Edward Zirkle walked around the job fair feeling a little lost. So many decisions, from hair length to what time he got up in the morning, were made for him by his last employer:
But now Zirkle, who just got out of the Army after 10 years, finds himself like more than 100,000 people who leave the military every year. It can be a daunting transition to the private work force for people used to the regimented life of the military.
And to some like Zirkle, a small-arms trainer in the Army, translating arcane military skills to a private business can appear problematic.
But at an Oct. 1 job fair sponsored by RecruitMilitary, an Ohio agency, employers say they want the intangible qualities that a military stint drills into the minds of troops:
Discipline. A work ethic. Organizational skills. Leadership.
"You can't always teach those skills to someone," said Jay Diaz, a district sales coordinator for insurance provider Aflac, one of more than 20 employers at the job fair.
"They get up every day. I don't have to call them to get on their case," Diaz said. "Structure is built into them. A person out of college would rather sleep late and party all night. Not these people."
Zirkle, 40, an Orlando area resident who left the Army because of a back injury, didn't want to leave the military and said finding work is a bit frightening.
One of several hundred veterans wandering the fair at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, Zirkle acknowledged he has much to learn, such as saying "yes" instead of the Army's ubiquitous "hooah."
"I miss the structured life," Zirkle said. "I miss the camaraderie. I miss good friends. I loved the feeling that I was making decisions to protect the nation."
But Zirkle said he's got what it takes to make it in the private world with skills burned into his DNA by a decade of Army life.
Among employers at the fair: the Secret Service, Laird Plastics, Northrop Grumman, Brinks Home Security and Miami-Dade public schools.
It isn't just the intangibles employers seek. Highly technical skills are always in demand, as is a security clearance for defense contractors.
The weak economy also is driving veterans who haven't served in years back into the job market to see if those old military skills are still an asset.
Joseph Golden, 32, of Tampa, discharged in 2000 after four years in the Marines, is quitting a career in the mortgage business to see if he can find a job in the security industry.
"Nobody is going to out-work me," he said. "I trained in the Marines to stay awake three days, if necessary."
Golden stopped at Operations Support Technologies' table, a company that sometimes sends employees to Iraq to provide field support for military equipment.
Golden said he wouldn't hesitate to go.
"If that's what it takes to care for my family," he said, "then I would do it. The bills don't stop coming."