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Helping veterans find work off the battlefield

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By Amna Nawaz, Correspondent, NBC News

OCEANSIDE, Calif. -- This is not how Mark and Tori Baird thought they'd be spending their retirement. 

But nine years ago, at their home near Camp Pendleton, a U.S. Marine veteran knocked on their door. He'd been injured in Iraq. His wife had lost her job. Their car had been repossessed.

"He said, 'I need to earn $100 today to feed my family and keep the lights on'," recalled Mark Baird. "And he asked if there was any work he could do for us."

Baird tried to give him the money, but the man refused. So Baird put him to work on a few odd jobs: cleaning out the garage, fixing a broken chair, even ridding his backyard of a wasp's nest. Five hours and $100 dollars later, the man thanked him and left.

"Then I just got the idea ... There must be other Marines like him," said Baird. "So I'm gonna do something."

Mark spent the better part of the last decade, and most of his savings, creating and building Hire Patriots with his wife, Tori. The online jobs list is exclusively for military veterans. Most of the jobs are for one day only -- last-minute postings by community members or businesses looking for an extra pair of hands to help move furniture, or extra bodies to help organize and run an event.

The few hundred dollars earned doing those jobs allow veterans to make car payments, pay utility bills, and help make ends meet while they look for long-term employment and make what could be a long transition from military service to civilian life. 

"The average veteran is going to take five years before he's able to sustainably employ himself and take care of his family," said Baird. "Even if he's able to get a job, if you have three kids and a wife and you're working at Starbucks for $8.50 an hour, it's not meeting the bills."

The site has hosted over 50,000 one-day jobs since it launched, and more than 1,500 full-time opportunities. The Bairds say they have about 10,000 visitors each week to the site, and have helped thousands of veterans find some form of employment over the years.

For Mark, the site is a form of service to re-pay veterans for their sacrifice -- a sacrifice he'd hoped to make himself, as a the son of a WWII veteran who grew up surrounded by peers being deployed to Vietnam. When a hemophilia diagnosis prevented him from serving on the frontlines, he became a pastor instead, often going door-to-door in military communities to counsel those returning from war.

"I decided to serve those who were serving, and to do the best I could to care for them and help them get back on their feet," said Baird.

Today, the Bairds are contacted by veterans from all over the country, seeking help finding a job. They often meet with veterans in their region, to go over resumes and make introductions that might lead to jobs down the line. And they've established a national network of community leaders, to help expand and grow Hire Patriots into what they call a "nationwide safety net" for veterans.

"They volunteered to use their bodies as weapons of war and they've suffered tremendously from doing so," said Baird. "It only seems right that we return the favor."

To learn more about Hire Patriots, please visit their website.