Staff sergeant
Staff sergeant
One retired Marine's staffing company is putting returning veterans to work 

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Between the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base and Cuba-controlled territory is a perilous patch of earth called the Cactus Curtain. Spiked with a needle bed of Optunia cacti planted in 1961 to keep Cubans from defecting into U.S. custody, it is even deadlier as the second-largest minefield on the planet.

In the summer of 1993, Joe Reagan checked into his first overseas assignment in Castro country three days after seeing A Few Good Men, the Aaron Sorkin-penned Jack Nicholson drama that defined Gitmo for a decade before the post-9/11 rebranding of black hoods and orange jumpsuits took hold.

The Cubans knew that explosions waited underfoot. They just didn't know exactly where. Still, they bolted bravely for the U.S. side as Reagan and his brothers in arms stood watch.

“We would try to correct them, wave them in different directions,” Reagan says. “We couldn't go across and get them. Once they crossed, though, we'd patch them up and send them to Miami. Some didn't make it.”

Now 37, Reagan moves back and forth between multiple large white boards in the offices of Semper Fi Staffing Solutions, the global workforce placement agency off of Sherwood Forest Boulevard that he owns and operates. He's sliding magnetic notes and names into neatly formed columns.

“That's the Marine coming out in me,” says Reagan, a former infantry platoon sergeant and recruiter who retired from the armed forces a year ago. “In recruitment we used a lot of white boards for aggressive follow-up, and I find that it works well here, too.”

With veteran unemployment at 12%—a few points higher than the national average—more than 4,000 are in Semper Fi's database. These veterans want to transition into decent-paying civilian jobs, and while they know explosions may lie ahead, they don't know exactly where they are hiding. Reagan founded Semper Fi—named for the Corps' Latin motto meaning “Always faithful”—to stand in this gap, to prepare veterans for the challenges of the post-duty workforce, to wave them in the right direction.

“You're terrified coming out,” Reagan says. “In the service, you spend all your time knowing exactly what you are going to do and what's going to happen tomorrow. Then rotating out, all of a sudden you don't know. That security is gone.”

Last year, Semper Fi placed Baton Rouge native Jeff Taylor, a former Naval chief petty officer and “combat engineer,” in a job as a safety inspector for an oil storage facility in Donaldsonville.

After 21 years in the service, Taylor was feeling the tremendous anxiety of starting over when an advisor on his transition team recommended he call Semper Fi. He says he couldn't be happier.

“There were just so many unknowns out there,” Taylor says. “Joe worked aggressively looking for me, and he was the right man for the job. He goes out of his way to help people, and it is that integrity that makes him successful.”

With his Midwestern mustache and brown hair trimmed as high and tight as ever, Reagan has placed former soldiers like Taylor into well-paying jobs, largely with industrial, shipping and security companies across the country and overseas in Cairo, Morocco and the Middle East.

One of the Illinois native's top priorities is helping veterans rewrite resumes that better translate their military acumen into private-sector assets employers can comprehend.

“They have training, but no idea what to put on a sheet of paper,” Reagan says. The danger for many is low self-esteem when they take a temporary job at a big box store or fast food chain to make ends meet, and it turns into a tunnel-vision career path.

“They're not going to be flipping burgers unless that's what they choose to do,” Reagan says.

His ultimate goal is to put these men and women to work and chip away at that high jobless rate—and yet, he sees his mission in different, almost holistic terms.

“Taking a guy that's getting out who thinks he's going straight to McDonald's, and, whether I get him a job, or he finds one on his own, being able to sit down with him, show him what he's bringing to the table and give him the confidence to pursue a career at his level—that's what makes me feel like we're accomplishing something,” Reagan says. “We don't make anything here, but what we can do is help people.”

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