Wounded Warriors find employment with Louisville District Army Corps of Engineers

Published Sept. 1, 2009

Day dreaming

If you have ever asked yourself how it would be to do an entirely different job, you may have been at your computer plugging out a spreadsheet or walking on Seventh Street. Your mind would wander envisioning yourself as a chef or doing peoples’ taxes. The internal dialogue would start like this:
Am I going to eat at the Homestretch Café again today?…We’ve laid rip rap on the Indiana shoreline over and over; still the bank erodes. I’m getting older. Do I have carpel tunnel? I would like to do something else. I will do something different! Wait. What’s this email? I need to chime in on that.

This contemplation isn’t unusual or disconcerting because you are thinking from the comfort of your foxhole, your workspace. You already have the sense of well being that work provides.

Wounded Warriors nearby

There is a cadre of 291 Soldiers called Wounded Warriors in Transition (WWTs) at Fort Knox, Ky. who are thinking about their future. They have had an injury but are rebounding. They are Soldiers who are in a kind of “no man’s land” in their head while they wait for a determination of their medical or Army status. Their “status” is somewhat unpredictable and unknown. They may or may not be fit to return to their unit, but they are fit for the business of work.

The Wounded Warrior Transition Unit (WWTU) was stood up in January of 2008. It is a place of recovery and rehabilitation, vocational rehab and career counseling between recovery and health and medical appointments and accountability. The Soldiers are out of the woods and back to civilization. Warrior Transition Unit Battalion Commander          Lt. Col. Gary Travis says that at the Wounded Warrior Unit, soldiers are forced to reckon with the fundamental question, “What am I going to do with my life?”

In limbo - but fit for duty

This question might inspire daydreams under the right circumstances. For Soldiers who have served their country and sacrificed health to some degree, the question is plaguing. Their lives are now different. The unit they once belonged to is a world away and a lifetime ago. The club they belong to may not renew their membership.

Travis says the words “wounded warrior” are kind of a misnomer because the unit, comprised of one third National Guardsmen, one third Active Duty and one third Reservists, arrive at his WWTU because of an injury which may or may not have been sustained in combat in Iraq, Afghanistan or other theater.

Although he says he wants to keep every Soldier in uniform, the reality is that Uncle Sam will have to let some of them go, and the Soldiers will have to break ranks. But in the meantime, or even after their “status,” is all said and done, they are in a position to work, and work hard. Right now.

Getting busy

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Louisville District has bent down on a knee and reached into the foxhole to give these Soldiers a hand as they climb out. The Louisville District responds, “Come work for us.”

“This district understands sacrifices that are made. We have lots of missions, lots of work,” says Col. Keith Landry, Louisville District commander.  “Finding them jobs helps in their recovery.”

Jean Hull, Louisville District Civilian Personnel Advisory Center (CPAC), explains the employability of these individuals this way. “Basically, it’s getting the word out to different managers,” Hull says.

Wounded Warriors can be “detailed” out somewhere to assist and work within the district organization and still be on active duty rolls, as is one Wounded Warrior employee, Capt. Kevin Morrison. Morrison’s status or final determination is near. All indications from the multitude of doctors he has seen are that he will receive a type of medical discharge or retirement. In another scenario, Louisville District’s Human Resources receives resumes of those still on active duty, soon to be out, where CPAC specialists review qualifications and review open vacancies for possible placement. Or, Human Resources receives resumes of those already retired out of the military. Specialists review qualifications and check Louisville District’s open vacancies for possible placement.

 “I call them (WWTs) right away. I have to talk to them to find out what they would like to do,” Hull explains. “They say, ‘I was this MOS (job) in the military, and now I want to do ‘that,’ meaning - another thing.”

Diane Hibbs, Louisville District Human Resources chief, strongly encourages supervisors to consider WWTs. “Where there’s a good fit, we are going to use this program to help Soldiers get employment,” Hibbs says.

The buzz

Hibbs remarks that this initiative is not only close to Colonel Landry’s heart but that she
believes the work Louisville District does to employ Wounded Warriors in Transition could set an example for other districts to emulate. The more it’s talked about, the bigger the program’s reach will be.

“Installations traditionally have promoted hiring WWTs, but the program in just this past year is gaining momentum Army-wide,” Hibbs says.

Hull, Hibbs and Landry want to get the word out to consider hiring these applicants at field sites, or as admin support or specialized support. Often, these individuals will have already earned veterans or education benefits and be going back to school qualifying them for Louisville District jobs.

Dedication to duty

Hull makes seemingly insurmountable hurdles an easy hop because she is devoted to serving those who have sacrificed for their country. It is evident in the way she talks about the Soldiers and the verve she brings to conversations about Wounded Warriors. Hull is so eager to do right by this special pool of applicants, that she refers them to other government organizations, such as Military Entrance Processing (MEPS) on the fourth floor of the building.

“This one, he had been an Army medic, and I knew there was a vacancy for that skill set at MEPS. I provided them a lead,” she says.

“There are more resumes than jobs to fill,” she continues.

However, that doesn’t dissuade her. Hull also calls other installations human resources departments to inspire more networking.

Back to the front

Capt. Kevin Morrison comes to work every day to Louisville’s Romano Mazzoli Federal Building using his “S-1” or personnel skill set. He reports to Hibbs in Human Resources, but the position he fills is the new U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Great Lakes and Ohio River Division deployment coordination administrator. While Morrison was overseas with the Corps Gulf Region Division in Iraq, a life-threatening heart aneurism surfaced requiring immediate surgery. He was medevaced to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany where then – because of the complexity of the surgery – he was transported to Hamburg University Hospital’s cardiac center. There, a world-renowned heart surgeon successfully repaired his aorta. Once stabilized, he was transported back to the United States where he spent more than 100 days on convalescent leave before he was able to get around well enough to return to work.

“I was on my butt unable to move. I wanted to get back to doing something meaningful,” Morrison says.

Once his discharge is complete, he will be formally working for the Corps, and he will continue to use his personnel skills and experiences to do match making for more Wounded Warriors.

Hard times

Landry says he can appreciate the vulnerability a Wounded Warrior feels when facing an injury. He was seriously injured while rappelling during Ranger School when the rappel master “cut his rope” during a training exercise. While awaiting the results of his medical review board, Landry found a job as a civil engineer until he could get healthy enough to seek a return to active duty.

“It wasn’t glamorous,” he adds, “but it gave me a sense of purpose in life.”

“A job adds purpose and structure,” Landry says. “Working for the Army Corps of Engineers allows the Soldiers to experience a feeling of selfless service to the nation as they did prior to their injury.”

Living the dream

Morrison’s internal conversation with himself about his vocation, thoughts and feelings is one that he shares as a signature block on his emails. It is upbeat positive conversation from someone who has experienced something life altering, something that could have continued to be traumatic but was made better. You can picture, that if he were to use a pen instead of a keystroke to sign his emails, it would be with a flourish.
“Capt. Kevin Morrison
Another glorious day in the Corps!
A day in the Corps is like a day on the farm. Every meal’s a banquet!
Every paycheck a fortune.
Every day a parade!
I  LOVE the Corps!”