February 8, 2013

Bill Nemitz: Many talents, courage, still no job offers

By Bill Nemitz bnemitz@pressherald.com
Columnist

How hard can it be?

click image to enlarge

Sterling Mathews is a reserve member of the military. He is unemployed and hasn't been able to find work since he returned from Afghanistan in 2011.

Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer

After 31 years of service in the military in one capacity or another, you'd think Chief Warrant Officer-2 Sterling Mathews of Gorham would have no problem landing a job in the private sector.

He knows how to analyze contracts. He knows how to deal with personnel problems -- like the two emotionally broken soldiers he recently shepherded from active duty into the Army's Wounded Warrior Program.

He even knows how to work under pressure -- as he did when he was in Kabul in 2010 and the thumps of incoming rockets occasionally shook his barracks.

So what has Mathews, 49, heard lately from Maine's job creators?

"Crickets," he replied with a rueful smile over a cup of coffee Thursday morning. "There are a lot of crickets these days."

Ten months ago, in a column about local efforts to help Maine's returning veterans parlay their many military skills into civilian jobs, I offered to turn this space into a "job wanted" ad for any out-of-work vet who needed a place to put his or her best boot forward.

Mathews was down at Fort Devens in Massachusetts at the time. He had a temporary full-time assignment with the Army Reserve's Career Division -- a job that included, among other things, helping soldiers with severe readjustment problems get the help they so sorely needed.

But that position evaporated in July with the start of a new fiscal year. And Mathews has been back in Maine ever since, firing off resume after resume to anyone and everyone who might need a procurement specialist, a personnel manager, a contract analyst ...

"I haven't been sitting on my hands," he said, sporting a jacket and tie after readily accepting my invitation to sit down and talk about his dilemma. ("Make pretend it's a job interview," I'd suggested.)

So, Maine business community, meet Sterling Mathews.

He grew up in Portland. The day after he graduated from Deering High School in 1982, he was off to Army basic training and an 18-month hitch in Germany.

After a year at Fort Devens, he left active duty, joined the reserves (where he remains to this day) and earned his bachelor's degree in business administration at the University of Southern Maine.

From there -- still doing his weekend-a-month-and-two-weeks-a-summer duty with the Reserve -- Mathews went to work. Three years with Time Warner Cable led to a job as an assistant manager with Walmart.

"I opened three Walmart stores -- in Augusta, Windham and Falmouth," he said.

His six years with the company also included stints as a corporate field trainer and a district manager for a Walmart specialties division.

Mathews' dream all along was to start his own business. He did that too -- earning his plumbing journeyman's license in the late 1990s and starting a sub-contracting business.

Along the way, he built his own home in Gorham. He and his wife (and high school sweetheart), Diana, raised two sons -- Michael and Jeff.

Then came Sept. 11, 2001. And with it, a redefinition of what it meant to serve in the Army Reserve.

Mathews got his call-up orders in 2004.

"I didn't volunteer," he said. "I got activated out of the reserves."

He headed for Fort Drum, N.Y., where his job with the 655th Area Support Group included processing the seemingly endless casualties from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

(Mathews' caseload included many a fellow Mainer, including those from the Maine Army National Guard's 133rd Engineer Battalion who were wounded and killed in the suicide bombing in a military mess hall in Mosul, Iraq, on Dec. 21, 2004.)

(Continued on page 2)

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