Evan Franck, an Arlington Heights native and Marine Corps veteran, returned home feeling behind after serving two tours of duty in Afghanistan and Kuwait.
While many of the 24-year-old's Prospect High School classmates were finishing college and starting careers, he returned home to his parents and took classes at Harper Community College.
The son and grandson of military veterans, Franck had known from a young age that he wanted to serve. Perhaps he would rise through the ranks and make a career in the armed forces. Yet, after the four-year contract ended, Franck decided a military career wasn't for him. He had to reset.
"I literally had no sense of direction," he said. "For me, it was strange trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life after serving in the military."
Over the past two months, Franck and 20 other veterans from the suburbs and Chicago have gotten some help answering this question.
The Des Plaines Chamber of Commerce and local businesses sponsored an eight-week Back to Work Boot Camp with educational programs intended to help veterans find careers. They'll graduate today and each receive a career-focused package valued at $8,000, including a new laptop computer, gift cards for clothes and food, a car-maintenance package, portfolios and resumes.
The graduation will feature keynote speaker Col. Jill Morgenthaler, a U.S. Army veteran and the first woman to run Homeland Security in Illinois. Arthur Rento Sr., a survivor of the Battle of Normandy and owner of Pontarelli Companies, is also expected to attend.
Andrea Biwer, executive director of the Des Plaines Chamber of Commerce, wants to continue the program and other efforts to help veterans return to work.
"We wish the graduates great success in their chosen careers," she said. "We hope they become mentors to future participants."
For Franck, meeting with business owners during the boot camp taught him the military did help develop skills that employers seek, such as leadership and teamwork. Now, he's been applying to police departments and taking classes at Northeastern Illinois University.
"All of us had felt like we took a step back by working in the military," he said. "But I think that couldn't be further from the truth. We have a lot of skills to offer."