When Valerie Brown returned to the United States in 2008 after seven years of active duty in the Army, she was ready to jump into civilian life: a good job, family, the whole American dream.
The post-9/11 veteran had served two tours as an aviation mechanic and crew chief on Black Hawk helicopters in Iraq. She was sure getting hired at home would be a snap.
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Nearly four years later, the former sergeant is still looking. But now she has big-name help.
Brown, 35, caught a break when “Late Show With David Letterman” called.
Letterman’s people wanted to interview Brown, a former Kansas City resident and a graduate of the University of Missouri-Kansas City, to see if she would be right for a segment of the show that helps veterans find work.
In the week since she appeared in the chair across from Letterman, she has received 35 leads to possible jobs, and offers are still trickling in. A jobless veteran who appeared on Letterman’s show before her said he has received “500 emails about jobs, but that took several months,” she said.
In her turn on the show, Brown was upbeat and personable. She joked that Letterman was putting her on hot coals with his questions, which she agreed to answer if she could get the yellow suit to go with it.
“Going on that show was an experience of a lifetime,” said Brown, who grew up in Freedom, Okla.
Even though she has been on the front lines of war, being on television made her “a bit nervous,” she said. But “getting to talk to David Letterman like that was great.”
While talking to Brown, Letterman mentioned that last year the U.S. reported a 30 percent unemployment rate among veterans ages 18 to 24. The overall unemployment rate for veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan averaged 12.1 percent in 2011, but more recently it has dropped to 7.6 percent.
Brown told Letterman that since she has been out of the military, she hasn’t been able to find a full-time, paying job in her field of communications and instead had been doing volunteer work in Kansas City.
It was through her volunteering that she connected with the “Late Show.”
Brown had been a volunteer with The Mission Continues, a St. Louis-based nonprofit founded by a former Navy SEAL to place post-9/11 veterans in community volunteer spots with the hope the positions might lead to a full-time job or further education. When the Letterman show called, Brown, who now lives in Austin, Texas, had just wrapped up six months at Accessible Arts in Kansas City, Kan., where she worked with disabled children and adults.
In 2009, she received the Presidential Volunteer Service Award for her work with Student Veterans of America.
When The Mission Continues was tapped to find a veteran for the Letterman show, “of course, right away we thought of Valerie,” said Caitlin Harvey, spokesperson for the group. “Valerie consistently has been a great picture of what a post-9/11 veteran looks like.”
Harvey said Brown is young, skilled and “continues to lead in her community using the skills she acquired in the military. She has done a lot of speaking engagements for us, and people continue to be impressed and inspired by her.”
Brown said that at 24 she left her job waiting tables and joined the military after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“When 9/11 happened, I decided I needed to do something not only for my country but for myself, so I put the two together,” Brown said.
Before finishing her service in Iraq, she sent a host of resumes to U.S. employers thinking she would have a job waiting by the time she returned home. But no one called.
“I thought maybe it was because I was deployed, and who is going to interview you from Iraq, right?”
Brown said she hasn’t made her way through all the offers she’s received so far. A few of them “look pretty promising.”
“But it is not just about any job,” she said. “I will say that I am being a little picky. I do have a bachelor’s degree in communications and I really want to use it.”