East Lyme - The Norwich Police Department's table was one of the busiest, if not the busiest, at the Heroes for Hire Veterans Career Fair at Camp Niantic Wednesday.
Most of the veterans in attendance at least stopped by to pick up information, and several stayed for lengthy chats about the application process and benefits.
Of the 16 new police officers the department plans to hire in the next year, at least four will be veterans. The department received a federal grant to hire four people with military experience.
Sgt. James Veiga, supervisor of the training unit, said the department has hired 13 people since last September, three of whom are veterans.
"We're glad to have them," he said. Veterans gain skills in the military that are useful in civilian law enforcement, he said.
The additional 16 people should bring the total number of sworn officers to 99. Norwich Police Chief Louis J. Fusaro Sr. said the department is reinvigorating its community policing efforts and replacing retirees.
He said he is looking for the "best of the best," and veterans are used to discipline and following procedures, plus they've had firearms training.
"Not everyone is cut out to be a police officer. It's challenging at times. It's dangerous at times, and sometimes it's mundane," Fusaro, who was not at the fair, said in an interview. "But it goes from mundane to high-speed in a flash. People with military experience have already adapted to that lifestyle, and if it's something they didn't like, they probably wouldn't be applying."
By lunchtime, Veiga said he had already met with several promising candidates.
One of those candidates was Kayla Wlaszkiewicz, a trained military police officer. Wlaszkiewicz, a specialist who has served in the Connecticut National Guard for nearly four years, said she has always been interested in law enforcement, and joining a local department could be an easy transition.
An officer who has just finished the academy earns about $52,000 in Norwich.
Wlaszkiewicz, 21, of Moosup said she planned to follow up with Veiga. She said she appreciated that U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney hosted the career fair specifically for veterans, since they sometimes don't get a lot of recognition for their service and it can be hard to find a job.
Courtney, D-2nd District, said the 17 companies that participated were all "100 percent enthusiastic" about hiring veterans. He said he wanted to host a veterans career fair in the corner of Connecticut with a high concentration of veterans.
The timing was right, he said, since companies can take advantage of a federal tax credit for hiring veterans until Dec. 31.
Many of the companies had lists of available openings. The team from Electric Boat in Groton said their list didn't reflect the openings that would soon be available in the trades, but they spoke with interested job seekers about those positions. Mohegan Sun had a variety of positions available, from marketing representative to security guard, line chef and valet attendant.
Staff Sgt. George Leon, 40, of Willimantic works full-time for the National Guard, but he said he went to the fair to be proactive, since there's a chance his office could downsize.
Leon, an infantryman who has deployed twice to Afghanistan, said he thought about working for a police department in the past, and talking with the officers from Norwich piqued his interest a little more. After serving for years, Leon said it can be tricky to figure out how one's military job can translate to the civilian world.
The job fair, he said, was good for ideas.