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, Family photo
Sgt. Marshall Evan Porter in Iraq in 2009

SALT LAKE CITY — For six years, Army Reserve Sgt. Marshall Porter drove an M915, the military's version of a semitrailer, hauling 5,000-gallon shipments of gasoline in a combat zone.

"I've driven big trucks six years accident-free," Porter said, explaining the Army's training to drive the heavy trucks was seven weeks long. "For civilians, the training is only four weeks long."

But when Porter returned to Utah from Afghanistan, he discovered that despite his military training and experience, he could not obtain a commercial driver's license unless he attended a CDL driver training school. 

"I didn't think it was fair," Porter said.

His mother, Mary Kay Porter, agreed. She and her husband, Stan, have three sons who serve in the military, as well as a son-in-law. She took the issue — and research into other states' laws — to her state senator.

Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, carried SB282 in the 2012 legislative session. The bill, which passed the Legislature handily and was signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert last week, allows a veteran to receive a commercial driver license if they meet the requirements for the license and, for at least two years prior to applying, worked in a military unit that required the skills necessary for the license.

Weiler said the legislation ensures service members' training and experience, in the transportation segment at least, receives proper recognition.

"Think of it this way, he was trained with taxpayer dollars in our military. And then we're not going to recognize or give him any credit for that?" Weiler said.

Porter said when he told fellow members of the Army Reserve's 419th Transportation Company about the bill's passage, "there were a lot of cheers."

"Hopefully it will help a lot of veterans," Porter said. The new law will go into effect July 1.

Unfortunately, many veterans face roadblocks finding work when they return to civilian life.

According to recent federal Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers, veterans who served on active duty since September 2001 (Gulf War-era II) have an average unemployment rate of 12.1 percent nationwide, compared to 8.3 percent for all veterans. 

Utah's overall unemployed dipped to 5.7 percent in February.

Porter is working as a job coach for people with disabilities. He said finding employment in the civilian world can be challenging for some, but he's been fortunate to find work he finds rewarding.

"In my company it's split down the middle. Some people have careers. Others are going to college. Others who are trying to find better jobs or work are struggling with it."

To some degree, finding work may depend "on what you're willing to do and where you're willing to go," Porter said.

In an attempt to highlight employment opportunities and resources to better cope with the transition to civilian life, the University of Utah Neuropsychiatric Institute will host a job fair and conference Friday at the Salt Palace Convention Center. Registration begins at 7 a.m.

Generations 2012 and the Utah Veterans and Family Summit will provide sessions to help veterans strengthen personal relationships and families, cope with caregiving, address substance abuse, sexual trauma and medical issues such as traumatic brain injury, as well as mental health.

The program also includes sessions on accessing veterans' benefits, financial management and job seeking.

The U. neuropsychiatric institute is the primary sponsor of the conference. Other partners include the National Association of Social Worker, Utah chapter; University of Utah Department of Psychiatry & Utah Autism Resource Partnership; Utah Coalition for Caregiver Support; Utah Commission on Marriage; Utah Division of Substance Abuse; and Mental Health and Utah Veterans and Military Employment Coalition.