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Veterans’ summit helps service members return to civilian life, find employment

SALT LAKE CITY — SALT LAKE CITY — For young veterans like John Angell and Justin Watts, life on the battlefield was often easier to negotiate than their returns to civilian life.

During combat, each had a clear sense of purpose and mission.

“I needed to keep my group alive. I needed to keep myself alive,” said Watts, who served in 101st Army Airborne Infantry for four years.

After receiving a medical discharge for service-related injuries, he went to work in a friend’s computer store, where he occasionally encountered angry customers.

It was difficult, he said, to reconcile the relatively minor things that can upset civilians when one has literally been responsible for protecting the lives of others.

“It’s very, very different. You feel like you’re on a different planet when you get back,” he said.

Or, as John Angell explains, in the civilian world an employee who shows up late to work risks being disciplined by his or her employer.

“You show up late for a patrol and people end up dying,” said Angell, a Marine.

To help bridge those worlds, veterans and their families were invited to a job fair and workshops Friday to help them address relationship, mental health and financial issues in the next chapter of their lives.

Finding a job is among the highest priority of veterans who attended the conference, “Generations 2012″ at the Salt Palace Convention Center.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, who welcomed summit participants Friday morning, said simply thanking veterans for their service was insufficient.

“More important than our words, however, are our actions. We have an obligation to ensure our veterans have the tools and resources to successfully transition back to civilian life, and to be self-sufficient and independent thereafter,” he said.

Toward that end, Herbert signed a ceremonial copy of HB162, recently passed by the Utah Legislature. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Tim Cosgrove, D-Murray, and Sen. Peter Knudson, R-Brigham City, creates a 15-member Veterans Reintegration Task Force, which will study the difficulties encountered by returning service members. It will also create a statewide action plan to assist with reintegration efforts.

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