Medal of Honor recipient Jacobs on hiring veterans: ‘We’ve got to convince employers that this isn’t charity. These are the best people you can find anywhere’

Retired Army Col. Jack Jacobs is used to being lauded by strangers wherever he goes. It’s one of the well-deserved perks that comes with being a Medal of Honor recipient.

“Thank you for your service,” is a phrase he hears every day.

And while he appreciates the sentiment and is gracious to all who approach him, he wishes there was more outreach to the thousands of veterans in the state who are not as well known.

Veterans, Jacobs feels, who have so much to offer. Especially to the workforce.

Instead of thanking veterans for their service, Jacobs wishes employers would truly realize how much they have to contribute.

“A lot of employers will tell you that they’re hiring veterans, but in the backs of their minds, they’re saying we’re hiring veterans because it’s charity, because we owe it to them,” Jacobs said. “That’s wrong.”

Even more, he said, it misses the point.

“Nobody gets authority and responsibility at an early age more than veterans,” he said. “And these are people for whom giving a job is not charity. These are the best people you can find anywhere.”

Jacobs was speaking at the grand opening of The Edge in Freehold, a 209-unit multifamily project produced by Edgewood Properties.

Jack Morris, the CEO of Edgewood, said veterans will move to the front of the line in renting all of the units, both affordable and market rate.

“They should be first in line,” he said. “They should get preference. I don’t think anybody would debate or would disagree with that.”

Jacobs, who now works as a commentator on MSNBC, wishes such sentiment was shared by employers.

He said they would soon discover the unique qualities veterans bring to a workforce.

“A few years ago, I did a package for NBC Nightly News aboard the U.S.S. George H. W. Bush, which was doing its checkout cruise in Norfolk, Virginia,” he said. “My pitch to the network was, ‘Here’s $16 trillion worth of equipment run by 19-year-olds.’

“The only people I interviewed were the 19- 20- and 21-year olds who were running the shifts, fueling the aircraft, launching the aircraft, recovering aircraft, loading the aircraft and so on. They’re actually running the defense of this country and we can’t forget that.

“We’ve got to convince employers that this isn’t charity. These are the best people you can find anywhere.”

Jacobs said so few people understand life in the military, because so few people serve — or know someone who has served.

“Nobody gets responsibility and authority at an early age greater than veterans,” he said. “These 18-, 19- and 20-year old kids have responsibility for everything in the lives of 10, 20, even 40 men and women. And in very difficult circumstances, too. We forget that.

“So, we need to convince the average person that these people are out there not just taking their place, defending the country, but they’re out there doing really important work with a lot of responsibilities.”

Jacobs said making this connection — transitioning veterans into the workplace — starts with the military.

“The Defense Department has to do a much better job of making the transition for veterans from being in uniform to becoming a civilian,” he said. “I asked as a chief of staff of the army, ‘How long does it take to turn a civilian into a soldier?’

“He said, ’10 weeks minimum.’

“Then I asked him, ‘How long does it take to turn a soldier into a civilian?’

“He said, ‘Three days.’

“There’s something wrong with that.”

Jacobs said veterans just want a chance.

“Many people think that it’s sufficient to say, ‘Thank you very much for your service,’” Jacobs said. “And that may make them feel better and it may do something for the veteran.

“But, at the end of the day, we need to think clearly about what veterans actually have. Not just what they’ve done in service and sacrifice so we can enjoy liberty, but what they have to contribute to our communities moving forward.”