Indianapolis, Ind. (February 10, 2014) -- Continuing the work that won John Barnes the notoriety of the Spirit of Hope Award, a meeting many months in the making took place on Friday, February 7th in New York City at the headquarters of Blackstone Group, a premier global investment and advisory firm with more than 700,000 employees. Panther Racing's John Barnes, along with representatives from six Blackstone companies, and members of the National Guard joined for an open discussion of best practices and challenges facing National Guard employment initiatives and employer outreach programs.

Among those sharing their achievements were the California, Mississippi and New Hampshire National Guard, whose highly innovative programs matching Guardsmen with jobs have been very successful. In just 12 months, California's Work for Warriors program has directly placed more than 2,300 National Guardsmen with high-level employers. Major Ty Shepard of Work for Warriors and Brigadier General Matt Beevers cited Barnes as instrumental in the creation of the Work for Warriors program that is now inspiring similar programs across all 54 states and territories.

In 2012, Panther Racing began Operation: Hire our Guard as a way to spread the message of unemployment and under-employment of our nation's National Guard at IndyCar races across the country. In 2013, the program reached employers in 22 states, combining the domestic IndyCar schedule with six Employer Outreach events in non-race markets. Panther estimates that up to 14,000 Guardsmen and military veterans may have been hired by these efforts alone. Just as important, these efforts have jumpstarted conversations and collaboration between large corporations and the National Guard, like the one at Blackstone.

As a result of Friday's meeting and as a part of the multi-billion dollar company's commitment to hire 50,000 veterans over the next five years, Blackstone plans to create a steering committee to coordinate cost-effective, fast-track matching of qualified Guardsmen with jobs in a five state pilot program in California, Texas, New York, New Jersey, and Florida. The initiative is not only an encouraging sign for our citizen soldiers, but also an important tool for recruiting and retention. The goal is to expand the program's reach to all states in the coming months, building upon Panther's successful initiatives to grow awareness and take action in response to the concerns of National Guardsmen nationwide.