Coming Home PA is a project spearheaded by PublicSource, a local nonprofit investigative news group, with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and other local media partners.
Army veteran Patrick Quigley said his kids have always looked up to him.
So it was especially difficult that one job the former infantry platoon sergeant was offered as a civilian was cleaning cages in an animal shelter.
The soldier responsible for the health, welfare, discipline and training of 30 of his comrades and $3 million worth of equipment would essentially be "shoveling dog [poop] out of a cage."
"It's frustrating," the 34-year-old says. "You're in the military, you serve your country ... and you don't land those jobs that you feel like you should have."
The son of two former Marines, Patrick -- whose brother is also a Marine -- didn't plan to leave the service in 2011.
But a low blood pressure condition caused him to pass out, and he was discharged in November for medical reasons. The Army gave him a severance package and sent him on his way.
Since then, it's been a race to beat the clock. Patrick's military medical benefits run out in May, and he needs a job with benefits to keep his family insured. Without them, Patrick would have to put Justine, 15, and Liam, 8, on the state Children's Health Insurance Program or apply for welfare. His wife, Carrie, 36, also suffers from a stomach ailment.
The family lives in Jacksonville, N.C., with Patrick's parents. The stress of the situation has caused Patrick and Carrie to snap at each; Justine is embarrassed to invite friends over and explain why she lives with her grandparents.
Reluctant to take the animal shelter job, Patrick and Carrie came to Pittsburgh for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce "Hiring Our Heroes" job fair at the Heinz History Center last month. It was a familiar backdrop for them: Carrie's folks live in Scott, and Patrick worked as a recruiter here for the Army National Guard in 2005-07.
Since November, Patrick has applied for roughly 30 jobs -- at Lowe's Home Improvement, CSX and Norfolk Southern railways and Walmart, to name a few.
He sought resume help from a career consultant and checks in weekly.
In job interviews, he'd emphasize his patience and ability to work in stressful situations.
While he never served in Iraq or Afghanistan, he led a five-man reconnaissance team in Okinawa, Japan, and provided critical military intelligence during a stint in the Marine Corps in the late '90s. Articulate and amiable, he's completed military courses in leadership and communication.
Still, employers weren't calling back.
Fearing he did something wrong in his resume or during the interview, he kept changing things, hoping he'd adjust the right variable.
He left the Pittsburgh job fair defeated -- a career specialist there told him his four-page resume, crafted with the consultant's help, was a mess.
"To watch him, I felt so bad because I know that he was feeling bad," Carrie says. "Not like a pity party kind of bad, but like, 'I'm the man, I'm supposed to provide.' "
Carrie is a stay-at-home mom. Once a legal secretary, she's now working on her bachelor's in psychology online from the University of Phoenix.
Patrick is on hiatus from an online organizational leadership program at Duquesne University, where he's earned 48 credits. He plans to resume the program once settled in a job.
About a month ago, things started looking up for the Quigley family. Patrick got a call from GameStop, the video game retail outlet whose representatives attended the "Hiring Our Heroes" job fair in Pittsburgh. The company offered him a store manager position in Greensburg.
"The fact that I'm still in a manager, supervisor position like I was in the military, but I'm not sitting behind the desk telling them what to do," makes the job a good fit, he says.
With his GameStop salary and $1,300 in VA disability each month, he'll collect about $50,000 a year.
Patrick's getting store training in Johnstown and living alone in a hotel, where he video chats with Carrie and the kids at night.
The family is looking for a home in Greensburg.
After a recent long day of training, Patrick reflected on the job search: "That has probably been one of the biggest struggles we've had to go through in a long time."
Molly Born: email@example.com or 412-263-1944. First Published April 15, 2012 2:30 PM