The Education and Employment Working Group at the Wounded Warrior Care Coordination Summit addressed initiatives for Service members to proactively prepare for their post-injury or post-illness career while in recovery and rehabilitation, or while awaiting a determinations of fitness for continued military service or a disability rating. One best practice is
, she advises veterans seeking employment with federal agencies. She helps with the job search, advises on resumes, and teaches how to translate military training and skills into relevant civilian language. Sometimes, she just listens.
“At the end of the day, sometimes transitioning veterans just need to know their voice is heard and somebody out there understands their frustration,” she says.
Nobody understands better than Kelly Woodall. Two years ago, she was going through a medical recovery and a career transition herself, when Operation Warfighter gave her the chance she needed to take her career in a completely new direction.
A Full Career … but Looking for More
Woodall joined the Army in March 1982, and served in the military police and artillery before joining the Army Reserves as an instructor. When she transitioned to another Reserve unit, she went to Army Medic School and then to nursing school, eventually becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse. Kelly Woodall didn’t stop there. On the side, she completed a Master of Public Administration degree at the University of Kentucky. By any standard, Woodall had a successful Army and Reserve career, but she was still hoping for more professional growth.
From Nurse to Patient
In 2008, Woodall was mobilized through her reserve unit, 68th Whiskey Mike 6, as a Senior Clinical Non-Commissioned Officer at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. She was using her skills as a Licensed Practical Nurse to cover five or six different wards, a difficult and demanding job. However, while working at Walter Reed, she became extremely sick and had to undergo serious surgery. It forced her to re-evaluate her career.
“After surgery, I couldn’t do the work I had done before,” she said. “The hours were too long, I was on my feet all day, and I didn’t have the stamina.”
Even more important, Woodall realized she was ready for a change. “I had just completed my MPA, and I knew I wanted to do a lot more with my new skills. I wanted to put my degree to practical use.” explained Woodall.
But finding a way to make that change was the difficult part, especially while she was recovering from her surgery.
Operation Warfighter Internships: A Chance to Change Directions
A member of the Warrior Transition Brigade at Walter Reed, Woodall was at formation one day at the Mologne House. She heard Alan Thompson from the Office of Personnel Management talk about internship opportunities at federal agencies that are available to recovering Service members through Operation Warfighter. It was exactly what she had been looking for.
“You don’t often get a chance to do completely new things in work environment,” she said. “I knew it was a great opportunity.”
Woodall reached out to Thompson, who told her about a position in the Outreach Division of the Office of Personnel Management where she could use her management and administration skills. She successfully interviewed and started the internship in June 2008.
The position was a great fit and “I guess they liked me,” Woodall said. After five months, her supervisor asked if she would be interested in staying on full-time. By February 2009, she was a permanent member of the Office of Personnel Management team.
Working Through Recovery
For Woodall, as for many service members, an Operation Warfighter internship not only helped in her career transition, but also in her recovery.
”I needed something to do with my time. There was only so much time I could handle sitting at home,” Woodall said. “As far as my recovery was concerned, it was very helpful to put my energy into something that would help me toward my transition.”
Her internship gave her a new routine, new responsibilities, and new challenges to meet. “It gave me a chance to get up, get dressed, and have a place to go other than just formation once a week,” she said. “For me, having a place to go and people to see was very important to getting back on my feet.”
Passing It On: Advice for Other Transitioning Service Members
Now, as the Veterans Employment Program Manager at the Office of Personnel Management, Woodall spends every day counseling veterans who are seeking employment in the federal government. The things she learned through her Operation Warfighter experience continue to inform her daily work.
“To me, every service member who is eligible for the opportunity should take it,” she said. “I tell anybody in the Wounded Warrior programs to get out of their comfort zone and try something new. If you don’t go for it, you’ll never know what could have happened.”
Woodall says one of the most satisfying parts of her job is knowing she has helped a Service member successfully transition into civilian employment.
“I love telling people that there is life after the military, and there are lots of things you can do,” she said. “Take a look at the skills you already have and the opportunities available to you, and start developing those skills. And remember there are people who care and want to help you get a foot in the door.”