“I’ve been looking for a long time.”

Air Force veteran Sambo Wong had recently relocated to Mechanicsburg from New York City to be closer to family. Wong attended the event hoping to find a job to support his family, which includes three children under 6.

“I’ve been applying on the web and on base, and it seems like it’s harder to get an interview on base than in the private sector,” Wong said.

Wong had his eye on a position that would use his technical skills as well as his hands, “like assembly jobs, because I was injured in the military, and it’s been a long battle from there,” he said.

Wong’s story was likely a familiar one among the hundreds of transitioning military personnel and veterans who attended the recent Capital Area’s Veterans’ Expo & Job Fair at the Radisson Hotel Harrisburg.

The day was a two-for-one event presented by OLP Events; admission was free to the public.

The Veterans’ Expo connected active and retired military members with the benefits and resources available to them through local businesses and organizations.

Outside the event, the U.S. Pennsylvania Department of Military & Veterans Affairs stationed its Veterans Outreach Van, a mobile resource offering veterans and their families information on benefits.

Jo Garvin and Laurie Williamson, from the Quilts of Valor Foundation, presented Quilts of Valor to two local veterans: James Allen Ferguson and Frances John Rowe.

The quilt is a lifetime award bestowed upon deserving veterans and active service members for their service to the nation.

“We are honored to speak to you and humbled to stand before you who have served our country and performed your duties,” Garvin said.

A Michigan native who now lives in Hershey, Ferguson served 14 months in the U.S. Army in Vietnam, from 1970-71. Ferguson, a retired CPA, is active in the Hershey chapter of Disabled American Veterans and in Chapter 542 of Vietnam Veterans of America.

Originally from Hawley, Pennsylvania, Francis John Rowe served in the Army from 1958-78. From 1968-70, he served as adviser to the South Vietnam army’s 21st Division of the Military Assistance Command Vietnam Team 51.

For his service, Rowe received a Bronze Star, 2nd Oak Leaf Cluster; Army Commendation Medal; Air Medal; National Defense Service Medal; and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal.

Retired IT specialist and Army veteran Ron Nocket, of Hershey, was not at the event seeking employment or benefits. He simply came to enjoy the camaraderie of fellow vets and those interested in their welfare.

“It’s nice to see so many employers out here,” Nocket said. “It’s been very enriching. Everybody’s very friendly.”

In 2016, Pennsylvania ranked the eighth highest state in number of veterans, at 345,906, according to a December 2017 report from the Center for Workforce Information & Analysis.

At 4.9 percent, Pennsylvania ranked 34th lowest in its unemployment rate for veterans.

During the Job Fair, company representatives were able to discuss job openings with transitioning military and veterans. Positions included roles in sales, labor, management, tech, medical services, transportation, clerical, manufacturing, engineering, construction, retail, financial services, and other fields.

Also at the Job Fair, a Resource Center provided helpful information for translating military careers to civilian opportunities.

Justin Leader, vice president of business development with Benefit Design Specialists, offered veterans the opportunity to hone their interpersonal and presentation skills during mock interviews.

“Veterans are always a good [hiring] option,” Berlin Smith, human resources manager for Harristown and Harrisburg Property Services, said.

“Our security department is run by veterans, so they like to hire them, and they always seem to be good employees.”

The Veterans Expo & Job Fair will return to Lancaster County Thursday, Nov. 1, at the Farm and Home Center, 1383 Arcadia Road, Lancaster.

For more information, call (717) 285-1350 or visit www.veteransexpo.com.

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