Project prepares veterans for work

A dozen wounded veterans are ready to re-enter the work force after graduating Friday from a program designed to give them job skills.

"Pretty much when I got here I had zero confidence," said Daryn Eckert, an Air Force and Army veteran. "I have more than enough confidence now."

The Army Corp of Engineers' Veterans Curation Project aims to ease the transition into the job market for veterans returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The veterans gain experience in digital photography, database management and other computer skills by working with archaeological collections.

The lab opened in October in West Town shopping center, and similar labs have since opened in St. Louis and Washington, D.C.

"We were supposed to be the caboose, and instead, we're the engine," said Laurie Ott, a project founder and the executive director of the CSRA Wounded Warrior Care Project.

On Friday, a graduation ceremony was held for the 12 veterans in the Martinez center, where family, friends and advocates of the project gathered.

The project, which is funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, is temporary, but many people hope to see it continue.

U.S. Rep. John Barrow, who recently introduced legislation in Congress to make the project permanent, called the program a "win-win-win situation."

"The part I appreciate the most is giving added economic value to some of the heroes -- the men and women who served our country and deserve all the help they can get," he said.

After suffering from post- traumatic stress disorder after returning from Iraq, Eckert said, he hasn't been able to find work for two years and is thankful for the program.

"If I had a couple of million it takes to run this program, I'd give it in a heartbeat," he said.