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Face of Defense: Soldier Seeks to Help Vets

By Rachel Park
III Corps

FORT HOOD, Texas, Sept. 29, 2011 – Army Spc. Alfred Newman feels at home at the Olin E. Teague Veterans' Medical Center, part of the Veterans Affairs Department in Temple, Texas.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Spc. Alfred Newman, a member of the Warrior Transition Brigade at Fort Hood, Texas, completes paperwork at the Veterans Affairs Department facility in Temple as part of his internship through the Operation Warfighter program. Newman has decided to work for the VA as a human resources specialist following his transition from the Army. U.S. Army photo by Rachel Park

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Newman is one of the many Warrior Transition Brigade soldiers from Fort Hood taking part in Operation Warfighter internships around the state. The Defense Department developed the internship program to help wounded warriors gain job experience at government agencies.

Currently assigned to Company C, 1st Battalion here, Newman is interning in the VA’s human resources department.

"It was a fit for me. Prior to coming to the military, I worked in an office setting," Newman said. "I knew from my experience that I had to prepare myself to get back into the workforce. For me, it's all about preparation."

Newman was older than the typical recruit when he joined the Army in 2007.

"I came in when I was 41," he said. "I turned 42 in basic [training]. You have to want to do this, and I was a guy who wanted to do this. I wanted to do something challenging."

Newman deployed to Camp Taji, Iraq, in 2008 with the 404th Aviation Support Battalion. While deployed, he sustained some injuries, one while rendering aid to another soldier. Although serious, the injuries didn't impact his ability to perform his job and he finished the deployment with the unit.

He came here in May 2010, and while his medical issues were being resolved he began looking toward his future. Newman heard about the internship program, dusted off his resume and interviewed for the position at the VA. After a few months in the position, Newman believes he's found his future career.

"I like what I do," he said. "It's something that I will do when I transition out. First, [I'm going to] go to school, finish out my degree -- and then, human resources."

His supervisor, Houston Johnson, a human resources specialist at the Temple VA, said Newman is an excellent fit at the office.

"It's been a pleasure having [him in] the program," Johnson said of Newman. "For me, personally, being a veteran and a disabled veteran myself, to see [the WTB interns] come in, just to watch these guys grow, is great."

Newman has taken on a variety of tasks in the office, including personnel action reports and aiding the human resources specialists with their paperwork. He's performed the work so well he's even been mistaken for a new employee.

Johnson said he's not surprised Newman has done so well. He said the soldier’s work, especially with personnel actions, has improved the productivity of the entire department.

"With our personnel shortages and some of the slowdowns in the hiring with the budget, we're short a lot of positions," Johnson said. "Some things you have to put on the back burner, but it's very important you get these [personnel action reports] in a timely manner."

Newman said the internship doesn't just give him a job, it gives him a path for the rest of his life, and that's helped him professionally, emotionally and physically.

"Being through the WTB you're given the opportunity to heal," Newman said. "And I think one of things of healing at the WTB is being able to challenge yourself, being able to get into programs such as this one that can heal you not only physically, but mentally.

"Being here has helped me get back to the real world," he added. "I'm just trying to get back to my own self and being able to relate to each individual."

Anthony Thomas, the WTB transition coordinator, said he's excited about the program’s future at the VA.

"I appreciate Mr. Johnson and what the VA has done to bring our soldiers in here, because it's been a great opportunity," Thomas said. It's an opportunity that Thomas hopes will only continue to grow and develop.

Johnson said human resources and other directorates at the VA are enthusiastic about the program and hope to bring in more wounded warriors.

"We want you at the VA," he said. "A lot of the skills that soldiers learn make them excellent employees. They have that discipline. They have that teamwork and they understand that mission. This has made us really look at how we're doing business and really grow too. We're excited about it."

Newman said the internship through Operation Warfighter has given him a clearer picture about his future.

"I know what I can do and I think once I do transition out, [the VA] is where I want to be," he said. "It is helping people, so this is what I want to do."


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