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A nexus of help and passion for veterans

By Tom Bronzini

Debbie Gregory describes herself as technically challenged, but that didn't prevent her in 2006 from launching, a Simi Valley-based website with a vast amount of information helpful to veterans, active duty service members and their families.

"I have to tell you, it's been a great learning experience in so many different areas and ways," she said of developing her concept with the help of website designers.

Employment and education for returning veterans are two major areas of focus for Military Connection, Gregory said, but the website, with thousands of pages, covers many other topics. A Resources section has military pay calculators, information on military loans and insurance, deployment financial tips and many other features. Among the Military Buzz offerings are columns and articles of interest, a travel guide, calendars of reunions, and "Combatoons," cartoons about life in a combat zone. Other main headings on the site are Military Spouses, Directory of Employers, Job Fairs, Virtual Mall and Charity Connection, with information on charities and how to donate to them.

Military Connection gets its revenue from advertising by employers, educational institutions and sellers of products and services in the virtual mall.

Gregory is passionate about helping veterans find employment, but she wanted her website to do much more.
"I felt that if the site, rather than just being an employment site, had all types of valuable information that people would come," she said.

And they do come. The website gets 8,000 to 10,000 visitors a day, Gregory said, and Military Connection has more than 85,000 followers on Twitter.

Gregory said veterans have much to offer to employers.

"Veterans coming back, they're great team players. They have discipline, they have leadership skills," she said. "It doesn't matter what the occupational area is, it's the right thing to do to hire them and also there are some nice attractive tax credits that come right off the employer's FICA contribution."

She became aware of the needs of veterans through her father, who was a disabled veteran of World War II and spent years in veterans' hospitals while she was growing up.

Gregory is a former partner in an executive search firm who was aware of what companies look for in hiring. She started a business in 1999 selling employment ads in military base newspapers. She came to see that the online audience was growing rapidly, and launched in 2006. The business now has six employees and also buys some Web support services.

Last year, Gregory founded the nonprofit Veteran and Military Business Owners Association, which she is developing as place for networking, exchanging ideas and learning about such things as business loan programs and training.

Not long after she first started her first business in 1999, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

"I just celebrated 10 years [as a survivor] and I know how lucky I am, and it's really important to me on a personal level to make a difference," she said. "I feel that I've been given the opportunity to continue my life and I want it to mean something."