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.