By Tina C. Stillions, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command Public Affairs
SAN DIEGO (NNS) — The assistant secretary of the Navy for Manpower and Reserve Affairs sponsored the third annual Wounded Warrior Hiring and Support Conference, Oct. 29-30.
“They are dependable and everything they do is for the team,” said Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Michael P. Barrett in opening remarks. “The wounded warrior talent pool is diverse and makes for a compelling business case.”
The event was co-hosted by the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR), Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) and Naval Air Systems Command. The two-day conference was a combined effort to promote education and training, career development and long-term employment and support for wounded, ill and injured service members and disabled veterans.
The theme of this year’s conference was “Hiring our Nation’s Heroes – Rise to the Challenge. Diversify your Workforce!” The conference brought together government, military and industry leaders, hiring managers and recruiters from more than 50 organizations.
Though several of the conference’s speakers were unable to attend due to severe storms on the East Coast, the mood was positive and the message clear: hiring wounded warriors adds value to any organization.
“We hire more than 700 people a year and require our leadership to take action and set targets for the hiring of wounded warriors,” said Rod Smith, SPAWAR’s deputy commander. “In order to do that, we’ve had to change the culture within the organization. Getting high-quality people makes us a better organization and, though our efforts are just starting, I expect to see much more success in the future.”
Brian Persons, NAVSEA’s executive director, said having the three big Navy systems commands at the event was significant because combined the organizations are a centroid of opportunity for wounded warriors looking for employment. He also acknowledged the difficulty many veterans face maneuvering the bureaucratic hiring system.
“You can’t do this by yourself,” said Persons. “It’s the network of people working together that make this happen.”
Workshops and panels were available to those looking for work and covered a wide range of topics, including understanding military wounded warrior programs, career assessment and goal setting to starting your own business, maneuvering the federal hiring process and apprenticeships, internships and training.
“Our goal is to encourage wounded warriors to pursue education and careers in robotics, engineering and science,” said Michael Anderson, a former Marine who spearheads the Wounded Warrior Robotics Internship Program at SPAWAR System Center Pacific. “We can provide mentoring and unpaid internships to veterans while they are awaiting their disability rating, which we also hope helps foster an interest in technology and encourages networking.”
About three million veterans reported having a service-connected disability, which compounds the difficulty for many veterans looking for work. However, the good news according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is that the jobless rate for all veterans has fallen from 8.3 percent in August 2011 to 6.6 percent now, which is the lowest rate in more than three years and below the national unemployment rate of 8.1 percent. The unemployment rate for Iraq and Afghanistan-era veterans is still hovering around 10.9 percent.
Despite the higher unemployment figures for the nation’s Gulf War II-era veterans, the Navy’s goal of raising awareness and increasing the hiring of wounded warriors is having an impact.
“I was 18 years old when I entered the Marine Corps and deployed four times to the Middle East,” said Victor Hernandez, a former Marine who was injured when an improvised explosive device ripped apart his mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicle near Fallujah, Iraq in 2006. “After leaving active duty because of my injury, my primary job role became perusing a higher education. I recently finished the Executive MBA Program at Pepperdine University and plan on attending law school.”
Hernandez was discharged from the Marine Corps and received the Naval Achievement Medal with a Combat “V” for valor for his service. He is currently a contract specialist with the Naval Health Research Center at Naval Base Point Loma, Calif.
“I think there are a lot of veterans out there who may not be aware of what’s available to them or unsure of where to go to get the information they need,” said Hernandez. “Conferences like this are invaluable because they not only offer hope but they also provide a sort of one-stop resource for anyone needing information on employment, benefits, education and training opportunities.”
For many wounded, ill and injured service members and disabled veterans, finding viable employment is a challenge. The Department of Navy (DoN) established the Wounded Warrior Hiring and Support Initiative to help coordinate wounded warrior employment efforts and ensure wounded warriors have access to available education, training and employment opportunities and resources. Since last year’s conference, the DoN has hired 9,478 veterans, including 1,647 returning service members with a 30 percent or higher disability rating.
“We’ve set it up so you can’t ignore a wounded warrior resume at SPAWAR, and we are doing that by making sure we maximize all available opportunities,” said Smith. “We expose all wounded warrior resumes, track metrics and are constantly looking at ways to facilitate hiring, get feedback and improve the whole process. When a veteran, and especially a wounded veteran, hangs up their uniform, we have a moral obligation as a nation to help them reintegrate back into the workforce.”
The Wounded Warrior Hiring and Support Conference is now in its third year. The purpose of the conference is to bring together government, military and industry leaders in a venue to raise awareness about hiring and supporting wounded warriors in the workplace. Leaders and organizations provide recommendations and strategies to successfully transition veterans into their workforce, including hiring, training, development and retention. It is a forum to promote career development, long-term employment, education and training for the nation’s heroes.