400 job seekers, dozens of employers get together at first-of-its-kind event

At 6 feet, 5 inches tall and broad shouldered, Doug Stairs looks imposing in the dark, pinstripe suit he traded in for his Army uniform.

Stairs, 27, has been out of work since his five-year stint in the Army ended in November, but potential employers were taking note of him on Thursday.

"I've gotten some pretty good leads today," he said of the Sonoma County Veterans Resource and Job Fair.

"I'm a bigger guy," he said, noting that because of that, the security companies offering employment seemed especially friendly towards him.

"I walk up and they say 'How ya doing?' " he said.

The event at the Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building attracted Stairs and about 400 other job seekers in the first 90 minutes.

Though not limited to former service members, it was mostly veterans who came looking for employment on Thursday.

They also had the opportunity to learn about a variety of support services for ex-military, ranging from health benefits to child care, rental assistance, loans and legal advice.

"This is the very first of its kind in Sonoma County," said Claudio Calvo, the local veterans representative for the state Employment Development Department who organized the fair. "It's getting veterans back to work."

Amid a host of new programs to help veterans find jobs, the government reported earlier this year the unemployment rate for Iraq- and Afghanistan-era veterans fell significantly to 9.1 percent, but was still slightly above the national average.

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