Federal internship with DEA helps wounded warrior realize employment dream

A Soldier in fatigues on patrol in Afghanistan

Dale Pilat participated in numerous patrols while he was deployed to Afghanistan with the Military Police. He also helped train the Afghan police force.

Dale Pilat loved working with the Military Police (MP). So much so, in fact, that he figured he’d come home and pursue a career in law enforcement when his time in the Army was up.

While deployed with the 330th MP Company in Afghanistan, Dale and his squad were attached to the 101st Airborne. Dale went out on many patrols, scoping out villages and terrain, running traffic stops and breaking down doors looking for the enemy.  He also worked on training the Afghan police and helped build relations with local villagers.

But one misplaced step changed everything.

Running across some brittle rock during a foot patrol in early 2010, the rock broke and Dale fell, sustaining a neck and spine injury. He was finally sent home in December of the same year. During a stop at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, he received another diagnosis: traumatic brain injury (TBI).

After surgery to fuse his vertebrae together, Dale started physical therapy and treatment for his TBI at San Diego Naval Medical Center, and started making plans to get back in the fight.

“At the time, I didn’t think anything was that bad,” he said. “I figured I would have proper help and I’d get good doctors and get fixed up.”

Instead, Dale got some bad news. His surgery had uncovered some other medical issues, including a painful numbness in his legs. Dale wasn’t going to fight again. And, what’s more, his law enforcement dream was over, too.

“That’s when everything started hitting home and I realized that everything had changed and my life was never going to be the same,” Dale said. “It was really frustrating, the possibility that the things I wanted to do with my life are going to be hindered greatly.”

Greatly, perhaps, but not entirely. Things started looking up when Dale was introduced to the Operation Warfighter Federal internship program through the program’s coordinator in San Diego, Walt Myhre. Walt quickly helped Dale find an internship with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), working with supervisory chemists. He’s been there since August.

Before he was injured, Dale thought being in the middle of the fight was just about the best way he could help out.

“I walked away from a career in construction management because I wanted to be a part of what was going on, fighting the Taliban and terrorism and I loved what I did,” he said. “My wife would kill me, but I would do it all over again.”

But, Dale is able to envision a new future for himself and his family now, thanks in large part to his internship experience.

“It definitely opened up another spectrum for me, knowing that I can sit behind a desk and get things done that help people in the field,” he said. “That was good. It’s getting easier and easier to accept.”

Now in outpatient status and undergoing his medical evaluation process, Dale is starting to plan for his new future. And he is grateful to OWF for giving him a head start.

“I know it’s coming,” Dale said of his transition out of the military. “I’m going to be out of the Army pretty soon and I’m not going to have a job or a means of helping support my family and that doesn’t wash with me. So I’m eager, I’m proactive. It’s a great opportunity to get in with OWF to help you along and show you what’s out there.”