Colorado Springs Military Newspaper Group

Peterson Space Observer

DOD program helps wounded servicemembers transition to civilian career

Spc. Bobby Green, from Fort Carson, looks over contracts with Tech. Sgt. Shannell Long, 21st Contracting Squadron contract specialist, April 14, 2011, on Peterson Air Force Base. Specialist Green is working with the 21st Contracting Squadron through a Department of Defense program Operation Warfighter, which places wounded services members in temporary work assignments while they convalesce or await the results of a medical review board. Specialist Green was injured during a deployment downrange and is in the Disability Evaluation System. Meanwhile, he has discovered a knack for contracting and would like to pursue contracting as a career in the civilian workforce. The 21st Contracting Squadron has five service members working for them through the program. (U.S. Air Force photo/Robb Lingley)

Spc. Bobby Green, from Fort Carson, looks over contracts with Tech. Sgt. Shannell Long, 21st Contracting Squadron contract specialist, April 14, 2011, on Peterson Air Force Base. Specialist Green is working with the 21st Contracting Squadron through a Department of Defense program Operation Warfighter, which places wounded services members in temporary work assignments while they convalesce or await the results of a medical review board. Specialist Green was injured during a deployment downrange and is in the Disability Evaluation System. Meanwhile, he has discovered a knack for contracting and would like to pursue contracting as a career in the civilian workforce. The 21st Contracting Squadron has five service members working for them through the program. (U.S. Air Force photo/Robb Lingley)

by Monica Mendoza

21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Fort Carson Army Spc. Bobby Green, who has a background in logistics, has discovered a knack for contracting.

Even more interesting, he said, is that he found the contracting career field while working for the Air Force, in the 21st Contracting Squadron on Peterson Air Force Base.

“I took a test that tells you what your strengths are — my strengths are 100 percent this — I didn’t even know,” he said. “I love it.”

Specialist Green and the 21st Contracting Squadron are part of a Department of Defense program called Operation Warfighter. Its mission is to bring wounded servicemembers who are convalescing or awaiting a medical review board into a temporary work assignment resembling an internship program.

The program is designed to provide recuperating servicemembers with meaningful work activities, said Dr. Charles Walters, Operation Warfighter employment and education internship coordinator, with the Warrior Transition Unit on Fort Carson. The wounded servicemembers, who are in the Disability Evaluation System, are still considered active duty so, there is no cost to the agency that takes them as interns, he said.

Maj. Jim Atchley, 21st Contracting Squadron commander, said Operation Warfighter has helped his squadron, which is often undermanned due to deployments. He called the program near to his heart “because of what we do for them and what they are doing for us,” he said. “It’s an extreme win-win.”

Major Atchley said he would like Operation Warfighter to be a permanent part of his squadron as a way to help servicemembers transition into the civilian workforce and as a way for his squadron to keep up with its growing workload, he said.

“The idea that these individuals want to work instead of staying at home tells you a lot about them,” he said. “The entire squadron has rallied around this program and has embraced them as part of the team – they mean a lot to us.”

Some injured servicemembers might be on medical hold for months, Dr. Walters said. That time is better spent in the workforce, getting valuable work experience and building up a resume for future work opportunities.

There are 18 federal agencies in the Colorado Springs area participating in the Operation Warfighter program and 20 Soldiers are working in internships in the Denver area, Dr. Walters said.

“That is just going to grow,” he said. “We will grow in terms of work sites and the number of agencies that will participate as well as the number of Soldiers who will participate. It will really take off.”

The internships are temporary, meaning there is no guarantee of a permanent job. However, at least a half dozen Soldiers have been permanently hired by the organizations where they interned, Dr. Walters said.

“This is an opportunity for an agency to get a good look at a qualified veteran,” he said. “If Soldiers can’t continue in military capacity, it doesn’t mean their federal career is over.”

The work experience allows the servicemembers to train in a new career field, get some experience for their resume and help with their transition out of active duty and into the civilian workforce. Operation Warfighter started in Washington, D.C., but has now gone national, Dr. Walters said.

In the 21st Contracting Squadron, four Soldiers have picked up duties in contract close out, filling a gap left by deployed Airmen, said Karen Matkin, 21st CS director of business operations. A fifth Soldier works in the 21st Program Management Division.

“They have done an outstanding job helping us,” Ms. Matkin said.

Army Staff Sgt. Sarah Petersen was a medic but now has an injury and is in the Disability Evaluation System. She wondered where she would land, she said. She noticed a number of contract specialist jobs posted on the federal job website, so when the opportunity to work in the 21st Contracting Squadron came up, she jumped at the experience. She’s been working on contracts that deal with medical supplies.

“Being a medic has helped,” she said. “It has given me insight from the consumer side.”

The 21st Contracting Squadron has offered Soldiers an opportunity to take online contracting courses and other training that will further help them when they are medically released from active duty, Ms. Matkin said.

“We really want them to get a flavor for what contracting is like,” Ms. Matkin said. “If they enjoy research and analysis they may find this is something they want to pursue.”

l Any squadron interested in participating in Operation Warfighter can contact Dr. Charles Walters at Charles.walters1@us.army.mil or call 526-0513.

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