Conference Spotlights Value of Hiring Wounded Warriors
By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service
FORT BELVOIR, Va., Feb. 28, 2012 Military leaders today issued a call to action to federal and private-sector employers: hire wounded warriors.
It’s a decision they won’t regret, said Marine Corps Col. John L. Mayer, commander of the Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment.
“That same spirit [service members] bring to the battlefield -- the same spirit they bring to the team, the same spirit they bring to every single thing they do -- they’ll bring to your company,” Mayer told a group of employment officials gathered for the 2012 Wounded Warrior Employment Conference here.
The services’ wounded warrior programs -- the Army Warrior Transition Command, Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment, Navy Safe Harbor and Air Force Wounded Warrior Program – teamed up to host this two-day conference, intended to educate federal and private-sector employers about the benefits of and best practices for hiring wounded, ill and injured troops and veterans.
Employment is a major focus for all of the services as troops progress through their recovery, Army Brig. Gen. Darryl A. Williams, commander of the U.S. Army Warrior Transition Command, told the audience during the conference’s opening session.
Even as service members are recovering, they’re being prepared for the next stage of their careers. Many wounded warriors complete internships and education programs during recovery, Williams explained. And early on in the treatment process, he added, transition specialists start talking to the troops about what’s next.
“We’re working hard to help them prepare to succeed in the civilian workforce,” he said, noting about 50 percent of wounded, ill and injured soldiers in his program separate from service after recovery.
“That’s where all of you come in,” he told the employers. “You’re here because you and your organization are committed to hiring wounded veterans. You already know that it’s an ongoing commitment – not just hiring one veteran to check the box, but hiring many of them.”
Williams acknowledged some of the potential barriers to wounded warrior employment. Wounded warriors’ resumes may not align with available positions, he noted, and there’s no standard definition of a wounded warrior for employers to use. Additionally, he said, hiring managers need more information about behavioral health injuries, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries.
“That’s what we’re here to work on -- to show you some best practices from your peers and educate you on the ways to make each wounded warrior hire you make a success,” Williams said.
In return, employers will gain much more than they bargained for, the general said, ticking off the qualities that make wounded warriors standout employees. They have personal integrity, strong leadership skills and respect for diversity, he noted. They learn new skills and concepts quickly, work well as individuals and as team members, and, above all, they’re resilient, he added.
“They’ve overcome incredible life-altering physical and behavioral injuries that most of us can’t even begin to comprehend,” Williams told the audience. “And despite all of that, they’re looking forward to tomorrow, to finding a job that will build them a better life and provide for themselves and their families.”
While any hiring commitment is appreciated, troops’ vast, battle-tested experience shouldn’t be squandered on showcase positions, the general noted. Rather, he said, it should be put to the test.
“You can’t just hire a wounded veteran and put them in the trophy case to show everyone what a patriotic employer you are,” he said. “You have to give them tasks and projects that challenge them and help them grow.
“It’s about aspiration,” he added. “[It’s] about setting and meeting goals and setting them on a career trajectory that will make them valuable members of your organization for years to come.”
Williams issued the employers a challenge: hire five wounded warriors and spouses in the next 12 months. Then, he said, “tell us about it.”
“What did you do to make it work?” he asked. “What changes can you make to your hiring and recruiting process to make this happen?”
Mayer also challenged the employers to find the types of jobs and create the kinds of environment where young warriors can succeed.
The colonel displayed a montage of wounded warriors’ pictures on a TV screen. One of them, he noted, is an amputee who served three combat tours, and now is set on becoming a drill instructor. Another just graduated from a challenging Marine corporals course. Finally, he pointed to a picture of a triple-amputee Marine surfing in the ocean.
All are examples of dedicated people who served nobly, Mayer said, and now deserve a noble profession. They took on complicated tasks while operating the most sophisticated equipment in the world and in the most “arduous and complex environments imaginable,” he said.
“They may not be able to go and do battle anymore,” he added, “but by God, they can still battle for their country.”
The nation can’t do enough to repay these service members, Mayer said, recalling the first Marine who died in his arms. The colonel held Pfc. Juan Garcia after a sniper shot him through the neck in Iraq.
“He lay bleeding in my arms, and I looked in his eyes … [and] thought, ‘How in the world do I tell this Marine how much I love him, how much he meant to his unit and his country?” he said. “It haunts me to this day. I think about it each and every moment -- about all of our service members and how we can show them how much we care.”
The nation can’t abandon or give up on these warriors or their families, Mayer said, noting a spouse is every bit as important as a service member.
“Give them … careers you’d be proud to look at your sons and daughters and say, ‘This is how I spent my life,’” he told the employers. “Let’s ensure we give them the very best this country has to offer. It’s the least we can do, and that’s what they’ve given all of us.”