Years ago Uncle Sam wanted everyone to join the military. Now he wants to help some of them get out.
More than 1,000 people showed up at Fort Meade Friday in uniform and interview suits, armed with resumes and references for an all-day fair sponsored by the base's Army Career and Alumni Program (ACAP). Their mission in this era of shrinking defense budgets has become finding a new job.
"It's pretty competitive, very competitive in the computer field," said Air Force Staff Sgt. Kevin B. Davidson, wearing a military uniform and clutching packets from prospective employers.
The sergeant, 31, has been looking for a job ever since he learned in February 1994 that his unit would be decommissioned. Sergeant Davidson, a linguist, said that when he enlisted 14 years ago, he never thought he would be without a job.
Other military personnel said they are deciding to leave because the benefits of military life no longer outweigh the costs.
"Most of our overseas assignments have been done away with. It just seems that there are more people and less money. You are constantly walking on egg shells," Air Force Sgt. Christina Hilton said. "The things they promised you when you joined aren't there."
Sergeant Hilton, 28, trained as an intelligence analyst, said she probably could earn twice as much money in the civilian world doing computer work similar to what she does now. She's getting out next year and planning to work and go back to school to study physical therapy.
"I love the Air Force. It's been great," she said. "I've served for 10 years. I think I have more potential in the civilian world."
Officer Tyrone W. Kilby, who staffed the Baltimore City Police Department's booth, said the department is particularly interested in hiring former military police officers.
"The military offers us people who are trainable, who are qualified," he said. "We offer them careers . . . that will always be around."
By noon, hundreds of people had visited the booth and more than 100 had signed up for interviews.
BTG, a computer software development firm based in Vienna, Va., found several good men and women.
"I know I'm going to hire someone from this fair. I've found some very, very good prospects," said BTG manager Laurence M. Phillips.
The all-day fair is the seventh sponsored by ACAP, said Lillie Walker, who organized the event.
Congress set up ACAP in 1991 to help military personnel squeezed out by base closings and realignments find jobs. Since 1989, the Army has cut its active-duty force by nearly one-third, reducing troop strength from 765,198 to 537,320, according to Army spokesman Lt. Col. William Harkey.
Fort Meade's ACAP has helped more than 6,000 military and civilian personnel make the transition out of government service.
"Before, you got your orders [to leave], and you were gone," Ms. Walker said. "This is a way the Department of Defense says we appreciate your service."
In addition to the job fair, the 10-person ACAP office holds seminars on career development and helps match people with jobs through two databases set up by the Department of Defense.
"A lot of employers are looking for former military because they . . . know they will be getting people who are reliable, getting people who are motivated and getting people who are disciplined," Ms. Walker said.