The following is an excerpt from an email written by Mr. Daniel Stewart (State Department, Branch Chief for Student Programs, Office of Recruitment, Examination, and Employment) to his supervisor following a visit to Walter Reed Army Medical Center for an Operation Warfighter event.
I felt compelled to write something following my participation this morning at the Operation Warfighter event at the Walter Reed Karen Wagner Gymnasium. It is hard to put my feelings and impressions into words. If I had to sum them up in one word, I would say the event was “Humbling.” I was humbled to participate in this event, and would encourage everyone who has not done so, to take the opportunity to get involved.
I arrived about 10 minutes before the other recruiter and watched the men and women in uniform filter into the gym. I was immediately struck by the fact that what I was about to undertake was far different from our normal outreach activities. This was far from the normal collection of well-dressed, fresh-faced, eager and enthusiastic college students we normally recruit. I saw people negotiating far more than the simple question of “what to do after college.” I saw men and women negotiating using wheel chairs and canes. I saw scars, some visible, some not, and some visible in other ways. I saw them adjusting to not-always-apparent prosthetics and sometimes all-too-apparent psychological trauma. And there were many of them. Several hundred at least. But beyond their disabilities, I saw faces full of both uncertainty and determination. The uncertainty of trying to move forward with a life that one way or another is now radically different. And the determination to not be de-fined or deterred by their new conditions.
After some brief announcements, the soldiers were encouraged to speak with the agencies and organizations represented under Operation Warfighter. One by one, they filed past our table. I have never seen both so much strength and so much fragility in one collection of people in such quick succession. One young man, with visible scarring to his face from shrapnel, mentioned that he and his young wife would like to move back to Charleston, South Carolina after he is medically discharged. His dream has always been to be in protection, like the Secret Service. However, his injury has left him with no vision in his right eye, and now he is “hoping to adjust his career goals” to his new condition. Another, with a Masters in International Relations, spoke passionately about his desire to work abroad. He had also received shrapnel to the head which left the left side of his face temporarily paralyzed. One man came accompanied by his wife. He said, with a laugh and not a little bit of irony, “I’m perfect for a secure position. My injury has left me with no short term memory!” His wife, lovingly and mockingly, agreed!
Some of them looked just barely out of their teens. Some of them had limps that were just barely perceptible. None of them seemed to be ashamed of their conditions. Nor should they. All seemed a little apprehensive about their futures. And despite my commentary above, many of them just seemed excited and prepared to start a new chapter in their lives after the military, with all the enthusiasm and excitement of the college students we normally deal with. They were happy to have the information about employment with the federal government. And I felt honored to provide it to them.
I guess my purpose in writing this is to say that I cannot overstate the importance of this work. I truly believe in what we do in the recruiting office, working to increase diversity at our agency. I think it makes good business sense, and it is just the right thing to do. And working to provide opportunities to women and men that have willingly sacrificed their bodies and sanity for our safety and security is more than just the right thing to do – it is a moral imperative. They don’t need hand outs. The military is a marvelous institution, and many have developed a range of skills, both hard and soft, across several different areas. In almost all cases, our agency can use those skills. These women and men just need a chance to continue their already profound service.
For more information on the Operation Warfighter (OWF) program please feel free to email WarriorCare@osd.mil
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