UPDATE: 2/21/13 @ 5:30 P.M.
PORTSMOUTH, Ohio (WSAZ) -- Hundreds of veterans flocked to Kentucky Thursday hopeful that a job may be just around the corner.
They are all a part of a group nearly a million strong, former U.S. soldiers, sailors and marines, looking for work.
A Hiring Our Heroes job fair was held in Portsmouth to open up new opportunities to those men and woman still searching.
90 minutes before the job fair started, Timothy Ayres and his wife were already there. Both waiting and hoping for another chance to get into the workforce.
“Like a needle in a haystack,” Ayres said.
Ayres is a Navy veteran looking for janitorial or security work. But each time he applies, he hears the same thing.
“Not hiring,” Ayres said. “Wait until the summer. Just cutbacks. Something like that.”
Ryan McClanahan is also a Navy vet. He's looking for a management position, but is hearing the same thing as Ayres.
“I've put out 50 resumes in 3 months and I've had three phone interviews,” McClanahan said.
He says it's like his military experience isn't even recognized by employers.
“There's not a lot of education out there for the general public on what exactly the military do,” McClanahan said. “Oh you're a sailor? You travel the world? But getting down to what the core of your job is... I ran an office in an engineering office.”
Bob Labadie works for the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He says jobs are out there, but it's a little like matchmaking.
“It's not a matter of jobs, it's a matter of creating the marriage and having some idea of what you really want to do,” Labadie said.
It's also important to be open minded about location. A tough fact for McClanahan says to swallow.
“I got out of the military to come home,” McClanahan said. “I would've stayed in for life had it been more close to home.”
122 people showed up for Thursday’s job fair.
Another Hiring Our Heroes event will be held in Charleston in March.
“Did you ever think it would be so hard to find a job when you came back home?” WSAZ.com's Lauren Schmoll asked.
“No,” Stepp said.
He's hoping a job fair geared specifically toward veterans will help open up some doors. Twenty-five employers are expected to show up at Thursday's Hiring our Heroes fair. For Stepp, that's 25 chances at a better life.
“Any lead's always important,” Stepp said. “You never know what they could lead to. So a lead is a good lead.”
After the cabinet factory he worked at shut down in 2011, work has been hard to find.
“It's pretty frustrating -- because you give a good part of your life to your country," Step said. "And then you come back and your country don't help you out. So it can be frustrating.”
Mike Bell is an admissions rep and military liaison at Daymar College in New Boston, Ohio, where Don is studying. He's also the 1st Vice Commander of American Legion Post 471 -- one of the sponsors of Hiring our Heroes.
“When they first started talking about it, I thought, OK, another job fair,” Stepp said. “I didn't really think there'd be that many people that would be excited about it. But here in the last week or two, that's all anybody's talking about.”
He's excited for the opportunities for his fellow veterans and what it could mean in their lives.
“To me, it means a better future -- and that they care about their veterans,” Stepp said, all as he keeps working toward the freedom of a stable career.
The job fair runs from 1 to 4 p.m. Thursday at American Legion Post 471 on Gallia Street.
It's a nationwide program that's sponsored by NBC and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
So far, it's helped more than 14,000 veterans find jobs.