Wounded warrior shares personal account of Federal internship experience

Andrew Turner is a Master At Arms Petty Officer 1st Class in the US Navy. After sustaining an injury while on duty at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Andrew started an Operation Warfighter internship with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the Department of Homeland Security. Over the next several months, Andrew will share a first-person account of his recovery and internship experience.

Photo of a Navy Sailor in fatigues standing outside the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.

Andrew Turner was stationed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he was injured while moving some combative detainees from their cells.

I have been on active duty for nine years with almost seven of them being spent overseas at one location or another. I truly have felt like the Navy has been an addition to my life that I did not even know I was looking for. 

After a short stint stateside working in the Police Department at what is now Walter Reed National Military Medical Center at Bethesda, I was called overseas again to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  I arrived in Cuba in the fall of 2009, and stayed through the summer of 2010.

Within a few weeks of my arrival, I was injured while taking some particularly combative detainees out of their cells. I spent eight weeks with my right hand and arm in a cast, thinking it was just a simple fracture. When I was still having problems in the summer of 2010, I brushed it off. Little did I know I was slowly losing much of the overall function in my hand.

Back at Walter Reed Bethesda I stayed busy with many different aspects of security planning, all while going through what became the first rounds of orthopedic and occupational therapy and a slew of appointments to figure out what was going on with my hand.  Doctors finally determined that not only had bones broken in my wrist, I sustained nerve damage as well. By spring 2011 I had lost feeling and use of my right hand entirely.  The doctors performed surgery, but it just led to additional pain and spasms, and no added function.

About this time what I like to call the “Little Green Monster”—post traumatic stress (PTS) and anxiety—reared his ugly head, and I started to suffer from severe insomnia, anxiety/panic attacks, anger and pure emotional instability.  Work became harder to do with appointments, surgeries and a doctor-ordered limited work schedule, and most of my duties were passed on to someone else, leaving me with little to do. 

It was around this time, in the fall of 2011, that I read about the OWF program. I put together a resume and, after some initial setbacks, was approved to do a 90-day internship with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agency’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) offices.   

Photo of Operation Warfighter Federal intern dressed for work.

His internship with ICE has restored Andrew Turner's sense of purpose and motivation, something he lost during his physical recovery.

When my first day rolled around I did not know what to expect, and the train ride from my home in Maryland to the ICE headquarters in downtown D.C. made me a little shaky,  but I was determined to stick it out and see what this would bring.  Once I connected with my supervisor at ICE, he told me that he had been in the Air Force for 20 years. We had a lot in common and my nerves suddenly in many ways settled down.  

For the next few weeks I got to learn much of the how and why of processing FOIA requests for ICE, and I’ve now started to input the more basic requests at the beginning portion of the process.  For me this has so far been quite eye opening as I had no idea how FOIA requests worked with any agency or that anyone had the right to ask for them. 

I am two weeks into my OWF internship and can’t wait to see what the next 10 weeks have in store. I am even hoping my medical board process gets extended so I’ll have time to do another internship after this one!  

At this point, I would tell anyone who asked that this is a very rewarding experience to take part in an OWF internship. It is an experience you wouldn’t have otherwise.  This internship opportunity is a dream come true and has given me a sense of purpose and motivation that I had lost during my recovery.