It’s about Hiring Noble, Dedicated Veterans

Marine Wounded Warrior Regiment Commander COL John L. Mayer motivates over 200 corporate and federal attendees at the Wounded Warrior Employment Conference at the Ft. Belvoir Officer’s Club on February 28. Military, federal, and corporate agencies are learning about the benefits and best practices of hiring wounded, ill, and injured Veterans.

By SSG Emily Anderson, WTC Stratcom
Today at the Wounded Warrior Employment Conference at Fort Belvoir, VA,, COL John L. Mayer, Commander, US Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment, demonstrated his passion and dedication to helping inform employers from federal and corporate organizations about not only the Marines, but other service Veterans.

“These wounded warriors have heart and put their all into everything. We need to show them how much we care,” Mayer said. “These are American heroes, and they deserve the best we have to honor their service.”

Mayer’s message of hiring dedicated individuals who have served their country nobly regardless of service is what this employment conference is all about.

“We are talking about Americans who will bring the same type of spirit they brought to the battlefield and to the team, and bring it to your companies,” Mayer added. “They have already done the absolute, and they are looking for something that is noble, something that is a profession, a career that will meet with what they have already done.”

“These guys have fought together, sweated together, recovered together,” he continued. “Wouldn’t it be great to figure out a way to keep them as a team, and have them fight now in their careers and in their life as part of a team they are used to?”

“Let’s ensure we give them the very best this country can offer. It’s the least we can do,” Mayer said to end his speech which echoed the conference theme: Educate – Empower – Employ.

Federal Employers, Are You In or Are You Out?

By Julie O’Rourke, WTC Stratcom

The Honorable Juan M. Garcia, III, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Manpower and Reserve Affairs offered perspective on the closing day of the Wounded Warrior Federal Employment Conference Thursday.  “We have a lot of wounded warriors now that previously would not have lived,” he said.  “In WWII, for every 100 combat injuries, 33 were fatal.  Now only 6 are fatal.  It’s historic, it comes with a charge, a way to successfully reintegrate a cadre of wounded warriors we haven’t seen before.”  These decades of perspective give new meaning to BG Williams’ charge that each agency official commit to hiring at least one wounded warrior.

It hurts me when I see a Soldier that has been hurt.  Given their sacrifice, helping Soldiers find jobs after their medical retirement seems like a very small commitment to me.  Secretary Garcia’s comments put wounded warriors’ employment needs into perspective and helped me understand why we have difficulties finding them all jobs.  Wounded warriors are a blessing.  They’re a resource that America might have lost without today’s advanced medical technology.

During these two days, we learned about a number of different tools agency officials and Soldiers can use to get Veterans into jobs.  In the end, however, success for these programs will come from driven people: Soldiers who get up every day and work hard to look for jobs and agency officials who interview with patience and an eye towards the future.   

VADM Kevin McCoy, Commander of the Navy Sea Systems Command, closed the conference with a call to action for each agency represented: “When you leave here, you need to decide whether you’re in or you’re not.  If you’re in, it will be incredible.”

AW2 from a Newcomer’s Perspective

By Julie O’Rourke, WTC Stratcom

I first interacted with the Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) last week.  Although I was aware of the program, I had never met an AW2 Soldier, Veteran, or Family member. 

I interviewed four wounded Soldiers as part of a résumé workshop to prepare Soldiers for their transition to civilian work.  I was surprised at the intensity of the emotions I felt listening to the interviews. I saw Soldiers who had already given freely to their country and struggled through painful rehabilitation, come back to learn how to give to a new employer, and struggle to establish themselves again in a new profession.   Each of the Soldiers was grateful for the opportunity to learn a new skill and to take active steps to prepare for the next phase of his/her life.

Many of the Soldiers had never created a résumé before; they were truly starting over.  I have had to start over a few times in my life—never because of a sense of volunteerism as strong as a Soldier’s.  I was instantly overwhelmed with the feelings of uncertainty I saw in the program’s participants as they approach this transition to Veteran status.  They have Families to support and medical challenges, new limitations on what they can do, and they need to learn to articulate their military skills in a way that makes sense to the civilian workforce. 

Taking the perspective of a human resources officer, I can imagine that hiring a disabled Veteran would possibly be more difficult than hiring someone who had not been through that injury experience.  Modifying office spaces, making counseling services available, and acquiring adaptive technology seems   overwhelming to employers.  As I listened to the Veterans tell their stories, however, I gained a deeper understanding of what Veterans have to offer.  Soldiers bring a wealth of training and flexibility under layers of practiced teamwork and self-discipline.  Soldiers are used to getting to work early and making sacrifices.  Most will need more education and training in order to adjust to a new role in a civilian organization.  I began to understand that these accommodations are really just a minor inconvenience in comparison to the sacrifices these people have made.

Agency Officials Called to be a Vision for Wounded Warriors’ Dreams

By Julie O’Rourke, WTC Stratcom

(left to right) Assistant Secretary of Labor Ray Jefferson reunites with COL Gadson, his West Point classmate, at the Wounded Warrior Federal Employment Conference, after inspiring the crowd with a charge to make a difference in the lives of others.

Agency officials are “called to be a vision for wounded warriors’ dreams,” said The Honorable Ray Jefferson, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Veterans Employment and Training Services (VETS) at the Wounded Warriors Federal Employment Conference Wednesday.  Jefferson charged agency officials to do work they will be proud of, quoting a poem by Linda Ellis, “The Dash.”

I read of a man who stood to speak
At the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on her tombstone
From the beginning to the end. 

He noted that first came the date of her birth
And spoke of the following date with tears,
But he said what mattered most of all
Was the dash between those years.

Fifteen years ago, Jefferson saw the course of his life change in a moment: a defective hand grenade made the tell-tale poof sound that it was about to explode.  He had Soldiers on each side and chose to hold the grenade to protect his colleagues.  He lost all five fingers on his left hand.  When his parents picked him up from the hospital, his first meal out was Chinese food.  The message in his fortune cookie read: “What began as a curse can become a blessing.” 

Jefferson charges each agency official to be that power in a wounded warrior’s life, showing some who may have lost hope how what has been a curse might be a blessing in the future.  “The death of a dream can be the birth of a destiny.”  Jefferson asked the audience to nurture those dreams in others and bring them to light, “your lives are the candles that will light the way for a wounded warrior’s dreams to come true.”

Highlighting Employment At Wounded Warrior Federal Employment Conference

By BG Darryl Williams, WTC Commander

WTC Commander BG Darryl Williams told attendees that the goal of the 2011 Wounded Warrior Federal Employment Conference is to increase the hiring of wounded warriors by federal employers.

This morning, I spoke to more than 150 federal officials from nearly 30 federal agencies at the 2011 Wounded Warrior Federal Employment Conference. This is an historic event—the first of its kind. Each branch of the military came together to highlight the importance of hiring wounded Veterans among the federal government, and we charged each of these agencies with hiring at least three wounded warriors this year.

Employment is a key piece of my strategic vision for the Warrior Transition Command. Whether Soldiers return to the force or transitions to civilian life, we want them to have a position that aligns with their ranks, skills, interests, and abilities. Sometimes, wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers are able to do the same job they did before. Other times, we need to retrain them for a different position.

It’s the same when they transition from the force. If Veterans need training for a new position, the government provides the GI Bill or the Veterans Affairs’ Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Program, and many other resources.

At this conference, we’re asking federal employers to give wounded Veterans a chance to succeed. Wounded Veterans make great employees, given their military training, respect for authority, and a “do-what-it-takes” attitude. Just because someone is injured or has physical or behavioral health challenges doesn’t mean they’re not capable of performing well. Employment gives people a mission and a purpose, something they can be proud of, and a chance to succeed.

At Warrior Transition Units (WTUs), we’re all about goals, about “Soldier Success Through Focused Commitment.” And the other services look at this closely too. We sit down with Soldiers and work with them closely to establish short- and long-term goals through the Comprehensive Transition Plan, and “career” goals are one area we look at very closely. Soldiers work with occupational therapists and transition coordinators; they do internships and worksite placements to develop skills and prepare for the next stage of their careers.

So this conference isn’t about asking government agencies to just put a bunch of people on the payroll, but to actively look for opportunities to place qualified Veterans into positions where they have a lot to offer.

If you’re a federal agency—or even private sector—employer and you’d like to learn more about hiring wounded Veterans, contact

Time to Increase Federal Hiring of Wounded Warriors

By COL Greg Gadson, AW2 Director

Representatives from the joint services' wounded warrior programs host the Wounded Warrior Federal Employment Conference. (left to right) CAPT Adrian Nicholas (Wounded Warrior Regiment), CDR Shauna Hamilton (Navy Safe Harbor), BG Darryl Williams (Warrior Transition Command), COL Rick Dickinson (Warrior Transition Command), LTC David Bringhurst (Air Force Wounded Warrior Program), and COL Gregory Gadson (Army Wounded Warrior Program).

Yesterday, I had the privilege of kicking off the 2011 Wounded Warrior Federal Employment Conference. Approximately 125 people from nearly 30 federal agencies came to this event at Fort Belvoir, VA.

This is an important, historic event—the first of its kind. It represents a collaboration among the four service wounded warrior programs, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Labor, and the Office of Personnel Management—all of these organizations are coming together to make this issue a priority and to proactively work with agencies throughout the government to increase federal hiring of wounded warriors.

The goal of these two days is to educate federal agencies about the importance of hiring wounded, ill, and injured Veterans and the tools they can use to do so. In fact, I challenged each agency present to hire at least one wounded warrior this year. We also made sure they were aware of the broad range of injuries facing today’s Veterans from post-traumatic stress disorder to traumatic brain injury to amputation and more. Lt. Col. Robinson from the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injuries explained specific ways employers can accommodate these injuries, and human resources professionals from each of the military services discussed their best practices for hiring wounded warriors.

I thought CAPT Bernie Carter, Director of Navy Safe Harbor, did a good job in summing up the role of the service wounded warrior programs in this process. “We all have a responsibility to help wounded warriors transition successfully. If we can’t get them back to active duty, we want to set them up for a successful transition and reintegration, and employment is a big piece of that.”

In fact, all of the services echoed that sentiment—we want Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Airmen to live robust, successful lives, and employment allows the wounded, ill, or injured Veterans to provide for themselves and their Families, but equally important, they feel a sense of pride in accomplishing a mission, contributing to a team, and achieving their goals.

AW2 Veteran Alvin Shell also moved the crowd over lunch, by explaining his personal success story with the crowd, from his point of injury to his transition, where he found a place to achieve his career goals at the Department of Homeland Security. I encourage you to read more about his story on other AW2 blog posts.

I’m looking forward to the rest of the conference today, and I hope you’ll check back to the AW2 blog to learn more about what else we accomplish.

Joint Services Host Conference to Increase Wounded Warrior Hiring

By Emily Oehler, WTC Stratcom

Joint services’ wounded warrior programs unite to increase federal hiring of wounded warriors. (left to right) CAPT Adrian Nicholas (Wounded Warrior Regiment), CDR Shauna Hamilton (Navy Safe Harbor), BG Darryl Williams (Warrior Transition Command), COL Rick Dickinson (Warrior Transition Command), LTC David Bringhurst (Air Force Wounded Warrior Program), and COL Gregory Gadson (Army Wounded Warrior Program).

For many, hiring is about processes. Managing one if you’re in Human Resources (HR). Or working one, if you’re looking for a job. But yesterday, it was about something more—it was about wounded warriors.

For the first time, the joint services’ wounded warrior programs united around the single mission: Increase the hiring of wounded warriors throughout the federal workforce through the education and engagement of agency HR managers, Veterans Employment Program Officers, and Equal Employment Office disability program managers.

Attending the two-day Wounded Warrior Federal Employment Conference were more than 125 representatives from nearly 30 federal agencies—all of whom agreed to hire one wounded warrior in the next year.

COL Greg Gadson, Army Wounded Warrior Program Director, told conference participants, “We need to increase the hiring of wounded warriors in the federal work place. Bottom line, wounded warriors want to continue to serve and they don’t give up. That’s who you want on your work force.”

The presence of wounded warriors, those looking for a job and those who successfully transitioned to a career post retirement, brought the conference to life for attendees. The lunch keynote speaker, severely burned wounded warrior and current DHS employee retired CPT Alvin Shell, said, “When you shake a wounded warriors hand, look down and know that’s it’s a hand of sacrifice and service.” Adding, “We have to decipher our Soldier’s ingrained skills and give them opportunities. Focus on our abilities, not our disabilities.”

Conference speakers included Dr. Clifford Stanley, Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, Jonathon Young, National Council on Disability, The Honorable Ray Jefferson, Assistant Secretary for Veterans Employment and Training Services/Department of Labor, and representatives from Navy Safe Harbor, Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment, Air Force Wounded Warrior Program, Army Civilian Human Resources Agency, Naval Sea Systems Command and the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Brain Injury.

AW2 Veteran Alvin Shell Transitions to Federal Career Post Injury

By Julie O’Rourke, WTC Stratcom

AW2 Veteran Alvin Shell will speak at the Wounded Warrior Federal Employment Conference tomorrow to share his story of transition from the Army to the federal workforce.

CPT Alvin Shell retired from the Army in 2006, and is now working at the Department of Homeland Security as the Acting Deputy Division Chief, Force Protection Branch, Office of the Chief Security Officer, Department of Homeland Security.  His transition to the civilian workforce parallels any career change: depart one job, take a minute to reconnect with Family and think through career goals and where you would like to go next, apply for that new job and begin to orient yourself to a new corporate culture.  However, in Shell’s case he made the transition while battling chronic pain from his severe burns and other combat-related injuries.

CPT Shell’s career shift followed his medical retirement from the U.S. Army.  In 2004, CPT Shell, stationed at Camp Victory in Fallujah, Iraq, witnessed a truck running over an improvised explosive device (IED).  Shell and his crew rescued the driver from the truck and during their rescue a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) flew in, hitting a Humvee and igniting the road.  Shell said he went to rescue his sergeant who was on fire.  He tried everything to extinguish the fire that fast consumed his sergeant, but after rolling him on the ground and covering him with dirt, his sergeant was finally able to retreat out of the fire. Meanwhile, Shell realized that he was completely soaked with diesel fuel. As a fire wall circled him, he had only one choice to make.

“I put my left hand on my face, and my right hand on my rifle and when I ran through I lit up like a Christmas tree because I was pretty much soaked in the diesel fuel from my boots to my pants, and when I ran through the other side of the fire, I lit up. And I just remember being on fire and I rolled and couldn’t get the fire out,” he said.

He had only one option. As he tore the burning clothing off his body, he knew he had to put the flames out. He saw a ditch, jumped in, and extinguished the flames.

Shell sustained third degree burns to over 33% of his body.  He endured 18 months of rehabilitation and more than 30 surgeries.   He retired from the Army with a 100% disability from the VA in 2006.  Despite suffering through daily chronic pain, Shell works over 50 hours a week in the Office of the Chief Security Office at the Department of Homeland Security.  He models the value of hard work while simultaneously taking responsibility for his three sons.

Shell was honest with his employers about his injuries and physical limitations.  They offered him every accommodation he could imagine, but, in an attempt to accommodate his physical disabilities, they passed him up for a course that would significantly enhance his career at the Department.  When Shell found out, he approached his supervisor to have an honest conversation about the course’s physical requirements.  When he explained that he regularly met most of these requirements, such as a timed run, they enrolled him in the course. 

“I graduated at the top of my class,” Shell said.  “And now they know how much I’m capable of, in spite of my injuries.”

Tomorrow, Shell will address more than 125 officials from nearly 30 federal agencies at the 2011 Wounded Warrior Federal Employment Conference to encourage them to hire more wounded warriors.  WTC Stratcom staff will be blogging throughout the next few days to keep you posted on the event.  Check back to the WTC blog and the AW2 blog for more details.

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