Wounded warrior finds new career path through internship with Department of Energy


A young man wearing a camoflauge patrol uniform looks into the camera.

David Underwood deployed twice with the Marines before an irreversible injury to the joints surrounding his sternum forced him to leave the Military and come up with another plan. Photo courtesy of David Underwood.

After a long day of patrols and carrying heavy packs during a deployment to Iraq with the 1st Battalion 3rd Marines in 2007, David Underwood dismissed the persistent pain in his chest as soreness and fatigue and figured it would go away.

David even re-enlisted and moved his young daughter and wife, expecting their second child, across the country to Marine Base Quantico in Virginia, where he was placed with the communications platoon at The Basic School in Instructor Battalion.

But the trouble was, his chest pain never did go away. In August of 2009, when the pain got so bad he could barely breathe, doctors finally determined that the joints around David’s sternum were degrading and not repairing themselves the way they were meant to. After the physical stress of two deployments, including carrying heavy packs and other loads, the damage had become irreversible.

After therapy at the Walter Reed pain management clinic, culminating in the implantation of a neurostimulator on December 17, 2010, David was finally free from his pain, but his chances of staying in the Marines were over.  David started his medical separation process in January 2011 and found himself at a loss for how to move on to a job outside the Military.

“I was very worried about where to even start looking,” David said. “I had trouble until I started interning at the Department of Energy.”

Introduced to the Operation Warfighter Federal internship program by an acquaintance at Quantico, David was intrigued about the prospect of “getting on-the-job training for free during my regular working hours and the thought that I could find a job now and support my family.”

David started as an intern with the Office of Infrastructure and Capital Planning, and now works in the Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer at the Department of Energy. His work has been all new territory, but he’s learning fast and getting a lot of positive feedback from his supervisors. His supervisor in the Office of Infrastructure and Capital Planning, Jeff Underwood, said David went “above and beyond” in completing tasks and learning new skills to be a value-add to the office.


A Marine in uniform stands on a road next to a large body of water while on patrol.

Through his internship at the Department of Energy, David was able to discover a new career path outside the Military. Photo courtesy of David Underwood.

“David is, to use an old Navy term, a fire-and-forget kind of weapon,” Jeff said. “You can just set him off and let him go. We challenged him to teach himself Visual Basic for Applications, a skill we sorely needed but could not obtain via customary channels. He took on the task and within a few days was producing deliverables we needed.”

According to Jeff, David is a “total self-starter” who also improved his skills by studying text books, web tutorials and other self-study resources. David did such a good job, in fact, that as soon as he left the Office of Infrastructure and Capital Planning for another area at the DOE, Jeff immediately requested another OWF intern to replace him.

“It’s a great program,” Jeff said. “It meets my needs and it can help [Service members] in a later position, and I don’t have to pay for it. It’s a win-win for me.”

His OWF internship has turned out to be a win-win for David as well. He is looking for an opportunity to stay with the Department of Energy for the next three to five years, while working on a Bachelor’s degree in HR and hopefully a Master’s degree after that.

Despite the initial disappointment after his diagnosis, David said he now has some things to look forward to in his post-Military life.

“Now that I look back at it all, I am glad that for the most part things are over,” he said, “and things can only get better.”