Operation Warfighter

This story originally appeared in The BEAM, 2017, Quarter 4, Customs and Border Protection’s Quarterly E-Newsletter. It has been edited for length and clarity.

By Jeffrey Toth & Kurt Tennant

United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) values the experience, commitment and discipline that separating service members and veterans bring to the job. That’s why CBP is proud to offer rewarding careers and unique benefits to veterans seeking employment.

Roughly a third of CBP’s staff has served in the military. Veterans joining CBP will find many others that share their military background and principles. When it comes to principles, veterans personify CBP’s core values of vigilance, integrity and service to country. Furthermore, veterans fit in well with CBP’s culture of teamwork, integrity and innovation.

As part of the active search for qualified personnel, CBP provides internships for service members who are participating in the DoD’s Operation Warfighter Program. Operation Warfighter is an unpaid federal internship program that matches qualified wounded, ill and injured service members with internships in order for them to gain valuable work experience during their recovery and rehabilitation. Participants continue to receive their active duty salary throughout their internship. Operation Warfighter assists with the service members’ reintegration to duty, or transition into the civilian work environment where they are able to employ their newly acquired skills in a non-military work setting. The Operation Warfighter model also allows federal employers to better familiarize themselves with the skill sets and capabilities of service members. “Operation Warfighter is a great opportunity for service members going through the disability evaluation process to build their resumes, explore employment interests, develop job skills and gain valuable federal government work experience that will help them prepare for their adjustment to the workplace,” stated Jeff Jack, the Operation Warfighter coordinator for CBP’s Recruitment Command. CBP is committed to supporting the employment of veterans and provides a hiring preference to qualified veterans. Qualified veterans are given an advantage over others when recruiting under competitive external procedures (i.e., announcements open to anyone in the general public). Depending on the position being filled, veteran applicants may be placed ahead of other candidates in a ranking category.

(Editor’s note: To learn more about veterans’ preference, visit https://www.usajobs.gov/Help/working-in-government/unique-hiring-paths/veterans)

Army Spc. David Stromenger returned from a tour of duty in Iraq in 2016 after injuring his back. When asked how he first heard about the Operation Warfighter, Stromenger indicated, “There was a briefing in medical out-processing and different speakers were brought in to explain what options we had during this transition. The regional coordinator for Operation Warfighter, Tanya Downing, talked about some of the opportunities for internships with federal agencies and that peaked my interest; especially the idea of Defense Finance and Accounting Service stepping in while working with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. This was a chance I couldn’t pass up.”

While continuing his recovery and rehabilitation, Stromenger attended a CBP recruitment event at Fort Drum in April 2017. He was interviewed and submitted his application for admission into Operation Warfighter in May 2017. Stromenger was accepted into the program and began working at the U.S Land Port of Entry at Alexandria Bay, Wellesley Island, New York. His primary duties were to assist CBP officers with necessary functions, such as running documents between primary and secondary, duty collection, and some administrative responsibilities, thus freeing CBP officers to concentrate on their primary and secondary functions. Stromenger also visited other ports of entry, including Ogdensburg Port, Ogdensburg, New York and Massena Port, Massena, New York, to see the operations at those locations, and has taken part in the VirTra 300 simulator, a judgmental use of force simulator. He also has participated with Border Patrol from Wellesley Island, New York on a ride-along with agents in both car and boat. Not only was Stromenger able to get first-hand knowledge about the jobs that CBP had available, the agency was able to see the character and work ethic of a potential future hire. Stromenger finished his internship at the Alexandria Bay Port of Entry on Sept. 1, 2017.

“I thought this internship was a great experience for me and I would definitely recommend it to anyone interested in joining CBP. This gave me the opportunity to actually get hands-on [experience], and be able to see firsthand what the job was like. I was able to see various port operations and a ride along with Border Patrol,” recalls Stromenger. “All of the officers and supervisors have been more than helpful, giving me tips, advice and sharing their own experiences to help me better understand the job. This experience has given me an idea on where a good fit for me might be in this agency, and I am eager to see what choices might be available to me.”

“David was the ideal soldier to bring in under Operation Warfighter. CBP is actively looking for qualified candidates for the CBP officer position and David fits the bill. He had a whole summer to immerse himself in what our agency does and had plenty of supportive staff to answer his questions. We wish David the very best as he nears the end of the crucial process,” said Chief CBP Officer Kurt Tennant.