Army Staff Sgt. Rick Boone was helping to search for insurgents in Baghdad when he came under small-arms fire. Boone ducked for cover as bullets filled the air, falling hard on his back. He underwent back surgery for the damage and now walks on crutches.
Army Sgt. John Stockton was manning a machine gun in the turret of a humvee in Mosul when an improvised explosive device exploded nearby, permanently damaging his hearing.
Both men, now home, are looking for new jobs - along with hundreds of other wounded and injured Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who turned out yesterday for a Defense Department job fair at Fort Dix.
The Hiring Heroes Career Fair was New Jersey's first. The program started two years ago in Washington. Six were held around the country last year.
"It's been very successful," said Karen Hannah, supervisor and human-resources specialist for the Defense Recruitment Assistance Program. "Here they find out what's happening when they get out. They get names, numbers and e-mail addresses of employers."
Among the thousands of troops who have returned from the wars with physical and mental scars and who are trying to restart their lives, many came to the Fort Dix Timmermann Center yesterday, wearing arm slings or hobbling with crutches, walkers and canes.
They left with job prospects and contacts - and sometimes more.
"I always thought folks cared about the veterans - whether they were for or against the war," said Stockton, 32, a Thornton, N.H., resident who served with the military police and now would like to enter law enforcement. "This is good."
Boone, 48, a former corrections officer who lives in Long Island, N.Y., said he plans to start a business.
"A lot of what they're offering here are jobs for young guys," he said. "But I want to find help in starting my own investigation firm."
About 50 employers had tables at the career fair, including agencies in the Department of Defense, the Postal Service, Central Intelligence Agency, the Secret Service, Department of Veterans Affairs, Bureau of Census, American Legion, IBM, Comcast, and other private companies.
Army Lt. Gen. Robert Wilson, commanding general of the U.S. Army Installation Management Command, told the troops yesterday that the country "wants to help you prepare for a job after you take off the uniform."
He urged those with injuries "to turn those challenges into opportunities."
Army National Guard Spec. Dominick Schoonmaker, 37, of Schenectady, N.Y., slammed his right shoulder while repairing a humvee in Tikrit, Iraq, in August 2005. He has undergone surgery twice and wants a job - "something involving homeland security," he said.
Army Sgt. First Class Robert Nolan, 56, of Panama, N.Y., said he was sickened by chemicals in a Kuwait shipyard. Nolan, who has served in the military for 26 years, was given the option of returning home, but chose to continue fighting with Iraqi commandos.
"I'm now getting treatment for the chemical exposure," he said, adding, "Now, I'd like to find a job in corporate security."
Among the employers who were drawn to the job fair was Comcast Corp. Yolanda Wan, the company's area staffing coordinator for southern New Jersey, said Comcast "likes to hire veterans looking for opportunities. We offer accounting, marketing, advertising, IT, engineering, customer service and installation," she said.
CIA representatives offered job prospects in the clandestine service as well as support services such as accounting, engineering and finance. Recruiters from the National Security Agency and Abington Township Police Department also were looking to hire.
One table at the career fair held a large bunch of red carnations instead of job applications and brochures. Mary Conboy of Philadelphia's Roxborough neighborhood was handing flowers to veterans to thank them for their service.
Her son, Marine Lance Cpl. Adam C. Conboy, was fatally shot on May 12 in Anbar province in western Iraq. She remembers him through the Adam C. Conboy Memorial Fund, which distributes donated bedsheets, pillows and other comforts of home to the troops.
"This is my way to thank them for their bravery and service to the country," said Mary Conboy as she handed out carnations.