Wounded warrior finds ‘perfect’ career fit through U.S. Forest Service internship

Are you a wounded, ill or injured Service member looking to increase your career readiness and use your time productively while you recover? Consider participating in an Operation Warfighter internship! You can learn more at our next outreach event, February 15 at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center at Bethesda in the Lobby of Building 62. We hope to see you there! If you can’t make it, but would still like more information about Federal internship opportunities, send an e-mail to warriorcare@osd.mil.

To get an idea of how an internship could help you during your recovery and rehabilitation, read the story of one of our interns below!

Jerry Broesch was drawn to the Military time and again for the simple reason that he liked it. It made him feel useful, and like he was part of something.

A family of four with two daughters and father in uniform pose for the camera.

Jerry Broesch found a new career path through Operation Warfighter. His family also found a new cause and were awarded the Army Family of the Year and Military Family of the Year in 2011.

“A lot of the good times that I had were when I was serving in the Military,” Jerry said. “I’m extremely glad that I did it. It was just something to do to help out and do my part.”

And that is the same feeling he has now, working with the  Coeur d’Alene River Ranger District Office of the Idaho Panhandle National Forests as part of the Operation Warfighter Federal internship program.

“I’m just doing little things that are important but they don’t have the people to do it,” Jerry said. “I love being able to get out and be in the woods. It’s really helped out a lot.”

Though he says his internship is a “perfect” fit, this was not the life Jerry had imagined. He started out in the Marine Corps, and served in Desert Storm, but left the Service to pursue a college degree, which he obtained in 2000. The pull of Military service was strong, however, and in 2003 Jerry enlisted with the Idaho Army National Guard.

Jerry’s first deployment with the Guard was to Iraq with the 116th Cavalry Heavy Brigade Combat Team, based in Post Falls, Idaho from 2004-2005. A humvee accident caused him a neck and back injury but in 2007, when he heard a California-based unit was looking for more Soldiers willing to deploy, he volunteered again.

“I was more than willing to go over and help out,” he said. “It’s just a part of camaraderie, teamwork and I really like that stuff.”

Running in the sand while participating in a mission on this second deployment, Jerry blew out his knee. He toughed it out for four months in the desert, but when he finally came home, he headed to surgery to fuse six vertebrae in his back and neck together. He also underwent a knee osteotomy.

As it happened, the surgeries were the easiest part. With Warrior Transition Units just getting off the ground, and being a member of the Guard in a remote part of Idaho, Jerry was separated from the support network of his “battle buddies.” He was also beginning to grapple with the reality that his dream of being a Military officer—his commission paperwork had been completed just before his second injury—was probably off the table. Things got worse when his local unit deployed again, this time without him.

“I was in serious decline,” he said. “I was a little distraught when any continuation of a Military career looked terminal. It took me a year, maybe a year and a half to accept that wasn’t in the cards.”

But, motivated by his wife and two daughters, Jerry realized, “I better get my act together and figure out what I am going to do here.”

When he heard about the Operation Warfighter Federal internship program from a fellow WTU Soldier, Jerry thought it seemed like a good place to start. He was matched to an internship with the U.S. Forest Service, which Jerry says has been “perfect.”

His wife and daughters have also stepped up to the challenge of being a wounded warrior family and gotten involved with programs that support Service members and their families.

Jerry’s older daughter became active in the Boise chapter of Operation Military Kids (OMK) even though the meetings were a seven-hour drive away, and she worked to organize the first-ever OMK summer camp in the northern part of Idaho where the Broesches live. She also spoke in front of an Elks Group meeting of 400 people, including the town mayor, and raised $1,500 for OMK on the spot.

“It was like they jumped in at the deep end of the pool,” Jerry said. “Ever since my first tour they’ve just been willing to talk to people and help them out.”

And Jerry is not the only one who recognizes and appreciates the efforts and sacrifices of his family. In 2011, the Broesches were recognized as the Army Family of the Year, and were awarded the prize for Military Family of the Year as well.

“I’m so proud of them,” he said. “They’ve taken care of me and helped me out and put up with me through some hard times.”

Now in the Physical Evaluation Board (PEB) stage of his medical separation from the Military, Jerry said the future is uncertain, but thanks to his internship experience he feels much more prepared for a post-Military life.

“I think it’s just helped me realize what I knew was there before,” Jerry said. “It’s nothing new, but it’s helped me realize that it’s now, it’s here. The change is coming.”

Participating in Operation Warfighter has also reminded Jerry of all the career options available to him. He has his eye on a teaching certificate so he can work with at-risk youth, and he might even get involved in local politics some day.  His secret is to take each day as it comes, and he enjoys exploring new hobbies and interests he had never considered before. Earlier this month he baked his first loaf of banana bread and, “it came out perfect.” His advice to other wounded warriors is the same code he lives by: keep your mind and your options open.

“Don’t stop trying,” Jerry said. “Because there are so many things that can be done.”