COSTA MESA — Thatiana Geiger slowly pushed two children in a double-seat stroller between rows of tables, eying neatly laid-out information packets from 40 prospective employers.
She and her husband, Brian Geiger, a Navy veteran, attended Thursday's Honor a Hero: Hire a Vet job fair at the Hilton Orange County/Costa Mesa. The San Clemente residents were both looking for work at the event, which was open to both veterans and those who haven't served in the Armed Forces.
When her husband's active service ended in March, Thatiana Geiger said the plan was that "he was going to stay home to relax and unwind, to see what he wanted to do next."
"But, it's not happening," she continued. "We both have to look for jobs now."
The fair unexpectedly coincided with the release of the U.S. Department of Labor numbers that showed initial unemployment claims spiking this week. The number of claims rose last week by 10,000, to 424,000.
While Thatiana Geiger was looking at possible avenues in interior design or photography, Brian Geiger was looking to transfer his skills as a former Navy electronics technician into a civilian job.
"It feels like I'm being rebuilt," he said, adding that the transition from the Navy to the civilian workforce was like "a fish going from a bowl into a lake."
It's a challenge faced by most veterans, said Daniel McHenry, a member of the Orange County Veterans Employment Committee, one of the event's main organizers.
"In many cases, you're talking about young men and women with proven leadership skills who have commanded teams of 20 or 25 people," McHenry said. "Where is their counterpart in the civilian workforce with comparable experience?"
One of the committee's services is connecting veterans with people who can help analyze their skills and identify what educational or career path they should pursue, he said.
Another event attendee, Jeremy Thomison, a Marine Corps veteran, considered a career as a police officer, firefighter or security guard.
However, none of those options appeal to the veteran who served multiple tours in Iraq between 2002 and 2006.
With a wife and 4-year-old daughter to keep in mind, Thomison said he would prefer something more "peaceful" and "calm."
"I was in infantry, but how many people are looking for that?" he asked.
Although 180 veterans and 55 civilians came to the fair within the first hour, the pace was slower than last year, McHenry said.
The fair had 40 employers and multiple schools represented, which is up from past years but still a decline from 2007 when there had been more than 100 employers and 1,000 attendees, he said.
McHenry remained optimistic. He sees people hired every day, he said.
"Vets bring so much to the table," he said. "They have skills, leadership and confidence that are developed over the years in service that are invaluable. It's just how to take those skills and translate them into an occupation that the civilian labor market needs or wants that is the challenge."