New Staff Group Offers Network for Veterans

Posted January 23, 2008 at 4:40pm

After finishing two tours in Iraq with the Marine Corps in 2005, Matthew Johnson decided it was time to shed his uniform and find another outlet to serve his country. With his patriotic record, Johnson, now 27, expected his opportunities in D.C. would be vast. But he said he was surprised to find just how steep the climb would be to get to the steps of the Capitol.

“I just came up here not knowing anybody and I wanted to work for my government, but I didn’t know how to go about it,” the Michigan native said.

That’s why Johnson — who is the veterans affairs legislative aide to Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) — decided to launch the first Congressional staff organization to recognize military veterans working for Congress.

“I was surprised to find out that something like this didn’t already exist,” Johnson said.

The resulting Congressional Military Service Members and Veterans Association got off the ground this past November thanks to the efforts of Johnson and Javier D. Martinez, a staff member on the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity. The group, which is sponsored by Burgess, plans to facilitate careers in the federal government for veterans by sponsoring networking events, posting job openings and hosting speakers who can offer career advice.

Much like Johnson, Martinez expected his Army career to help him find an opening on Capitol Hill.

Martinez spent four years in the Army before leaving in 1999 to attend the University of Arizona. While earning his degree, Martinez also served two years in the reserves. After receiving his diploma in 2002, Martinez packed his bags, bought a one-way ticket to Washington, D.C., and crossed his fingers that he would find his “dream job.”

“The frustrating thing for me is, what I know now is it’s who you know and what you know,” Martinez said about landing a career on the Hill.

Martinez said he spent six weeks sleeping on a friend’s sofa and working in a temp job before taking a position in the office of Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas). Martinez discovered the job opening by coincidence, while shopping at a former staffer’s yard sale.

“She said, ‘well, send me your résumé and I’ll forward it,’” Martinez recalled.

Martinez said he hopes the group also can help veterans prepare for and succeed in positions once they’ve been hired.

“It’s the little things,” Martinez said — such as registering to see vote tallies on your BlackBerry — that can help make jobs easier.

The group’s most recent networking event was held on Jan 17. Johnson said about 30 people showed up, even though the staff organization only counts about 15 members.

Although the group’s main objective is to help veterans find jobs, veterans aren’t the only ones eligible to join.

Member Veronica Wong works in the office of Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), but her husband, Marine Capt. Jeff Wong, is serving his country in the Anbar province of Iraq.

When asked why she joined the group, Wong said, “most wives want to be involved in their husband’s work.”

Wong, who married her husband one month ago, said she was looking for an outlet that would connect her to the community of Marines.

“I’ve definitely been seeking out organizations that have wives or spouses or other connections,” she said.

Johnson said the services provided by the group have the potential to benefit a wide range of people.

“I think we can be a resource for each other,” he said about the military community that exists on the Hill. “And I think we can be a resource for our bosses.”