When Paul Critchlow, vice chairman of public markets at Bank of America, came home after one of the most pitched battles of the Vietnam War, he received a chilly reception from friends and classmates.
"My old girlfriends wouldn't even come to the phone," he said. "And I know it had to do with Vietnam, not my looks."
Wall Street, specifically Merrill Lynch, was one of the few places where he felt at home.
Now, Critchlow and a cadre of military veterans at the biggest banks and brokerages are organizing an industry-wide push to hire former soldiers and to pressure their clients to do so as well.
"There is a movement afoot," said Owen West, a Goldman Sachs managing director and a Marine who was part of the 2003 Iraq invasion. "The network is already starting to feed itself. We lost a prized Marine recruit to Merrill this summer."
Five of the big Wall Street banks -- Bank of America, Citi, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank and Goldman Sachs -- joined forces in September to found a recruiting coalition dubbed Veterans on Wall Street. The group, in concert with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the federal Labor Department, is producing a conference and veterans job fair June 23 with about 100 local employers converging on the U.S.S. Intrepid aircraft carrier docked in the Hudson River.
"To me, it's fascinating that all the banks are cooperating," Critchlow said. "We're usually not that friendly."
The timing of the effort is critical. Unemployment rates among young veterans have surged in recent years, as a tight economy exacerbated what has long been a tough transition for soldiers. The jobless rate of veterans of the most recent fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan was 12.1% in May, up from 10.6% a year earlier, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the same period, unemployment among all U.S. workers fell from 9.6% to 9.1%.
To make matters worse, the government has planned to bring home 3,000 to 5,000 troops in coming months and is considering a more accelerated drawdown of forces.
"We're in for a train-wreck," said Kevin Schiegel, vice president of veterans employment initiatives at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of the nonprofit Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said Wall Street efforts to recruit veterans are vanguard, in part because so many former soldiers already work in the industry and because most finance roles require a high degree of discipline and teamwork.
"I was just out talking to executives in Silicon Valley and I told them that Wall Street is way ahead on this," Rieckhoff said. "They are the model right now."
Veterans in each bank are coaching HR departments on how to connect with former soldiers and programming resume crunching databases to flag military service.
Deutsche Bank, for example, has hired veterans for almost all of the positions in one of its Florida order-processing centers and in a Las Vegas casino that it "accidentally" came to own when a developer defaulted on one of its loans, according to John Eydenberg, global head of the financial sponsors group and a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy.
"The guy processing a transaction at Deutsche Bank now is almost certainly former Navy from Jacksonville, Fla," Eydenberg said. "We were able to take a very grassroots effort...and expand it to where the real problem is."
Write to Kyle Stock