Abbas Malik guarded the Green Zone in Iraq, but he can’t get hired as a mall security guard in Staten Island.
After two Iraq tours, Malik, 27, returned to the U.S. in 2009 and applied for overseas security jobs.
“Nothing bit,” he said, so he next applied to guard the Guggenheim and Madison Square Garden and finally, even Staten Island Mall for some summer cash.
“I operated machine guns in Baghdad, but I can’t have a flashlight at MSG,” Malik said.
He speaks fluent Urdu and was an interpreter in Iraq, but here, Malik cannot get a translation job in the U.S. without a degree. And Army training doesn’t count – for example, a military medic would have to get re-certified to become an EMT back in the States.
Malik, who is pursuing a political science degree at the College of Staten Island, said he was surprised to sense that his military skills – he was a marksman -- intimidate, not impress, prospective employers.
“They see my resume and they’re like, ‘Oh you’re a designated marksman,’ and they just have this face,” he said. “They probably assume that I’m unstable.”
Like Malik, 13 percent of the 17,000 New York City war veterans are now unemployed. That’s higher than the national unemployment rate of 9 percent.
Another soldier, Kevin Kirwan, 35, in Queens, spent 14 years in the Navy, controlling complicated logistics in North Africa, Jerusalem and Italy.
His bachelor’s degree in justice administration qualifies him for middle-management jobs that he says are often filled internally. After sending out 200 job applications, many employers tell him he is overqualified for entry-level jobs.
He and his pregnant wife are considering leaving the city when his severance runs out.
“It is very frustrating,” he said. “We have a baby on the way. I don’t think it’s lack of effort.”
Malik is considering returning to war just to pay the bills.
“I’m irrationally looking at the military again as an option,” he said. “I can’t find anything, and times are getting tougher.”
Follow Alison Bowen on Twitter @AlisonatMetro.