New Charleston County workers turn to Terrance Smalls for orientation and training.

One day, Smalls hopes to be a rookie employee himself.

He is one of 11 participants in a county and Veterans Administration program aimed at giving those who have served their country a leg up in the job market.

Two of them have already been hired to full-time county positions. After six months, Smalls is still unpaid for his services but he likes what he does.

"It feels natural. It feels comfortable. It's basically an opportunity to get a foot in the door," he said.

Smalls, who served 10 years in the Air Force, is on 50- percent VA disability because of problems with his feet.

"I basically don't have any arches now. I can't stand for any long period of time. After a short time they start swelling up. They start hurting real bad," he said.

He also has Type II diabetes, chronic sinusitis and plantar fasciitis, a hobbling heel condition. "It's painful. A lot of athletes get it," he said.

Smalls, who is 40, said that if not for the county and VA program he probably wouldn't be in his hometown. Instead, he would be out looking for job opportunities elsewhere.

He is among 3 million veterans with a service-related disability, according to a 2012 study by the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Statistics. Some 6.5 percent of those same veterans are unemployed.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs aims to help people such as Smalls through its Non-Paid Work Experience Program.

Smalls hopes that his volunteer stint with county Human Resources will lead to a paid, temporary position in June.

"This program has been a win-win situation for all parties involved," said Director of Human Resources Fagan Stackhouse.

"Veterans get hands-on job training and a chance to learn about public service, and the county receives talented and experienced individuals to help our citizens on a daily basis."

Smalls was stationed for seven years at Nellis Air Force Base. He also served at Robins Air Force Base and in South Korea. In addition to security work, he was an information manager helping with administrative work.

Upon discharge in 2002, he found administrative work for a while with a contractor at Robins Air Force Base.

"I just worked various jobs in Georgia," he said.

He returned to Charleston in 2009 because of his mother's illness. In the meantime, he earned a bachelor's degree in business administration at ECPI University,

Smalls looked for full-time employment through SC Works before landing the unpaid position with the county.

Veterans like Smalls have gained county-sponsored experience in technology services, emergency management, emergency medical services and internet technology.

The county is providing veterans with the chance to get back to normal and back into the workforce, said Veterans Affairs Director Donald Morillo.

"We've worked very closely with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to get this program up and running and it's been a success so far," he said.