PHOTO CAPTION: (Clockwise from top): Michael Kuta as a road supervisor for City Shield Security Services; posing with Steve Yzerman as Public Relations Manager for the Detroit Red Wings; and as a young Marine directly after high school.
Early this year, Gulf War veteran Michael Kuta was working security at music festivals across the country and loving his job. Then, on March 10, the coronavirus pandemic shut down public gatherings and put the former active duty Marine out of the position he had held for three years.
The 51-year-old Southfield man, armed with a communications degree from the University of Michigan-Dearborn and years of experience in marketing and security, tried unsuccessfully for more than four months to find a good job with benefits in the pandemic-ravaged economy.
Feeling somewhat desperate, and with his unemployment benefits running out, Kuta called the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency’s 1-800-MICH-VET hotline on Monday, July 27.
Two days later, on July 29, Kuta had a managerial job, with benefits, as a road supervisor for Detroit-based City Shield Security Services.
“So Monday I contact the MVAA and talk to Rebecca (Allen, a technician) and later that night get a call from Dave (Dunckel, an MVAA strategist), who says he’ll see what he can do,” Kuta says. “And then on Wednesday I get a call from City Shield, I head down there for an interview and get offered the job the same day. My first shift was that Friday. It was a good week.”
Kuta’s “good week” highlights what the MVAA is all about. As the state-run coordinating agency for Michigan’s 550,000 veterans and their families, the MVAA often gets confused with the federal VA. But unlike the VA, the MVAA does not directly provide veteran benefits. Instead, the agency was set up by state leaders in 2013 as a one-stop resource center to help veterans navigate the labyrinth of veteran-centric organizations and ultimately get connected to benefits they earned for their service – whether that’s in employment, education, health care, disability or other areas.
Veterans helping veterans
It all starts with the MVAA’ s Michigan Veteran Resource Service Center (MVRSC), which is made up of a team of trained technicians who staff the 1-800-MICH-VET hotline. Over the past several years, the MVRSC has handled more than 13,000 cases per year – an average of 1,100 per month – helping veterans with everything from securing their discharge papers to filing for VA disability benefits to acquiring emergency assistance. That caseload has risen significantly during the pandemic.
Allen, an Army veteran who has been an MVRSC technician for nearly four years, said about a quarter of the calls she’s taken recently have been related to employment. Depending on the veteran’s needs, she may refer them to a veteran career advisor at Michigan Works!, to InvestVets, a Michigan organization that helps veterans bridge the military-civilian gap, or to another organization.
After taking Kuta’s call that Monday, Allen believed he was “employment-ready,” with considerable experience and training, so she contacted Dunckel to see if he could “work his magic with his Veteran-Friendly Employer contacts.”
Dunckel, a retired Army Command Sergeant Major, has spent much of his post-military career building relationships with employers and organizations and using those relationships to help veterans and their families. When Dunckel got the message from Allen that Monday, he was actually on furlough – laid off one day a week for 10 weeks like thousands of other state employees in the wake of the pandemic – so he waited until that evening and, on his own time, called Kuta to learn more about his needs and experience in security work.
The next day, Tuesday, Dunckel called Al Shenouda, Managing Partner at City Shield. The company is one of Michigan’s nearly 400 Veteran-Friendly Employers, meaning it’s committed to recruiting, training and retaining veterans.
Turns out, City Shield was looking for a road supervisor to run its after-hours operations and maintain standards for security officers working overnight details. Kuta’s military background and private sector experience made him a natural fit, and the company moved quickly to interview him and offer him the position on Wednesday. Kuta’s first shift was that Friday, July 31, and he’s been working the 5 p.m.- 1 a.m. shift, Wednesday through Sunday, ever since.
“Success stories like Mr. Kuta’s reinforce why the MVAA is here,” Allen says. “We want to help every veteran who reaches out to us, whether it’s as simple as getting them connected to their local Veteran Service Officer for benefits or more complex issues like homelessness or unemployment.” Shenouda says most of City Shield’s senior leaders are veterans, including some Vietnam War-era veterans. “Veterans are a known quantity and consistently bring qualities like discipline, accountability, diligence and other core competencies,” he says. “Our veterans are also able to problem-solve and operate within a unified chain of command, which is integral for our organization.” Overcoming adversity Kuta served four years in the Marines (1987-91) just after high school, including a 10-month stint in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait during the Gulf War. An administrative clerk attached to an artillery unit, he survived fire fights, chemical attacks and an explosion that killed a fellow Marine about 50 yards from Kuta’s position. “I learned all about teamwork and comradery,” Kuta says. “You all do your job and focus on the mission at hand and it all comes together for the common good. Not just in the Persian Gulf War, but in being a Marine – you’re there for each other.” It’s these attributes and more that Kuta brings to City Shield. “Michael is extremely organized and has a tremendous can-do attitude,” says Al Dyer, the company’s Operations Manager. “He’s meticulous and methodical, and understands that as a contract security company, we are in the life-saving business.”
Losing the music festival security job wasn’t the first time Kuta has faced adversity in the workforce. He lost his job as Media Relations Manager for the Detroit Red Wings after nearly 10 years due to the NHL lockout in 2004, and was let go from a supervisory position with Campbell Marketing & Communications after a major client downsized in 2017, ending his 11-year tenure with the Dearborn firm.
But Kuta isn’t one to be bitter. He prides himself on a positive outlook and strong work ethic and says he’s grateful for each opportunity that has come his way.
“I’m happy to be working again. Everything happens for a reason,” he says. “It was tough to get through the layoff and this whole COVID deal, but there are so many veterans who have it worse off and need services more than I do.”
Dunckel, a combat veteran himself, notes that the MVAA exists to serve every veteran in Michigan, along with their families.
“Saying that you support veterans is one thing, but actually supporting veterans is something completely different,” he says. “Our agency shows this dedication to veterans every day. The teamwork we have within the MVAA and the relationships we’ve built around the state is testament to this mission.”