ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Across the Army, wounded, ill and injured Soldiers assigned to warrior transition units, known as WTUs, prepare for transition — some back to their units but many to the civilian world. An essential requirement for these ‘future’ civilians is starting a new career away from the Army.
About 50 percent of Soldiers assigned to WTUs will ultimately undergo this transition and most are eager to gain skills to prepare them to join the civilian ranks.
Fort Bragg has its own Soldier Family Assistance Center, which is headed by Cedric Minor, the Warrior Transition Battalion’s transition coordinator.
Linda Hurst, who also works within the Fort Bragg WTB, said the internships are really good because they provide wounded warriors an opportunity to explore a different profession.
“It allows them to work in a similar arena, but also an opportunity to explore and be mentored by a supervisor,” Hurst said. “Through the internships, Soldiers are given the opportunity to develop a skillset the is valuable to them in the civilian sector. Sometimes they get out and are able to walk right into a job, which makes their transition a lot easier,” she said.
Securing a job is high on the priority list of most transitioning Soldiers.
It’s not an easy step for a young infantryman with limited, non-Army employment experience to transition from carrying a ruck sack and an M-16 rifle to becoming a valuable federal agency employee. However, with assistance from willing federal agency partners, scores of WTU Soldiers are in the process of making the jump.
“Many of our Soldiers are taking advantage of the ‘Operation War Fighter’ internship program that links them with a federal agencies in their area as they fine tune skills each will need to compete for federal government and private sector jobs once they complete their military obligation,” said MichaelRobinson, transition coordiantor at Fort Carson, Colo. “I have 26 Soldiers now involved in the (Operation War Fighter) internship program. Among those, eight have received permanent positions.”
As a transition coordinator for one of the Army’s largest WTUs, he has many eager Soldiers wanting to pursue civilian careers. His relationship with numerous federal agencies is helping place Soldiers in jobs in Colorado and several Western states. And word of mouth around the WTU has brought more prospective Operation War Fighter, or OWF, interns.
“Most recently Specialist Chauvonne Foston has hired on as a hydrologic technician in New Mexico and Specialist Brendan Duffy is now working as environmental technician; Lakewood, Colorado,” he said.
Among those appreciative or Robinson’s effort is Spc. David Spell.
“Mr. Robinson hooked me up and I’m very grateful for his hard work in securing an OWF internship with the Department of Homeland Security,” said Spell. “I really owe it all to him and tell everyone at the WTU to work with him to line up an internship.
I’ll likely transition out of the Army in the next 7 to 15 months but the experience I’ll get from working with DHS during that time will make me highly employable — either with DHS or another federal agency.”
Spell started his OWF internship two weeks ago in the information technology and logistics area. Currently he’s working full time inputting data but is ready to take on any additional responsibilities his DHS supervisor sends his way. Before his OWF internship, Spell had an internship on post at Fort Carson but it wasn’t keeping him busy so he looked to Robinson for more challenges.
“My goal is to have an outstanding resume with real world work experience by the time I leave the WTU. Homeland Security is helping me make this happen and nothing is going to hold me back,” he said.
Spell, a 20-year old infantryman, seriously injured his back during combative drills during basic combat training in April 2011. Despite having two bulging discs in his back that were protruding toward his stomach, he managed to complete his training and he moved on to his first assignment in Germany.
Unfortunately, his back pain continued to worsen.
He was assigned to the Fort Carson WTU in August and has undergone extensive physical therapy and chiropractic care. Spell may eventually require surgery.
“I’m only 20 and have ‘Soldiered on’ since my injury,” said Spell. “While in Germany I competed for the German Proficiency Badge but wasn’t physically able to complete all the physical tasks. As a Soldier that’s what we do and I’m taking that dedication and commitment to DHS. This is serious stuff. I have a wife, child and a baby due in January and I will support my Family. The sky is the limit on my abilities and if you show me a task, I will accomplish the mission. I’m a Soldier!”
Any Soldier who is medically cleared can participate in OWF.
“Our goal is to offer the Soldier a chance to work for a civilian-run organization to help him or her prepare for employment in the civilian sector,” said Robinson. “The effort helps them gain valuable experience that each can add to their resumes. Of course, promoting, equipping and building skill sets ultimately builds confidence for that Soldier.”