OPERATION DESERT JOBS: Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas casts a wide net over employment opportunities for local veterans

VIDEO: Click to play Country music singer and former United States Army Ranger Keni Thomas performs a song during a “Supporting our Veterans” event in Rose. Rabbit. Lie. at the Cosmopolitan Wednesday, January 30, 2019. (Sam Morris/Las Vegas News Bureau)



“Gets choked up when the bugle plays / He remembers the battle like it was just yesterday / 
He knows he owes his life to the ones left behind / And for their sacrifice he will hold the line.”
— Hold the Line, sung by musician Keni Thomas, survivor of the Battle of Mogadishu, at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas Supporting Our Veterans event


Bullets and bombs — just like the ones they braved — can shred flesh.

Words — just like the ones he speaks — can scar hearts.

“I tried to be the best I could be, but my world fell apart,” says the Navy veteran who carries the memories of the Vietnam War, explaining his descent into post-service homelessness and joblessness in a video that rivets a packed, Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas ballroom.

“I did cry at times, at night, when no one could see me. It hurt. It hurt for me to be where I was. But I kept my head up and kept moving forward. I had to find a job again.”

He did. Right here.

Now Thomas Holbert, a Cosmopolitan parking valet since 2016, has what he never thought would be back within his grasp. “I bought a home last June, and I bought a car,” he says later, backstage at Rose. Rabbit. Lie., site of the resort’s recent Supporting Our Veterans celebration.  “Now I’ve got mortgage payments and car payments — just like everybody else!”

What he has is … a life. One that was resurrected via the Cosmopolitan’s ongoing initiative to hire veterans and nurture them in the workplace. Nearly 300 veterans and their spouses have swelled the Cosmopolitan’s payroll since the program launched in 2016, expanding the ranks of both management and guest services departments, including parking attendants, table game employees and bellmen, plus accounting, human resources and front desk staff, among other positions.  

Active duty military listen to Keni Thomas as he delivers a keynote address during a “Supporting our Veterans” event in Rose. Rabbit. Lie. at the Cosmopolitan Wednesday, January 30, 2019. (Sam Morris/Las Vegas News Bureau)

That effort was reinforced when veterans, resort executives and employees gathered as a kind of recommitment ceremony. Highlighting the activities was a funny/touching appearance by singer/motivational speaker Keni Thomas, an ex-U.S. Army Ranger who survived the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993 that inspired the book and 2001 movie Black Hawk Down, in which he was portrayed by actor Tac Fitzgerald.

“I do about a hundred events a year in the corporate world and this is an anomaly,” says Thomas, who also served as a technical advisor on Black Hawk Down, which told the story of the firefight erupting from the mission to capture Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid.  

 “Very few take a day where they just recognize their veterans. Anybody who used to wear the boots and made it back alive to the real world, you’re going to spend the rest of your life thanking the people who were on your left and your right. It’s in your blood.”

Earning a standing ovation for his retelling of the battle — charmingly witty at times, chillingly vivid at others, capped by his musical performance — Thomas participated because the event went beyond expressing gratitude, to honoring action by the Cosmopolitan to aid veterans.

“There shouldn’t be a reason for a veteran not to have a job and a roof and be proud,” said the resort’s chief people officer, Daniel Espino, at the event, which was kicked off by four uniformed, flag-toting members of a U.S. Army Color Guard, setting the tone of honor and service.

“We discovered there is a real need to help our veterans and their families as they transition from military life into the civilian workforce,” says Lori Calderon, the Cosmopolitan’s director of talent acquisition, who also spoke at the ceremony. Though the resort regularly stages career mixers, workshops to teach interviewing skills and community job fairs, Calderon notes that uniting vets and potential employers has several hurdles to jump.

“It’s daunting because a lot of employers don’t understand military experience. And on the military member side, they don’t know how to translate their experience into the civilian workforce, so you have two groups speaking different languages that don’t know how to connect.”

Two languages? Allow us to translate to help those on both sides of a job interview cue into each other’s lingo and demystify the resume-writing and resume-reading chores. Click here  for a military jargon-into-civilian-speak guide. Please share it with veterans who are job-seeking, or employers searching for employees who’ve already proven their dedication to discipline, service and responsibility while in uniform. 

Vice President of Facilities of The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas Michael Heiman speaks after a “Supporting our Veterans” event in Rose. Rabbit. Lie. at the Cosmopolitan Wednesday, January 30, 2019. (Sam Morris/Las Vegas News Bureau)

“When a veteran writes a resume, it’s like a foreign language,” says Michael Heiman, a Navy vet who served aboard the USS Sacramento and joined the Cosmopolitan in 2015 as vice president of facilities. Among the 123 employees he supervises are 17 fellow vets, for whom he is a Cosmopolitan “Co-Star”— i.e., a mentor who helps other vets adjust to the civilian workforce in general and the Cosmopolitan culture specifically.

“I was an engineer, so what does augmenting steam and distilling water, that I did on a ship, mean? How does it relate to the civilian sector? When I transitioned, it was hard.”  

Shifting speeds from military to civilian life, he says, can be disorienting to the point of disruptive. “When I got out I really didn’t know where I fit,” Heiman says. “It’s shocking. You stand in rank. They tell you where to go. They tell you where the ship’s going to go. They tell you when you leave, when you eat. Then suddenly I’m sitting in my mom’s house, thinking, ‘How am I going to earn my next paycheck? Where do I even belong? How do you go from a brotherhood to just being on your own?’ ”

Now he’s woven into a corporate brotherhood/sisterhood, and eagerly serves as a bridge so others can travel his path. “Being a mentor, I have an opportunity to listen to others when they’re challenged and I can provide guidance. We all have to take care of each other.”

Fortunately, given initiatives such as “Supporting Our Veterans,” they needn’t rely solely on each other. Though they surround each other for support, civilians stand firmly behind them. “For us, this is critical because veterans are an incredible untapped resource. And when we say veterans, we also mean veterans’ spouses and caregivers, anybody associated with a military family,” says Michael McDermott, founder/CEO of consulting firm, the Arcadia Group. As advisor for The Blackstone Group, McDermott heads the Blackstone Veterans Initiative for all the company’s holdings, including the Cosmopolitan.

“This is a resource that traditionally has not been leveraged, certainly not by corporate America in the way that it should,” he adds, noting that when Blackstone created the program in 2013 — partly as a commitment to former First Lady Michelle Obama to aid vets and their spouses — its goal was 50,000 hires in five years. Having met that one year early, they’re now aiming for another 50,000 by 2022.

“This initiative is not just fueled on doing the right thing, it’s fueled by being good for our companies, for our communities, for our country. The training and experience these people get when they’re in the service is tremendous and has a lot of applicability to civilian jobs.”

Hundreds of vets are employed by the Cosmopolitan, but their commitment extends beyond their own payroll. “In 2016 when we started doing a community career fair, we invited all our competitors and other industries to fly in for it,” Calderon says. “We all join forces in one space where military families can meet with all these different employers, an employer network, and we can get the candidate in front of other opportunities outside our own career listings.”

Happily, the Cosmopolitan was able to welcome the once-homeless Holbert into its own corporate fold. “I’m from California and being a Vietnam veteran, I wasn’t accepted very well,” Holbert says, recalling the antiwar vitriol that greeted returning servicemen from that conflict. “The country was different then, but when I came to Las Vegas, I realized that people really cared about veterans here.  (In the service) you’re used to having someone on your left and your right and it’s like a brotherhood. Being here working with other veterans is just like a brotherhood.”

Or, as Thomas put it in song:

“Shoulder to shoulder and side by side / In a world going crazy in these troubled times / We gotta stand together, we gotta hold the line.”

Converted to military-speak, those lyrics translate this way:

“I got your 6” = “I got your back.”

And if a veteran hears, “You’re hired”:

 “Bravo zulu” = “Well done.”

For more information about employment opportunities for veterans, contact veterans@cosmopolitanlasvegas.com.


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