Hometown Hero: Veteran Dale Lee

Veteran Dale Lee landed his dream job at the Department of Defense in May of 2015 after retiring from a 26 year career with the U.S. Army. He is assisting men and women – and future veterans – in the processing for military service. While Dale is responsible for helping individuals in their transition from civilian to military life, he speaks of his impression of the hurdles that exist for veterans and the resources that are available to support them.

“Entering the work force as a civilian was a challenging yet humbling experience because I saw first-hand the obstacles veterans face when applying for jobs,” said Dale. “While the corporate and community resources for veterans are out there, there really is a lack of personnel to offer that one-on-one support for veterans reentering the workforce. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the help of MERS Goodwill’s veterans’ programs.”

Dale moved to St. Louis in 2013 after completing three tours in Germany and serving many years as a human resources specialist and recruiter for the Army. After his Army retirement, Dale spent time working with youth through a position with the St. Louis Board of Education and MERS Goodwill’s Youth Jobs Services. He was excited but knew he wanted to pursue work that would allow him to help other veterans.

While many businesses and civilians say they respect our service members, a study finds that a similar percentage of people hold the negative perception that retired military members are less educated and more likely to have mental health disorders such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, creating another barrier to employment for qualified veterans.

“It can also take months, even years, for documents to be processed that are necessary for veterans to begin looking for employment after service. There aren’t enough people to help guide them through that process,” continued Dale. “I think that’s where a lot of the problems arise. They just need support.”

It wasn’t until Dale started working as a part-time employee for MERS Goodwill and met Thomas Wolff, the veteran services coordinator for MERS Goodwill, that he learned about the job training and employment services the organization provides for veterans.

“The moment I met Dale it was clear we share the same passion for helping veterans in their job search,” said Thomas. “As we got to know one another, Dale told me he wanted a job with the federal government, so while he worked for the Youth Jobs Program we worked together to fill out his paperwork on USA Jobs, the online listing for federal government employment opportunities.” The Department of Defense position came through not long after.

MERS Goodwill offers three programs to help train veterans on the skills they need to enter the work force: Office Computer and Administrative Skills Training (OfficeCAST), which is a 26-week course that includes learning typing and data entry, clerical applications and typical office procedures; and Building Maintenance training, a 30-week entry-level course that covers the basic principles of carpentry, electricity, plumbing and air conditioning.

A third program, spearheaded by Thomas, helps veterans through referrals from the Department of Veteran Affairs, walk-ins and school outreach with compiling the necessary documents needed to re-enter the work force and educates them on the steps of going through the employment process as a civilian.

Because of Thomas’ experience helping veterans at MERS Goodwill, he was able to support and provide advice to Dale as he was applying for jobs. Working in human resources during his time in the military gave Dale confidence as he began his job search. But life as a civilian was different from the life he knew. Like many veterans entering MERS Goodwill’s employment programs, the first obstacle he encountered was the difference between the presentation of skills that are necessary to advance in the Army versus landing a job in the corporate world.

“If military jargon is all these service men and women know, how can they translate their skills into a typical resume?” asked Dale. “The military is a great experience and builds the skills necessary for the workforce, but it can be hard to explain that on paper. That’s where Goodwill helps to fill the gap.”

Dale’s transition from the service to civilian life was challenging, but through the help of MERS Goodwill, Dale overcame the barriers to employment that many veterans face. He found his dream career and is working with both men and women in uniform as well as veterans to educate them about the resources MERS Goodwill provides.

“There are not many programs like this for veterans,” said Dale. “When I found out the MERS Goodwill programs existed, it became my dream to spread the word and encourage veterans in our area to take advantage of the skills training and placement services Goodwill presents.”