Veterans Landing Jobs
Bowdoinham contractor Stephen Martin tried once before to establish a company that would employ military veterans.
But there was a lot he didn’t know and a few details he didn’t understand. “I didn’t do it quite right,” he said.
Now, with a bit of experience and some help from his brother — a psychiatrist with the Veterans Administration in New Hampshire — Martin tries to hire as many veterans as possible through his firm, SME Corp.
They all have some extent of disability, whether physical or emotional, from the effects of their military service. But they work hard and have valuable skills, he said.
One of the keys to making it work for the veterans: strength in numbers.
“You can’t just hire one (veteran),” Martin said. “It’s the camaraderie. I’d hire a whole battalion of them.”
Nobody who hasn’t served in the military can understand what soldiers go through, said Martin, who served in the Maine National Guard himself.
Many of the veterans he hires carry the effects of posttraumatic stress disorder, sustained during combat or other similarly damaging situations.
But he figures they’ve already done the hardest part of the job by putting themselves in harm’s way, so the least he can do is give them a chance to earn a living once they muster out.
“We started with two veterans, now we have four. We’re planning to grow from there,” Martin said.
“I wish I’d done this 20 years ago. They’re hard workers, I get to the job site in the morning and they’re already there.”
Most have some sort of background in construction or mechanical trades.
Gerard Desjardins, from Auburn, is a former Army medical corpsman. He spent 28 years in the service and served in Desert Storm in 1992. He’s the crew’s unofficial foreman.
Robert Jordan, the youngest of the bunch, retired from the U.S. Army a year ago. He commutes three hours every day to work for SME.
“I’ve done a little bit of everything but I never had much of a career,” Jordan said.
Just as the soldiers transition from active duty to civilian life, the switch from military installation to commerce park required new facilities at Brunswick Executive Airport, known in aviation circles by its call sign, “BXM.” Former Navy hangars Four, Five and Six are adequate for P-3s and C-130s, but they’re a lot of overkill for small civilian planes with wingspans shorter than a P-3’s rudder is tall.
SME won the $1.5 million contract to build a “Thangar” adjacent to Orion Drive.
The T-hangar holds 10 planes in staggered nose-totail formation and costs local pilots $275 per month. The steel skeleton is up, and to partition and enclose the rest of it will take about four more weeks, Martin said.
A second hangar is a possibility, but nothing official has been announced.
Right now, Martin is just looking for more work.
Martin started SME Corp. in 1972; four years ago, he founded Low E Building Systems. He recently bought land on the northern end of Route 196, where he plans to build a 16,000-square-foot manufacturing facility for Low E to produce energy-efficient components and assemblies for other local contractors.
Eventually, he plans to have as many as 30 employees there, he said.
But in the meanwhile, he’s still looking for more veterans.
“We’ll do the same thing with (Low E),” Martin said. “I’ll take as many as I can find.”
Lewiston’s David Rogers is former Army, as well. He retired from active duty in 1985, and from the reserves in 1999.
Taking a break from passing sheet metal exterior panels up to Desjardins and Jordan on the lift, to be fastened to the hangar’s steel skeleton, Rogers lamented the difficulty of finding work.
“This economy makes it hard,” he said. “I wouldn’t be employed if not for (Martin).”