," Castaneda said.
Castaneda isn't alone. The Springfield High School graduate is one of nearly 1,500 Oregon National Guard soldiers back from Iraq and looking for work. The 41st Infantry Combat Brigade Team returned in April. Once deployed, they're now unemployed and hoping to find work at -- among other avenues -- a veterans' job fair.
"I figured it would be easy, you know, just drop a resume especially with my experience that I had," Castaneda said. "But apparently not."
Oregon already has among the nation's highest percentages of state unemployment. Consequently, the soldiers coming home also must fight for the same jobs other unemployed Oregonians need.
As such, hundreds of veterans such as Castaneda packed the Springfield Events Center on Saturday. With a folder full of resumes, Castaneda hoped to catch someone's attention.
"I'm trying to flood the market with resumes, and see who calls me first," Castaneda said.
Guard members do have some backup when they return. They're eligible for expanded G.I. Benefits for free college tuition – for themselves, their spouse or their children.
Also, Guard members in federal technician positions – where they work during the week as well as the one weekend per month – are eligible for state unemployment if they were laid off from that position. Active guard reserve members also are eligible for unemployment under the same circumstances.
However, those on active duty orders – like Castaneda – are eligible for unemployment only if they had a federal technician position and where laid off. Traditional reservists soldiers also are not eligible for unemployment coverage, unless they left a job that is no longer there.
(Note that anyone who was fired from their job while deployed is protected by the "Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act," which means those soldiers have the right to sue their former employer.)
"I was planning on returning to school, hopefully in the fall," Castaneda said. "But the way it looks, it's kind of tough."
For now, his main goal is to find any job to help feed his three little ones.
"It really is tough, especially when you have to tell your kid 'No you can't,'" said Castaneda.
He served his country. Now all Castaneda needs is a chance to serve an employer here at home.