FBI internship is ‘godsend’ for recovering warrior

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, March 21 at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center at Bethesda in the lobby of Building 62. We’ll be there from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and we hope to see you there, too! 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.


A group of people in business attire stand together in an office space.

Debra Gipson says her OWF internship with the FBI in El Paso has been a "godsend." Here Gipson, second from right, is pictured with (from left to right): Tod Bussey, Administrative Officer, Federal Bureau of Investigation, El Paso; Jessica Ashmore, Transition Coordinator, Fort Bliss; and CPT Erin Salsbury, Commander, B Co., Warrior Transition Battalion.

While recovering from a back injury that unexpectedly sidelined her military career, 1LT Debra Gipson attended an outreach event put on by the Operation Warfighter (OWF) Federal internship program at Fort Bliss, and started thinking it might be nice to work for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). She also thought she didn’t stand a chance.

“I thought, ‘There’s no way the FBI would hire me.’ They only hire geniuses,” Gipson said. “But, much to my surprise, they called me back.”

That call led to three interviews and those three interviews turned into an internship opportunity, which is exactly what Debra needed to get over the pain and disappointment she felt about the sudden end of her time in the military.

“You don’t ever know what life is going to bring you. The military has affected everything I have ever done in my life, and to be faced with the reality that that’s not an option anymore is challenging,” Debra said. “The internship has given me an opportunity to explore some options and continue to serve my country.”

It was serving her country that attracted Debra to the military in the first place. After 15 years enlisted in the Army Reserves, including a year-and-a-half deployment to Iraq, Debra received a direct commission, completed her Basic Officer Leadership Course and was getting ready for a deployment to Afghanistan when, coming home from working out, she heard a loud pop in her back. She went to bed to sleep it off but, “when I woke up, I couldn’t move,” Debra said.

She was so eager to deploy with her unit that she showed up at the airport, even though she was in a wheelchair because she couldn’t walk without unbearable pain.

“I literally begged my commanding officer to let me deploy,” Debra recalled. “I joined the military to serve my country and I take that service very seriously. When I found out a week later that I wouldn’t be able to deploy with my unit, I shed a few tears.”

What started out as a misfortune turned into a blessing in disguise, however, when Debra went in for more conclusive tests on her back and turned up some additional health concerns that would have gone unnoticed and unchecked were it not for her original injury.

On November 2, 2011, Debra went in for surgery to repair the nerve and other damage in her back caused by years of intense training and carrying heavy packs. After six months of working as her Commander’s unofficial Executive Officer  she was introduced to OWF and started her internship with the FBI.

As an intern, Debra shadows an administrative officer in the FBI’s El Paso office, doing everything from communications to Human Resources  to Information Technology to contract and procurement, “anything connected to keeping the local FBI office operational,” she explained.

Though she has bachelor’s, master’s and law degrees, Debra said her OWF internship is the first time she’s had a chance to put all of that education to good use.

“This internship has been a godsend for me,” she said. “I had never worked at a job where the skills and abilities I bring to the table are fully appreciated.”

Debra has also been grateful for the introduction OWF has given her into the civilian workplace and how it operates.

“That has been a real eye opener for me,” she said, adding that her internship experience has already changed the way she plans to look for work in the civilian sector once her transition from the military is complete. Because of her internship, Debra said she is more aware of the variety of employment opportunities available in the Federal sector, and she has more confidence that the skills she gained in the military will transfer to the next stage of her life.

“This is a great opportunity to explore employment options,” Debra said of participating in OWF. “To the extent that you have a lot of time and you need healthy and productive ways to use that time, this is an opportunity to get out and get exposure you would not have otherwise. It’s really important that wounded and injured Soldiers and other Service members participate in OWF. It gives you options and that’s immeasurable.”