Wartime injuries often don’t just put service members out of a job, they change the course of their lives. Military members who planned on retiring in uniform can find themselves in the unemployment line just years after joining the service.
And often, with war being the only business they know, there is little on their resumes to fall back on.
A federally funded internship program is trying to change that.
Operation Warfighter Internships are federally funded internships that work hand in hand with Warrior Transition Battalions at numerous military installations to help wounded service members smoothly transition into the civilian workforce.
Service members work and are paid as civilians, while still connected to their units — a key element of their transition into civilian life.
Sgt. Vanessa Vinson, a former avionics mechanic, participated in an OWF internship after sustaining injuries from a mortar blast in Afghanistan, where she worked on helicopters.
“I loved my job. It was the most exciting, rewarding job. There was nothing like being on the flight line and being a part of a mission,” she said.
Now, she spends her nights as a full-time student and her days in the offices of the IRS as a tax analyst, a job she landed after first interning there as a technical adviser, analyzing and preparing reports.
Once she was medically cleared to seek work, Vinson began her OWF intern process like other soldiers who are exiting the military, either due to injury or retirement. Her installation provided her with resources to prepare her for the civilian workplace. Job counselors helped her prep her military resume for the civilian world.
“They put the resume into a professional, federal format and take all the Army language and turn it into civilian speak,” said Anthony Thomas, the program’s transition coordinator.
Counselors also helped Vinson prep for interviews.
“We are put in mock interview situations and coached on questions like identifying our worst and best qualities,” Vinson said. “It prepares you to be put on the spot.”
Thomas placed Vinson in her internship position. He spends his days matching soldiers’ skills with the appropriate agency and acting as a liaison between the agencies and the interns. He works with more than 15 federal agencies in and around the Fort Hood area placing service members in 3-6 month internships based on their qualifications.
“The agencies want a soldier who is willing to learn, and we take the soldier’s goals and try to fit them with the right agency,” he said. Soldiers are then sent on an interview to seal the deal.
“I also encourage the soldiers to research the agency before the meeting. It’s another good way to help them transition into the private sector,” Thomas said.
The program, which serves active duty as well as reservists, also can benefit service members who are returning to duty after healing from a wartime injury, though most of the participants are leaving the service.
“Soldiers leaving the service get first crack at the internships because it is another tool that will help them transition to follow on careers and become successful veterans in their local communities,” said Maj. David Shoupe, public affairs office for Fort Hood WTB.
Fort Hood has an additional work/study program for soldiers who are returning to active duty that focuses on assisting agencies located on the installation.
Vinson said her internship “closely aligned to what I did in the Army.” Her goal is to earn a degree in computer information systems and continue working with the IRS, possibly in software programming, once she finishes her degree. “I feel really lucky that this company is grooming me and mentoring me, just like in the Army as an NCO,” she said. “Things are so similar, it doesn’t make me feel like I’m abandoning what I’d worked so hard for.
“The internship is a great way to get out there and get some experience and give back to yourself,” she said. “Your injury doesn’t define who you are.”
The Operation Warfighter Internship program is a gateway to helping service members, to not only heal, but to use their military skills, learn about themselves and start their paths toward a secure, fulfilling future. For more information about internships, please email WarriorCare@osd.mil