Thursday, April 24, 2014
(Continued from page 1)
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
He rose to the rank of sergeant 1st class. Then, in 2007, he earned his commission as a chief warrant officer.
"We're the best-kept secret in the military," Mathews said. "We are the technical experts."
Experts who come in handy in a war zone: Mathews served with the Army Corps of Engineers in Kabul from April through October of 2010.
Unable to find work after leaving active duty, he returned to Afghanistan in January of 2011 as a civilian "procurement technician" for the Department of Defense. Translation: He analyzed bid proposals and contracts between the Army and contractors from the United States, Afghanistan, Turkey, China, South Korea ...
"It's financial -- and technical," Mathews explained, recalling how he'd create "matrixes" and "typical bell curves" to separate those who could actually do the work from those who claimed they could but, upon closer scrutiny, often couldn't.
That gig ended in the summer of 2011. Again, Mathews came home and looked for a civilian job. Again, the crickets.
Back to Fort Devens he went in early 2012 to work with the Army Reserves' Careers Division. Funding for that position ran out in July.
He's been back home in Maine ever since, knocking on doors and filling out whatever online employment applications he can find. At the same time, he just earned a master's-level certificate in government contracting from Webster University, where he's still working online toward a master's degree in procurement and acquisition management.
And get this: Over the last six months, Mathews has been granted one -- and only one -- job interview.
"And I didn't get the job," he said, forcing another smile.
So tell me, fellow Mainers, what's wrong with this picture?
How can a guy who's served his country for more than three decades, who's twice put himself in harm's way, who's performed the heartbreaking after-battle work that none of us like to think about, whose own 21-year-old son, Michael, is now serving bravely with the Army's 2nd Cavalry near Jalalabad in northeast Afghanistan, who likely knows more about procurement and government contracts than anyone down the hallway in your company's purchasing department, go month after month looking for work in his home state without so much as a call back?
"This is the world according to Sterling," Mathews said. "There are 700 people out there applying for the same job. They go through a computer, and if it doesn't say you're exactly what they're looking for, it kicks you out."
Sure, he's pushing 50. And sure, he's been gone from Maine so long that he has no inside connections anywhere.
And sure, as he reads news stories like this week's announcement that Scarborough-based Hannaford Supermarkets soon will lay off people in its corporate offices, Mathews cringes at the prospect of more job hunters flooding the already-anemic employment market.
But take my word for it, folks. To meet Sterling Mathews face-to-face for an hour is to understand he's no charity case. If you have a job that touches on his hard-earned skill set, don't you owe him at least a few minutes of your time?
"It would be nice if I could at least talk to somebody like I'm talking to you," Mathews said, finishing his coffee. "And then they could at least tell me to my face that they're going with some 25-year-old just out of college."
Here's a better idea.
Someone step up and hire this guy.
Sterling Mathews can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at: