Soldiers Rebuild Futures through Career Transformation

Operation Warfighter candidate SSG Kimberly Webster (left) works with a colleague to provide customer service in the Defense Military Pay Office (DMPO) at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.

By Alli Kartachak, WTC Stratcom
SSG Kimberly Webster recovered at the Brooke Army Medical Center Warrior Transition Battalion (BAMC-WTB) after suffering nerve damage to her right knee, leg, and foot from an injury while deployed in Iraq. After her injury, she recalls facing “the challenge of finding something completely new” after working in Army aviation for 23 years. It wasn’t until she learned of Operation Warfighter (OWF) that she became optimistic about her professional future.

As a federal internship program designed to place servicemembers in supportive work settings outside of the hospital environment, OWF seeks to positively impact this population while they seek to join the civilian workforce. The program encourages several strategies for success including resume building, exploring employment interests, developing job skills, and gaining valuable federal government work experience in order to increase employment readiness during their recovery.

Due to the support she received through OWF and WTB Transition Coordinator Zach Gant, SSG Webster is now completing an internship with the Defense Finance and Accounting Services (DFAS).

“OWF helped me rehabilitate. It was good to get back to working with a team and into a daily routine,” she said. “After six months, I know what to expect every day. I know there’s a workplace where I belong.”

Transition Coordinators like Gant support recovering Soldiers at 29 WTUs and nine Community-Based WTUs (CBWTUs) nationwide. They work with OWF to help employers at federal agencies and private sector organizations connect with wounded, ill, and injured servicemembers from all services who anticipate transitioning out of the military soon.  In the Army, each Soldier recovering in a WTU develops career goals through their personalized Comprehensive Transition Plan (CTP).

“The Soldiers with a plan, and who are working toward it, are the ones who are successful after they leave the WTU,” said Gant.

SSG Claudia Mendez, another Soldier healing at Joint Base Lewis-McChord Warrior Transition Battalion (JBLM-WTB), encourages Soldiers to take a chance.  With a background in the military medical field, she has now learned that she “loves customer service and being around people,” after working in the installation’s Defense Military Pay Office through OWF.

“You can’t limit yourself to what you’ve always known,” she said.  “So many doors can open in your favor.”

For more information about employment opportunities for wounded, ill, or injured Soldiers, visit the Army Warrior Transition Command (WTC) website at


Study Shows “The Tie Goes to the Vet” during Hiring Process for Leadership and Teamwork Skills

By Amanda Koons, WTC Stratcom
Hiring Veterans makes sense.  A recent study published recently by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) makes a compelling argument to employers that hiring Veterans is good for business, bottom line.

CNAS used in-depth interviews with 87 leaders of companies to determine the primary reasons business leaders listed for hiring Veterans: their leadership and teamwork skills.  Veterans have typically led colleagues, accepted directions from others, and operated as part of a team.  One employer said, “We look for people with leadership skills. If someone can lead a team of Soldiers around the world, they can lead our large stores.”  All company leaders interviewed said they seek to hire the most qualified candidate but, as one participant said, “The tie goes to the Vet.”

Among the other reasons business leaders in the study listed for hiring Veterans are:

  • Character:  Veterans are perceived by employers as being trustworthy, dependable, and having a strong work ethic.
  • Structure and discipline: Companies, especially those that emphasize health and safety, appreciate Veterans’ experience following established procedures.
  • Expertise:  Companies value Veterans’ skills, job-specific experiences, and understanding of the military community.
  • Dynamic environment: Veterans are used to performing and making decisions in dynamic and rapidly changing circumstances.
  • Resilience:  Veterans are accustomed to working in difficult environments, traveling, and relocating.

Employers actively recruit Veterans through military career fairs, partnerships, employment websites, web portals, headhunters, and employee referrals. WTC offers additional recommendations for wounded, ill, or injured Soldiers as they focus on preparing for the next step in their careers, whether they’re returning to the force or transitioning to civilian life.  Suggestions and resources for career planning for active duty Soldiers, Veterans, spouses, and employers are included on the Careers and Employment section of the WTC website.

COMPASS Transition Program

By Sarah Greer, WTC Stratcom

I recently learned about a new opportunity for combat-wounded Veterans focusing on career advancement. The VET Foundation is hosting several upcoming COMPASS Transition Programs over the next few months. Visit their website to learn about dates, including the sessions in mid-July and late August/early September.

Here’s a brief summary from the COMPASS Transition Program application:

“The VET Foundation’s COMPASS Transition Program is a five-day holistic retreat with a curriculum providing combat-wounded Veterans an opportunity to not only gain valuable employment resources, but also life planning skills to assist with their re-entry to the civilian sector. Primarily focused on career advancement, COMPASS also reinforces the significance of mental, financial, physical, spiritual, emotional, and social well-being to ensure long-term success for the individual. All Veterans write a personal development plan, network one-on-one with high profile professionals, learn about employment and education resources, and partner with a sponsor who, like them, has made a successful transition out of the military.”

The COMPASS Transition Program is provided at no expense to the Veteran. For more information, visit the VET Foundation’s website.

The appearance of external hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement by the United States Department of Defense of the linked web sites, or the information, products or services contained therein. For other than authorized activities such as military exchanges and Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) sites, the United States Department of Defense does not exercise any editorial control over the information you may find at these locations.

New Web Site for Veterans Seeking Federal Jobs

By Sarah Greer, WTC Stratcom

Are you a wounded warrior looking for a job with the federal government? Is your retirement date approaching, and you’d like more information about preparing for a federal career search? Are you an AW2 Family member and not sure about your rights and privileges when applying for federal jobs?

There’s good news! The U.S. Office of Personnel Management recently launched, a new Web site designed to help Veterans find jobs with federal agencies. The site is part of President Obama’s Veterans Employment Initiative established by the Employment of Veterans in the Federal Government Executive Order.

The site has a directory of federal agencies looking to hire Veterans and the contact information for the Veteran Employment Program Officer at each of these agencies. Veterans seeking federal employment are encouraged to contact these individuals directly.

There are sections on the site just for Veterans and for transitioning servicemembers. In these sections, you can learn about:

  • Special hiring authorities for Veterans
  • How federal jobs are filled
  • Education and training opportunities, such as programs through the Departments of Defense, Labor, and Veterans Affairs

There is even information for Family members, with details about Family member preference and special hiring authorities for spouses and Family members.

In addition to the AW2 Career and Education Section, is an excellent resource for AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Family members considering federal employment.

Trading My ACUs for a Suit and Tie (Part II)

By AW2 Veteran Mark Tippett

Editor’s Note: Read Mark Tippett’s blog from yesterday, “My Last Day in the Army.”

Now I had to find other employment outside of the Army, and that scared the hell out of me. I kept wondering how I was going to make it work when I had memory issues and a migraine problem. This was scary but I knew I would get through, as tons of people before me have and tons after also will. That didn’t stop me from losing a lot of sleep and probably talking my wife’s ear off about my worries. Everyone kept telling me it would be okay and I’ll do fine, I just wanted to get to the point where I had control over everything again. We spend so much time in the Army having everything clear cut, but this was far from it. I was leaving what I loved to do, the people I knew and trading in my ACUs for a suit and tie…

After going through numerous interviews, I landed a job with IDEXX Laboratories as a Diagnostic Sales Consultant. My new boss, Jason Hunsinger took a chance on me giving me this job because of my service and willingness to learn. He later told me that he had a brother in the Air Force and that he respected all of those in uniform. Essentially I was part of the sales force for a company that was the Gold Standard for veterinary laboratory equipment. Let’s face the facts here: I didn’t know jack about this industry. All I knew is what the Army had instilled in me and that was all of the Army Values. I soon learned that was all I needed to find success.

When I started the training cycle with this company, they knew that I was a Soldier. My first real experience blew me away; one of my trainers came over and introduced himself to me telling me that he was a former Armor Officer and had served five years. He asked about my combat experience and offered to help me adjust to this new career and, what’s more, offered me the support of another combat Veteran. Sometimes we lose sight of how many of us are out there.

After completing their training cycle (which was designed by former Soldiers) and sort of understanding what I was doing, it was off into the field. I had two great supervisors. They allowed me the flexibility to take charge but to also assist where needed. I was open with my boss about my disability. I was terrified to talk to him about it at first, but then I realized that in order for me to be successful, he needed to know how to help me when I needed it. I’m not going to sugarcoat it; it is hard to tell someone about your injuries, even harder admitting that you have a problem. Once I told him, it felt like I took a 200 pound weight fell off of my shoulders. No one can help you if they don’t know the issue. I’m not saying everyone should go out and tell their boss everything that is wrong, but if it can impact your work in a negative light, it’s good to make them aware.

First things first, I received my compensation plan (mission), constructed a plan for its execution, put my plan in motion, completed the plan then refined it. Does this look familiar? It wasn’t until a few months later that I realized I was using Army Troop Leading Procedures to execute my compensation plan and you know what? It was working! It wasn’t instantaneous, but it worked. I had to constantly work to refine what I was doing and adapt to the changing economy but I was doing okay.

Under the tutelage of my management and my hard work, I quickly and effectively collected the top spot in our region for sales, going over our sales goal of 125% for three consecutive quarters. Let me be brutally honest — I am not a good sales person, and I never will be. The traits I do possess are loyalty, respect, timeliness, courtesy, integrity and honor, and I demonstrate them with all of my clients. Sounds a lot like our Army values, doesn’t it? That’s because those Army values are what I applied to be successful.

After a year with IDEXX Laboratories my AW2 Advocate Bill Years approached me with a possible job opportunity. As much as I loved my time with IDEXX and the people I worked with, I wanted to get back into a position in which I would be helping our Armed Forces. Bill introduced me to Mr. Howard Kirsner who works at the Washington, D.C., Navy Yard for Public Executive Office Aircraft Carriers. After meeting with Mr. Kirsner, I knew that the position he was offering was a perfect fit for me. Mr. Kirsner is a retired Master Chief who works to push his staff to be the best they can, and that’s the type of person I love to be around. Howard and Bill worked arduously to get me into my current position, and I can’t begin to thank them enough.

What I am trying to bring across to any wounded warrior and their Family is that we have a set of tools instilled in us from our time in the Army. This set of tools will make us successful in any position you have the desire to try. Someone once said, “When one door closes, another one opens,” and this is true for all of us. We’ve all endured much worse things than a new career change and we’ve come through that to be here today. As an old friend of mine used to always say “if it wasn’t hard, it probably wasn’t worth doing.”

Wounded Warrior Urges WTU Leaders to Focus on Soldier’s Abilities

BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander

This week at the WTC Winter Conference we have been focused on Comprehensive Transition Plans (CTPs) and how they will help our Soldiers and their Families. Lonnie Moore, WTC Career and Employment Branch Program Analyst, brought home the importance of having a plan in his speech “Disability to Ability.” You see, Lonnie is a wounded warrior and he has firsthand knowledge and experience in why setting measurable, attainable, and time-driven goals is so important.

Lonnie told us how when he was wounded in 2004, he felt he had lost his identity as a Soldier and was so ashamed of his amputation that he did not want his young son to see him. In short he felt labeled, as if people would only see his disability and not his ability. Through the support of his Family, peer support from a Vietnam Veteran, and involvement in adaptive sports he began to make positive changes towards transition and reintegration into a new life.

It was not an overnight transition or all sunshine and roses. Eight months after being injured, and admittedly in a low period in his life, Lonnie was invited by a non-profit organization to an adaptive skiing event in Breckenridge, CO. As he told it, he skied down the mountain twice, falling several times, and thinking he just couldn’t do this. But each time, he went back to the top and started over again. On the third run down the mountain—he didn’t fall. For the first time since his injury he felt he could do anything he put his mind to.

Nine months post-injury, Lonnie had some hard decisions to make, and a trip to an adaptive sports clinic helped him realize it was time to start setting goals and moving forward. He was a third generation Army Soldier, who had planned on an Army career that would culminate in becoming a Battalion Commander, but he made the tough decision to transition to the civilian world. He sat down and created his own CTP, he set measurable and attainable goals, and put his transition on a timeline.

Lonnie believes that we can use the CTP to “train” Soldiers to prepare for transition, and so do I. He exhorted the attendees at this week’s conference to “look at abilities and not disabilities” to make this process work for all of our Soldiers, and I think that’s excellent advice.

National Resource Directory Overhaul

By BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander

The National Resource Directory (NRD) is an online database of thousands of resources for wounded warriors.

The National Resource Directory (NRD) is an online database of thousands of resources for wounded warriors.

It seems like every day I am learning about a new organization that supports our wounded, injured, and ill Soldiers and Veterans, as well as their Families. For almost any goal a Soldier sets, there is a group to help the servicemember achieve that goal. It’s impressive to see the growing commitment by the American public at both the national and local level.

There are so many resources, in fact, that navigating them can be challenging to Soldiers. The Departments of Defense, Labor, and Veterans Affairs collaborated to produce the National Resource Directory (NRD), an online database of thousands of resources for wounded warriors. I spent some time looking through the site and was impressed by the wide range of resources available from Federal, state, and local government programs, as well as Veteran service organizations, nonprofit and community-based organizations, academic institutions, and professional associations.

The NRD re-launched this week, and it is now much easier to use. Some of the Web site’s improvements include:

  • RSS feeds and an e-mail subscription service allowing users to sign up for content updates
  • “In the News” and Spotlight features to highlight news and updates in the wounded warrior, Veteran and caregiver community
  • New “homelessness” section of the site featuring VA resources for homeless Veterans
  • Improved search function to allow users to search by national or state resource, as well as government or non-government
  • Alphabetical and popularity-based views for NRD resources

I encourage all wounded warriors and their Families to use the National Resource Directory as a starting point to find available local resources that meet their individual situations.

WTC and Navy Sign Career Agreement for Wounded Warriors

Brig. Gen. Gary Cheek (left) with  Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Manpower and Reserve Affairs Juan Garcia (center) and Vice Adm. Kevin McCoy (right) after signing a memorandum of agreement to increase employment opportunities for wounded warriors.

Brig. Gen. Gary Cheek (left) with Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Manpower and Reserve Affairs Juan Garcia (center) and Vice Adm. Kevin McCoy (right) after signing a memorandum of agreement to increase employment opportunities for wounded warriors.

(Cross-posted from NAVSEA’s Web site)

Due to advances in modern military medicine, unprecedented numbers of wounded service members are returning to the fight or transitioning their service to civilian employment.

Vice Adm. Kevin McCoy, commander, Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) and Army Brig. Gen. Gary Cheek, commanding general, U.S. Army’s Warrior Transition Command (WTC) signed a memorandum of agreement (MoA) Jan. 13 in Walter Reed Army Medical Center’s Wagner Gym auditorium to increase opportunities for meaningful internships and/or employment with the Navy’s largest system command.

“What we have done so far is put the fundamentals in place. But our real goal is to provide that opportunity, that light, that inspiration for a full and productive future to the warfighters in this program,” Cheek told those assembled. “No matter what disease, illness or injury you are fighting, you have skills and abilities that make a difference in this world.”

The general continued by focusing on the scope of opportunities the program’s partnership with NAVSEA offers wounded warriors. “Of all the organizations we are starting to embrace and work with, I believe NAVSEA is perhaps one of the finest in what they are offering to provide for the future for many of you. There are opportunities within this command across the United States, possibly even in your hometown, doing things you would like to do and making a contribution to the nation,” he said.

Following the general’s remarks, McCoy thanked the injured service members for their service, and committed his organization to increasing opportunities for them.

“We are a workforce of about 60,000, 95 percent of which are civilian employees – about one-third of all Navy civilians work for NAVSEA,” said McCoy. “We provide ship, submarines, aircraft carriers, weapons systems to our warfighters. We’re responsible for all the maintenance on our surface ships, subs and aircraft carriers. ”

McCoy continued to promote the significance of the command’s numerous and diverse career opportunities, including his own personal passion for work done at the Navy’s shipyards.

“Half of NAVSEA carries a lunch bucket, wears a hard hat and steel-toe shoes to work each day. In my opinion, we have the best blue collar jobs in America – jobs you can raise a family on,” said McCoy. “The entry requirement to be an electrician, pipe-fitter, welder, technician, is a high-school degree and lots of enthusiam. We will give you everything else. We have stable careers working on some of our nation’s most important military war platforms.”

The MoA signed between NAVSEA and WTC establishes roles and responsibilities for the coordination of Operation Warfighter internships available to service members receiving medical treatment for combat-related injuries, as well as permanent employment opportunities for warriors in transition, Army Wounded Warrior (AW2) veterans, and their spouses/caregivers, as eligible for various federal direct-hiring authorities.

Juan Garcia, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Manpower and Reserve Affairs also lauded NAVSEA’s contributions towards warrior transition efforts, and reminded assembled troops that employers are eager to put their skills, knowledge and determination to use.

“This is not charity. This is not a ‘set-aside’ program,” said Garcia. “Wounded warriors are, by definition, tenacious and resilient. They are leaders and doers. At a very young age, they have proven themselves capable of accomplishing what has been set before them.”

“In the Department of the Navy, NAVSEA has set the pace and created the model for wounded warrior integrations. They have made a commitment. They have put their money where their mouth is, and they have brought accountability to the process,” Garcia continued.

The signing of this MoA reflects the commitment between NAVSEA and WTC to provide the best possible care and future opportunities to our nation’s combat-wounded service members, veterans and their families.

For Wounded Warriors interested in employment opportunities at NAVSEA and Navy commands interested in supporting Wounded Warriors, contact Cmdr. David McAfee at or (202)781-1364.

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