Disabled veterans find worthwhile new careers in technology
It's not an easy transition back to civilian life but government and private programs give many vets a start in worthwhile technology careers
The Warriors to Work program placed more than a hundred wounded vets in civilian careers in the past year
By Sheryl Rich-Kern
The latest Department of Labor unemployment figures find that nearly 900,000 veterans are unemployed in the United States. That means that one in twelve of our nation's heroes probably doesn't have enough money to take care of his or her family.
At the end of 2011 federal legislators passed the "Vow to Hire Heroes" act, a comprehensive bill that seeks to expand education and training, upgrade career counseling options through the Transition Assistance Program (TAP), and provide extensive tax credits for businesses that hire unemployed and/or disabled veterans.
A hard transition
Most vets will agree that the transition from the military back to civilian life is not always the easiest of journeys. The wounded warriors, men and women who return from the Middle East with severe physical and/or mental injuries like loss of vision, permanent disfigurement, post-traumatic stress or traumatic brain injuries, may face another difficult battle on their own soil.
Enter the Wounded Warrior Project
In an effort to support injured vets returning home from Afghanistan and Iraq, veterans' advocates formed the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) in 2003. The aim was to help these wounded service members get settled in civilian jobs.
The WWP established the Warriors to Work program, offering services ranging from emotional healing to career counseling, resume guidance and job-placement assistance. The services are funded by corporate sponsors; they are free and available to the latest generation of service personnel wounded in the line of duty. Through Warriors to Work, WWP placed more than a hundred wounded veterans in civilian careers in the past year.
Steve Nardizzi, executive director of the WWP, says, "This hundredth placement signifies profound progress toward our vision of the most successful and well-adjusted generation of veterans in our nation's history." Amid the current slump in the economy, "It also signals a commitment by civilian companies and corporate America to employ these great and brave Americans."
Navy commands like the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) have been active in this effort. Through a variety of programs, NAVSEA has hired more than 700 wounded warriors into civilian jobs in the last two years, according to Cmdr Dave McAfee, NAVSEA WWP director.
Cmdr McAfee adds that disabled veterans are smart, tough and determined. "We've had wounded warriors who have been blown up in the desert, and after we've hired them as civilians, they actually volunteered to go back as civilians on tours in the desert to help their fellow service members. Wounded warriors absolutely don't quit and any employer would benefit by hiring them."
Northrop Grumman's Operation IMPACT
Northrop Grumman (Falls Church, VA) works closely with the WWP to bolster its Operation IMPACT (Injured Military Pursuing Assisted Career Transition), a grassroots program that offers career support to disabled vets and their families. Operation IMPACT got off the ground in 2005, when the company decided to offer training and employment opportunities for severely injured service members.
As word spread about the program, Northrop Grumman heard from other companies wanting to start similar programs. Northrop Grumman launched its Network of Champions (NOC) in 2009, and the network has grown to include more than eight companies, all committed to hiring and training wounded warriors. Current participants include Raytheon, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, General Electric and General Motors. If recruiters at Northrop Grumman can't place a candidate internally, the candidate's resume is included in a monthly candidate list and distributed to all NOC companies, increasing employment opportunities for the veteran.
"We believe that creating workforces and workplaces that value diversity and foster inclusion is pivotal to promoting innovation, increasing productivity and maximizing performance," says Bob Waters, who recently retired as Northrop Grumman VP of HR strategy and talent acquisition. Waters was instrumental in the launch of Operation IMPACT.
Wes Bush, chair, CEO and president, adds that a diverse leadership team "is critical for Northrop Grumman's drive to realize a performance culture that delivers value to our customers and shareholders."
Travis King: "Coming home to work" at Northrop Grumman
Travis King grew up in Rockville, IN where, as a self-described "country boy," he hunted and fished and played football and golf in high school. When he wasn't outdoors he experimented with electronics, computers, woodworking and model rockets.
He postponed college to join the U.S. Marine Corps in 1996, partly for financial reasons. Because he had inherited a duty to serve his country, King was proud to become a fourth-generation Marine.
He spent more than a dozen years in the Marines, as an aviation technician and captain for F/A-18 fighter attack aircraft, then as ground safety manager for the squadron's safety standardizations.
In 2008 a medical condition put King on limited active duty status. He joined Northrop Grumman through "Coming home to work," a Veterans Administration program that introduces vets to the corporate sector through unpaid apprenticeships.
After completing coursework at the Defense Acquisition University (Fort Belvoir, VA) King worked as a QA specialist at the Defense Contract Management Agency, collaborating with Northrop Grumman and other defense companies. It was then he learned about the Operation IMPACT program at Northrop Grumman. He applied and was accepted right away.
He began working on the U.S. Navy's Unmanned Combat Air System Carrier Demonstration (UCAS-D) program and later transferred to other work at the company. Currently he's a software test engineer, using multiple software languages at the Advanced Technology Development Center.
Corporate culture is a long way from military life but King says the two environments share some elements. For one thing, they both serve the defense industry, and as a result, help protect our country.
"Of course I don't wear a uniform," King says, but he does have to follow Department of Defense rules and guidelines. "I'm happy with it because I'm still serving my country," he declares.
Through his benefits package at Northrop Grumman King is currently pursuing a BS in IT and software engineering from the University of Phoenix and expects to graduate sometime this year. He plans to apply to Purdue University for an MS program in engineering management and leadership.
On top of that, he wants to earn a private pilot's license. That way, he says with a smile, he can control the sophisticated electronics of an airplane cockpit and at the same time enjoy the great outdoors.
How Boeing helps vets
The Boeing Company (Chicago, IL) is the world's largest aerospace company, with more than 170,000 employees across the U.S. and in seventy other countries. Boeing is an active participant in the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) and the Army Career Alumni Assistance Program (ACAP). The company also coordinates with Still Serving Veterans (www.stillservingveterans.org) to identify vets, including those with disabilities, who are qualified candidates for current openings.
In 2011 Boeing hired more than 1,000 vets and expects to do the same in 2012. As part of these efforts the company has become a member of American Corporate Partners (www.acp-usa.org), a nationwide mentoring program dedicated to helping veterans with and without disabilities transition from the armed services to the civilian workforce. Boeing has also launched an online military skills translator tool (jobs-boeing.com/military-skills-translator) that matches military skills and occupation specialty codes to relevant Boeing job openings.
Joyce Tucker, Boeing VP of global diversity and employee rights, notes that the company strives to "tap into the backgrounds, experiences, cultures, perspectives and talents of all our employees, so we can leverage our differences as strengths to create a competitive advantage for Boeing."
Navy vet Stephen Tripp is a Boeing business development manager
After several injuries, it was clear that Naval Flight Officer Stephen Tripp would not fly again. So the thirty-year Navy vet sought a new role in civilian life.
Tripp began networking with folks in the anti-submarine warfare industry and posted his resume on the Boeing website. Last year Boeing offered him a job managing business development for the P-8, an advanced anti-submarine and anti-surface-warfare aircraft.
While the shift to civilian life represented a dramatic change, Tripp finds that he now has the chance to explore new solutions to old challenges. With his experience as an acoustic systems operator and naval officer, and his background in systems engineering and operations analysis, Tripp clearly understands the military's demand for flawless performance under tight budget constraints. At Boeing he works to match the P-8's capabilities with the requirements of military customers.
Tripp says his boss and co-workers did their best to make sure he could function productively from day one. They provided mentoring and online training, and brought in ergonomic support to alleviate some of the challenges of his disabilities.
Tripp's career in the Navy began right after high school graduation in Longmeadow, MA. His first assignment was as an acoustic sensor operator onboard the P-3, where he conducted anti-submarine ops during the Cold War. The Navy then sent him to flight school and eventually returned him to the P-3 aircraft. He led several P-3 tours and had eleven overseas deployments, culminating his Navy career with tours as a commanding officer and chief staff officer for the Commander of Undersea Surveillance.
He received a BA in international relations from Villanova University in 1991 and an MS in systems engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School in 1999.
As he progresses in his new role at Boeing, Tripp says he wants to contribute to conversations and analyses that provide solutions to Boeing's customers.
Microsoft Corp collaborates on accessibility issues
As part of its computer product mix, Microsoft Corp (Redmond, WA) offers assistive hardware and software apps like screen readers and voice recognition features that make computers accessible to people with significant vision, hearing, mobility, language or communication needs. In addition to marketing to people with disabilities, Microsoft aims to raise awareness of disability topics in its own workplace by collaborating with internal teams on accessibility issues including technology, physical space and overall work environment.
"At Microsoft," says Gwen Houston, general manager of global diversity and inclusion, "we strive not only to accommodate the global diversity within our company, but to leverage it to bring new and richer perspectives to our workplace and to our entire business culture."
John West, wounded in the National Guard, is a Microsoft software developer
John West has spent fourteen years at Microsoft. He's currently a software developer for C++ apps, testing the products before they ship out. He worked his way up the ladder, starting as a phone support rep for Microsoft Money.
Growing up, West was a superstar when it came to mechanics. He scavenged pieces of broken TVs, radios and anything else electronic, using his father's tools to create "all sorts of silly gadgets," he recalls.
When he was seventeen he dropped out of high school and enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps where he served for four years. "Boot camp was definitely a wakeup call for me," he remembers. "Without the military training I'd never have had a chance in college."
While stationed at the Navy/Marine Corps training base in Tennessee in the late 80s, West learned aircraft maintenance and electronics, improved his study skills and took a course in alcohol abuse. "The course did me a lot of good," says West, who learned the importance of avoiding harmful addictions.
He attended Riverside Community College (Riverside, CA) and graduated with an associate degree in science in 1992. After a series of jobs, including a stint on a fishing boat in Alaska, West moved to a job at Microsoft.
The tragedy of 9-11 motivated West to join the National Guard. He was assigned to a scout platoon in the Army National Guard.
In 2005, near the end of his one-year deployment in Iraq, he was seriously injured by an IED. He was driving an up-armored HumVee when the truck ran over an IED apparently made up of four stacked antitank mines; the explosion killed one soldier and seriously injured two, one of them West. Doctors warned that he might never walk again, but after intense physical therapy, surgeries, pelvic screws and serious self-motivation, West now walks mostly unassisted.
In the course of the neuro/psych testing the military required after his accident, West discovered he had attention deficit disorder and learned how to cope with it. "It gave me something I had a severe lack of, the ability to study," he says.
"I miss all the fun physical things I used to do," he admits. "Nowadays all my adventures and most of my activities are mental in nature. On the positive side, spending so much time wrapped up in study, code, and work has netted me more promotions, bonuses, and so forth than at any other point in my career."
West says Microsoft has proactively accommodated his disabilities with, for example, a chair that lets him sit in a fixed reclining position. And because of his PTSD, people are very careful not to trigger a reaction by doing things like putting packages which might look suspicious in his office when he's not there.
For John West, these are important contributions to the success of his daily work life. Long term he hopes to go on with his education in the field of graphics systems and user interfaces that react to speech.
CCSi: "Our vets bring a work ethic rooted in service"
Creative Computing Solutions, Inc (CCSi, Rockville, MD) is a management and IT consulting firm that serves a number of federal government customers. Founded in 1992, CCSi specializes in business process transformation, project management services, security and info assurance solutions and enterprise systems engineering.
Most of the disabled vets at CCSi have disabilities like PTSD that are not obvious. The vets are more noteworthy to their fellow employees as high achievers than as people with disabilities, and their teammates may not even know about their military training and service.
Naren Bewtra, COO of CCSi, says the company recognizes the "value added by hiring veterans who have a unique technology-related skill set. At a time when many service members are facing the challenge of finding employment opportunities, having a disability is not a setback for them but rather a motivation. They have a desire and dedication to succeed. Despite their disabilities, we have seen our hired veterans grow and inspire others with their unwavering work ethic."
Sarah Robbins, HRVP, adds that CCSi's vets have an in-depth understanding of customers' missions and challenges. "Our veterans bring a work ethic rooted in service to our country and the know-how to create, develop and deliver solutions that work for our government customers. At a time when many service members are facing the challenge of finding employment opportunities, being a vet with a disability is not a setback for our people. These men and women have a proven dedication to success."
Chris Ogden is a CCSi incident responder
Chris Ogden grew up in Philadelphia, PA enjoying running, hiking and swimming, and chose to pursue a BSCS at Penn State University. He graduated in 2006, enlisted in the Air Force and went on for Air Force tech school training. In 2010 he received an associate degree in applied science in IS from the Community College of the Air Force, part of the U.S. Air University (Maxwell-Gunter AFB, Montgomery, AL).
Besides his degree, Ogden has earned certifications including Security+, SnortCP (Certified Professional) and CEH (Certified Ethical Hacker).
Since 2010 Ogden has worked for CCSi, placed as an incident response analyst for the office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) at an off-site location at the Mark Center (Alexandria, VA). It's a challenging role, he says: a fusion of "network forensics, damage assessment, cleanup and user education."
Ogden specializes in offensive security: fighting the hackers. He says it's important to get into the minds of the bad guys and determine how they plan to infiltrate a system, "so we can get out in front and stop them before they achieve their goals."
Before this job Ogden worked in the active duty Air Force. He spent four years in the government network ops center at Andrews Air Force base supporting the executive airlift communications network where he provided mobile communications on jets like Air Force One for the president, VP, secretary of defense, secretary of state, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, congressmen and combat commanders.
Close to the end of his four years of active duty Ogden thought he was moving into a job with the U.S. computer emergency readiness team (US-CERT). A couple of weeks later he was rushed to the office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), responding to an incident with two federal aircraft. Eventually he moved to OSD as the more interesting challenge.
Now separated from the military and classified as disabled because of a medical condition, Ogden still finds himself surrounded by people focused on the greater good. "I'm not here because I drew from a location lottery," says Ogden. "I'm here because I can contribute to the mission just like everybody else."
Verizon likes vets' "mission-driven" attitudes
"At Verizon, we believe that hiring vets is the right thing to do and makes perfect business sense," says Al Torres, VP for talent management and the company's lead for veteran recruiting efforts. "With their mission-driven attitudes, superb training, technical skills and leadership capabilities, our 12,000 veterans play a crucial role in making Verizon the best in our industry."
The company's veterans' advisory board, with 400 members, was formed in 1990 to counsel senior execs and HR people on issues related to veterans. It also directs vets with and without disabilities to assistance programs and information on their rights and benefits.
Ex-Air Force tech Jeffrey Pledger is a senior financial analyst at Verizon
Before his twenty years at Verizon (New York, NY), Jeffrey Pledger served in the Air Force from 1976 to 1978 as a mechanic for intercontinental ballistic missiles at the Ellsworth Air Force base in South Dakota. As a technician he learned to "follow specific instructions, which you don't deviate from. In a corporate world, you have more flexibility," says Pledger.
Looking back, Pledger appreciates how the military assisted him with college tuition and helped him rehabilitate after his illness. Pledger was twenty-seven years old, and watching a football game on the television in the VA hospital as he recovered from cryptococcal meningitis and encephalitis. He recalls vividly the 1984 game between the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins. He can still hear Howard Cosell cautioning fans "not to give up on the wizard in Miami."
At halftime he closed his eyes and lapsed into a coma. He woke up five days later to learn his world had changed forever: the illness had made him permanently blind.
It was a long rehabilitation but he fought his way back to an active life. Today Pledger works at Verizon in Rockville, MD as a database team leader, directing end-to-end design, development and testing. He has developed trend-analysis reports for the accounting department's monthly closing periods and programmed procedures within Oracle to eliminate security issues.
Currently he's team project leader for new versions of CostPoint, a financial app for Verizon's federal line of business. He's responsible for creating a work-breakdown structure in compliance with federal laws.
In addition to his regular work in database design and management, Pledger is proud of the assistive technologies he helped develop for Verizon employees and customers with disabilities. These features are now found in the LG, Samsung and Motorola mobile phones.
And as president of the company's Disabilities Issues Awareness Leaders (DIAL) group, Pledger has worked with HR, diversity and IT people to coordinate with a third-party service that scrutinizes Web pages at a server instead of a desktop level. "It's a complete tool to show you where problems exist and recommend how you can solve them," he says.
Pledger also makes sure the Verizon website complies with the Web accessibility initiative and federal guidelines to include features like voice speech input, alternative text for images, and transcripts for the hearing-impaired.
He also coordinates with the company's vets' advisory board, working as a mentor with American Corporate Partners, a national nonprofit that provides career support for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Pledger received a BS in management info systems from New York University in 1991 and an MS in telecom from George Washington University (Washington, DC) in 1995.
As a frequent mentor to students with disabilities, Pledger advises them – half seriously – to fail. Fail? He explains that "You can't judge success if you've never failed!"
Raytheon Company supports Operation Phoenix
Several years ago, Raytheon Missile Systems (Tucson, AZ) developed Operation Phoenix, its own program to support transitioning military veterans and those injured in combat. Since then, Operation Phoenix has expanded, and the program's team works closely with other organizations to help wounded vets transitioning out of the military. The efforts involve Northrop Grumman's Operation IMPACT Network of Champions and other public- and private-sector partnerships.
Raytheon also works closely with the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP). Recently the company provided a $2.5 million grant to WWP to assist efforts including funding for career development opportunities. These are achieved through WWP's transition training academy programs that offer training in IT, computer repair and maintenance and cybersecurity. Raytheon also helps WWP link up candidates with recruiters from across the company, along with other organizations looking for transitioning vets.
Raytheon's WWP manager is Bob Foley, a combat veteran and retired marine from the company's global talent acquisition team. He explains that "Raytheon's veteran outreach across the country reflects not just our own efforts, but also the latitude and resources Operation Phoenix needs to support transitioning vets and wounded warriors looking for new careers. It's a team effort that includes other companies, colleges, the communities where we work, and the industry and government relationships and contacts we've established over many years."
Foley notes that Derek Duplisea, co-founder of Raytheon's Operation Phoenix, is himself a combat vet and wounded warrior. "We understand what transitioning veterans face in changing careers. These vets have put everything on the line for America, and they and their families deserve our support as well as our thanks," he says.
"Operation Phoenix helps them make connections to the private sector, so it's a labor of love for us to open doors and connect veterans with Raytheon and other leading American companies."
Felicia Crockett is an info assurance technician at Raytheon
Felicia Crockett spent twenty-four years in the U.S. Air Force. She was classified as disabled because of a medical condition, and retired as chief of wing information assurance (IA) for RAF Mildenhall, U.K. She had also been deployed to the Persian Gulf in the same capacity for Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar.
During her service Crockett administered a full range of IA disciplines including computer security, emission security, network certification and accreditation, IA assessments and special projects. She managed people who worked in LAN, WAN, SIPRNet and NIPRNet management and control for classified, unclassified and specialty project missions.
Crockett's familiarity with Air Force bases started early: She was born on Maxwell AFB (Montgomery, AL) and the family moved around with her Air Force father.
In the Air Force, Crockett says, she used a number of Raytheon products. After retiring from the military she sought out the company, and found a job with Raytheon Missile Systems as an IA technician overseeing $450 million in global network security programs.
Crockett had some reservations about her transition from military to civilian life, but later realized they were unnecessary. "In reality," she says, "my experience with Raytheon has felt like a reflection of my experience in the military. I am still amazed at the similarities."
Crockett says her military experience abroad allowed her to see firsthand how actions in the continental U.S. impact other countries. "Raytheon has operations in many countries, which gives employees a chance to understand other cultures and how our technology supports different nations. That's very similar to the international military perspective."
Crockett hopes to remain in the Raytheon community. "Raytheon's culture provides an excellent mentoring opportunity for those leaving the military or completing their college careers, as well as those who support the warfighter effort," she says.
COMPANIES ACTIVELY RECRUITING DISABLED VETERANS
Check websites for current listings.
|Company and location
|Boeing Company (Chicago, IL)
|Aerospace and defense
|Creative Computing Solutions, Inc
(CCSi, Rockville, MD) ccsin.com
|Management and IT consulting
|General Electric (Fairfield, CT)
|Diversified technology, manufacturing and
|Microsoft Corporation (Redmond, WA)
|Hardware and software
|Northrop Grumman Corporation
(Los Angeles, CA) www.northropgrumman.com
|Raytheon Company (Waltham, MA)
|Defense and commercial systems, IT, electronics
|Union Pacific Railroad (Omaha, NE)
|Door-to-door transportation and logistics
|Verizon Communications (New York, NY)
|Global broadband and telecommunications
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