Frank Strom knows veterans can contribute in the private sector. Over the years, he's touted to potential employers the discipline, dedication and experience of those who have served their country in the military.
"There's just a sense of duty and pride," said Strom, managing director of the Hillsborough County Division of Veterans Affairs and a Gulf War veteran. "They just want to integrate into the civilian sector and get on with life."
Strom and other leaders in veterans issues are celebrating Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s announcement on Tuesday that it will hire any veteran who has been honorably discharged and wants a job in his or her first 12 months after active duty. The company expects to hire more than 100,000 veterans in the next five years.
The program, which will start on Memorial Day, will include jobs mostly in Walmart's stores or in its Sam's Club locations. Some will be at its headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., or at the company's distribution centers.
Bill Simon, president and CEO of Walmart's U.S. operations, said the company recognizes the assets veterans bring to the table.
"They're quick learners, and they're team players," said Simon, who served in the Navy. "These are leaders with discipline, training and a passion for service. There is a seriousness and sense of purpose that the military instills, and we need it today more than ever."
Dave Braun, finance director of the Haley House Fund, a nonprofit group out of Brandon that assists the families of wounded veterans, said the move by Walmart will provide hope to veterans who have struggled to find a job since their military service ended.
"It's a place to start for some of these guys and gals," said Braun, 69.
Many of the veterans who have come home from Afghanistan and Iraq have had a particularly hard time finding jobs. The unemployment rate for veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan stood at 10.8 percent in December, compared with the overall unemployment rate of 7.8 percent.
Walt Raysick, president of the Veterans Council of Hillsborough County, said veterans have proved themselves under difficult conditions. They don't consider hard work beneath them, he said.
"They'll take a job that is meaningful just to put food on the table," Raysick said.
A job at Walmart could be an entry point that leads to unexpected opportunities, he said.
"They can work their way up," said Raysick, 73, of Valrico. "As big as Walmart is, I'm sure there's a lot of potential."
Walmart is the world's largest retailer and the biggest private employer in the United States with 1.4 million workers.
In addition to hiring veterans, Walmart said it will spend $50 billion to buy more products made in the United States during the next 10 years.
The final piece of Walmart's plan is to help part-time Walmart workers transition into full-time employment if they so desire. Simon said that about 75 percent of its store management employees start as hourly associates, and their average pay is $50,000 to $170,000 a year.
The moves come as Walmart attempts to bolster its reputation, which has been hit in the past year by allegations of bribery in Mexico and a deadly fire at factory in Bangladesh that supplies clothing to the company. Walmart, which often is criticized for its low-paying jobs and buying habits in the United States, said it's plan aims to highlight career opportunities in the retail industry, which supports 1 in 4 jobs in the country.
"There are some fundamental misunderstandings out there about retail jobs, and we need to do better at explaining the opportunities we offer," Simon said.