Master Sgt. Anthony Angell said an uncertain job market convinced him to stay in the Marine Corps past his original intended retirement date.
However, with his new scheduled retirement just five days away, Angell was relieved Wednesday after his first job fair, where he got a positive reception from recruiters attending the event in Beaufort.
"It was definitely a good experience," he said. "I found out that I was marketable to a lot of the companies here."
Angell was one of about 130 service members and spouses who attended the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation's "Hiring Our Heroes" event at the National Guard Armory.
Ernie Lombardi, the southeastern regional associate for the U.S. Chamber and a former Marine, said the foundation has held nearly 590 similar job fairs since the chamber started the Hiring Our Heroes initiative in March 2011.
The aim is to place veterans or their spouses in jobs where their active-service skills might apply. About 119,000 veterans and military spouses have been hired as a result of the program, according to the chamber; the goal is to get 500,000 veterans and spouses hired by the end of 2014.
Lombardi said service members of all stages of the transition into civilian life were registered for Wednesday's event.
"We have long-retired veterans, active-duty Marines and veterans in the process of transitioning out here today," Lombardi said. "There's a little bit of everything for them to see here. We have everything from entry-level jobs to ones in upper-level management, from manufacturing to hospitality."
Jeff Jordan, an Army veteran and the owner of recruiting service Nexus Resource Group, said the job market for recent veterans fluctuates along with the broader employment market.
On Wednesday, he was recruiting for Schlumberger, a Texas-based oil and gas company.
"Many of these veterans have the right skills for these jobs, but they're in the wrong location," he said. "The job fairs allow us to go out two or three times a month and meet with them face to face.
"It's an exciting moment when they get hired."
Lombardi said the U.S. Chamber of Commerce surveys the registered jobseekers in attendance after 90 days to see how many were hired and whether they were hired by companies at the job fair.
Companies attending the event included Hargray, FedEx and Disney's Hilton Head Island Resort. Local and state agencies such as the Bluffton Township Fire District, the S.C. Department of Public Safety and the S.C. State Transport Police also had representatives on hand.
With a bachelor's degree in occupational safety and health and another degree in fire science nearly completed, Angell said he had a leg up on many other veterans in the process of transitioning to civilian work that might require college degrees.
But even basic infantry veterans without a college education still have marketable skills, according to Grant Johnston, vice president of business development for Airstreams Renewables Inc., a company owned by a Marine veteran that trains workers to climb cell towers and wind turbines for repair and maintenance.
"We hire a lot of infantry guys for our jobs," he said. "The low-level infantry guys are the ones who don't know what their future prospects are, but they are the ones who have handled the grunt work before and are going to be willing to climb up those towers to work."
Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.
The Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce has designated Saturday as Military Appreciation Day. The chamber, along with Atlantic Marine Corps Marine Communities and Marine Corps Community Services, will hold a free event for military families and their friends from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. behind the Laurel Bay welcome center at 600 Laurel Bay Road. It will feature food, drinks, prizes, face-painting, bounce houses and games.