Army veteran Z Anton Bo was sure he wanted to live in his beloved hometown of Santa Monica when he returned from active duty.

When the Santa Monica High School graduate came back to the city in 2014, he was surprised to see how much it had changed since he left four years before. There were freshly-painted bike lanes, the Expo Line and countless new buildings. Bo knew that he, like the city, would have to adapt as he transitioned into civilian life.

He enrolled at Santa Monica College as a communications major and threw himself into his studies to better position himself for a professional career and satisfy his passion for reading, writing and oration. Two years later, he transferred to Loyola Marymount University, where he advocated for veteran representation and successfully introduced priority enrollment for student veterans.

“Coming home from the army … meant regrounding myself in a new role and asking how I could help my brothers and sisters who served with me to position them for a professional and personal future they would be proud of and emotionally happy with,” Bo said.

Bo graduated in May and hit the ground running to secure his own future. He had long had a dream of working for a video game or technology company, and applied to about 150 in and around Santa Monica.

But the search proved fruitless. He only heard back from five companies, and he began to wonder if civilian employers could understand the military experience he described on his resume.

“I have all these great skills that I learned in the army,” he said. “But I was a signal intelligence analyst, and it’s not easy to put what I did on paper because it’s so classified.”

A friend recommended he try connecting with the Santa Monica-based Call of Duty™ Endowment, which connects United States and United Kingdom veterans to local programs that help them find jobs. The Endowment, a nonprofit supported by video game company Activision Blizzard, put him in contact with a counselor from Hire Heroes USA who is a veteran herself.

She helped him revamp his resume, practice for interviews and made sure his cover letters and thank you notes sounded professional. He felt more prepared when he saw a job posting for an operations coordinator position at Naughty Dog, a video game company based in Santa Monica he has long been a fan of.

“I wrote a killer cover letter,” Bo said. “I made sure to include my army experience … it matters because I’m extremely comfortable and trustworthy working in environments with sensitive information and intellectual property. And working in video games, you hit crunch time where you only have so much time to get the product ready. My military background has shown I’m extremely capable and ready to perform and collaborate with others in hyper-stressful environments.”

Bo got the job, and he’s been working and living in Santa Monica ever since.

“If I didn’t have (my Hire Heroes counselor’s) help, I would probably be underemployed,” he said.

Dan Goldenberg, the executive director of the Endowment, said one in three veterans are underemployed and are 60 percent more likely to be than non-veterans. The Endowment recently reached its goal of helping 50,000 veterans find employment by 2019, and has set a new goal of placing 100,000 veterans in jobs by 2024.

“Placing fifty thousand veterans in meaningful jobs is significant – that’s the equivalent of more than half the U.S. Army’s annual recruit class,” he said.

The Endowment partners with financial consulting firm Deloitte to identify the most effective and financially efficient nonprofits around the country that help veterans succeed in the job market. That strategy allows the Endowment to place veterans in jobs at about ⅙ the cost per placement as the U.S. Department of Labor, Goldenberg said.

Goldenberg said each organization the Endowment works with has a slightly different focus; some, like Higher Heroes, work with people looking for their first job after the military, while others, such as the Salvation Army Veteran Employment Services Program, works with veterans whose barriers to employment might include homelessness, addiction or mental health issues.

Unlike the Department of Defense’s transition program, each organization provides one-on-one, personalized counseling that helps veterans communicate the highlights of their military experience to employers.

“A lot of it is helping them tell their stories,” Goldenberg said.

Karen Segawa, an airforce veteran who works at Activision Blizzard in Santa Monica as a senior manager of global IT systems and desktop infrastructure, said she got all of her experience for her job through the military. She now participates in events at Activision, which has donated $31 million to the Endowment, where she helps other veterans develop their resumes and interviewing skills.

“There’s a lot of soft skills you learn in the military that you can apply to the civilian world and they don’t necessarily think of that way,” Segawa said.

Los Angeles County has more veterans than any county nationwide, Goldenberg said.

“For someone like myself who was born and raised in Santa Monica, it was relatively easy to transition to civilian life because I have a support circle,” Bo said. “But Santa Monica and LA in general is such a hub for veterans who move from different places and may not have a support system. Services like Hire Heroes really help demystify the job seeking process … (they) help funnel that internal initiative veterans have and turn it into success.”

madeleine@smdp.com

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