Conference focuses on hiring best practices for employers, wounded warriors


A group of military personnel and civilians stand on a stage.

Part of last week's Wounded Warrior Employment Conference was the signing of the Wounded Warrior Employment Covenant. The purpose of the covenant is to establish a common understanding and the commitment necessary to make a real difference in the hiring of wounded, ill and injured veterans and their spouses.

The Army Warrior Transition Command (WTC), Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment (WWR), Navy Safe Harbor and the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program joined forces last week to host the second Wounded Warrior Employment Conference, held this year at the Fort Belvoir Officer’s Club, Va.

While prospective employers, Service representatives and others learned about the value of hiring wounded warriors and disabled veterans, wounded warriors themselves attended a series of “bootcamp” sessions designed to teach them critical job hunting skills such as managing culture shock, skills identification, social networking and information about protections provided to wounded warriors under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

Brig. Gen. Darryl Williams, Commanding General of WTC, welcomed participants to the event by challenging the employers in attendance to hire five wounded warriors or spouses each over the next 12 months. He reminded participants that the conference was less about what they learned, and more about what they will do to apply the things they learned.

“The employment of wounded, ill and injured veterans and spouses is not just about the individual Services, individual agencies or individual companies who work on this issue. It’s about our veterans,” Gen. Williams said. “Our theme for the next two days is Educate-Empower-Employ. These align directly to my top three priorities at the Warrior Transition Command: education, training and employment.”

Col. John Mayer, Commanding Officer of WWR, reminded employers and other participants that wounded warriors volunteered to serve their country knowing they would probably go to war, and the spirit they bring to the battlefield is the same spirit they’ll bring to a job. Col. Mayer also challenged the wounded warriors in attendance to focus on their abilities, not their disabilities.

“These wounded warriors have heart and their put their all into everything,” Col. Mayer said. “We need to show them how much we care. These are American heroes, and they deserve the best we have to honor their service.”

During the Skills Identification Bootcamp session, Laureen DuPree of the Fort Belvoir Employment Readiness Program shared tips with wounded warriors for improving their resumes and getting the most out of job fairs and other networking opportunities. Among other suggestions, she encouraged wounded warriors to keep a running list of job skills, and to follow up with all the employers they meet to demonstrate that they are interested and motivated.

During the Advocating For Yourself During a Job Search Bootcamp session, representatives from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission outlined protections afforded to wounded warriors under the Americans With Disabilities Act, including if and when warriors are required to disclose a disability, what types of conditions and disabilities are covered, and what action wounded warriors can take if they feel they have been discriminated against by an employer.

Alvin Shell, a wounded warrior who now works as the Branch Chief for Force Protection at the Department of Homeland Security, shared his own experience of recovery after being badly burned by a rocket-propelled grenade during a deployment to Iraq, and the challenges he faced finding a job once he got home. He challenged employers to save other wounded warriors from going through the same thing he did on his search for employment.

“Just give veterans an interview and they’ll knock your socks off,” Shell said.

Sergeants Andrew Goodrich and Christopher Vead, both of the Marine Corps, also shared their experiences as interns with the Operation Warfighter Federal internship program, and encouraged attendees, both wounded warriors and Federal employers alike, to participate.

“Internships help you learn a skill,” Sgt. Vead said. Through his internship, Sgt. Vead learned about the intelligence community and got a security clearance. Now employed in the private sector, Sgt. Vead said he would not have been able to land the job without his internship experience.

Sgt. Goodrich reminded employers that each wounded warrior is unique, but that all wounded warriors have something to bring to a company or organization.

“Wounded warriors have the drive and desire to prove to employers and themselves that their mission isn’t done,” Sgt. Goodrich said. “Help wounded warriors help themselves, and in the process you’ll be helping your organization as well.”

Closing out the first day was Col. David Sutherland of the Army, who serves as Special Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for Warrior and Family Support. Col. Sutherland shared some examples of the incredible sacrifice and spirit Service members show, both on the battlefield and as they recover back home, and encouraged companies and communities to step up to the plate to support them.

“They run the Army and they’ll be running your organization within a few weeks,” Col. Sutherland said.

The second day kicked off with remarks from Ray Decker, Assistant Director of Veterans Services, U.S. Office of Personnel Management, who gave an update of the President’s Employment Initiative. Decker told the conference attendees that progress was being made; more veterans were being hired by the government. In FY11, initial data shows that 28.5% of new hires in the government are veterans. He also discussed the Vets to Feds (V2F), which offers career development programs for student trainees. These programs are designed to recruit and support the development of student veterans for careers with the federal government. The programs offer opportunities to pursue valuable experience while veterans pursue their education. New V2F programs, focusing on information technology and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), will be launched this spring. For more information on the President’s Employment Initiative, V2F and federal veteran employment visit Feds Hire Vets at http://www.fedshirevets.gov and follow on Facebook and Twitter.   

Dr. Lillie Cannon, Program Manager, Army Spouse Employment Partnership, discussed the importance of hiring wounded warrior spouses. Cannon told conference attendees that military spouses earn on average 25% less than their civilian counterparts. She said that military spouses are resilient, hard-working, prepared and outgoing—traits that make them outstanding employees. She discussed the Military Spouse Employment Partnership (MSEP), which develops global partnerships with local, national and international businesses to support the workforce needs of both the military spouses and the companies.

“Thiry-five percent of our partners have a wounded warrior program,” Cannon said. “Some of the partners have hired wounded warrior spouses to run their regional programs.”

MSEP ensures that employers understand that spouses need career opportunities that fit with their lifestyle and unique challenges. MSEP has a career portal for job postings and brings spouses and employers together. For more information about MSEP, visit https://msepjobs.militaryonesource.mil/ and follow on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Lt. Col. Rodney Lewis, White House Fellow, Joining Forces Campaign, discussed the first lady’s goal in making a difference to the troops and making it sustainable. Lewis told the attendees that employment, education and wellness are three important issues for military families. He said that the government needs the assistance of private industry to make a difference and employ veterans and spouses—the goal is hiring 100,000 veterans and spouses by 2014. For more information on the Joining Forces Campaign, visit http://www.whitehouse.gov/joiningforces and follow on Facebook and Twitter.    

Also in attendance on the second day of the conference was Mr. John Campbell, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Wounded Warrior Care and Transition Policy (WWCTP), as well as Mr. Bob Carrington, Director for Recovery Care Coordination at WWCTP. Mr. Campbell and Mr. Carrington, together with several Service Secretaries, other senior military leadership, and Wounded Warrior Program leadership, participated in an executive session that reviewed the progress of the Wounded Warrior Hiring Rate Improvement Team and discussed other issues related to wounded warrior rehabilitation and reintegration.  

A Social Networking Bootcamp class was provided for wounded warriors and spouses to assist them with their job searching endeavors. Sue Hoppin, co-author of “A Family’s Guide to the Military For Dummies” and founder and president of the National Military Spouse Network, gave the bootcamp attendees helpful and easy tips to help them stand out during their job searches. Some of these tips included developing and utilizing a 30-second elevator speech of accomplishments when speaking to prospective employers, expanding your network by meeting more people at companies or within the industry you are interested in, and handing out professional networking business cards to people you speak with. To learn more networking tips, visit http://www.nationalmilitaryspousenetwork.org/public/Networking_101_Ebook.cfm.

The capstone of the second day was the ceremonial signing of the Wounded Warrior Employment Community Covenant, with leaders from the Service Wounded Warrior Programs and several Federal agencies participating. The purpose of the covenant is to establish a common understanding and the commitment necessary to make a real difference in the hiring of wounded, ill and injured veterans and their spouses.

At the end of the second day, wounded warriors and spouses had the opportunity to use what they learned during their bootcamp sessions and network with employers interested in hiring them.  

Congratulations to the military services for another successful event.