a Healthy Transition


Many internships pride themselves on their rigorous selection criteria, but few can hold a candle to the Department of Defense's Operation Warfighter (OWF) program. OWF internships place the most elite group of future employees there is—wounded, ill, or injured military personnel—into supportive temporary jobs as they transition into civilian life or back to active duty.

The OWF program gets recovering soldiers out of the hospital and into a meaningful position at one of 105 participating federal agencies or sub-components. Along with paid employment that helps them get well, they get a chance to learn or brush up on job skills, create a resume, and explore their career interests—all things they will call upon whatever their future plans entail.

At the same time, federal employers benefit from the contributions of soldiers on the mend—and, program organizers hope, develop a deeper appreciation for what service members bring to the table as employees. One immediate advantage of hiring OWF interns is the price tag: because the soldiers remain on military payroll, it costs the agencies nothing. The military doesn't promise soldiers a permanent position through the internship program but so far has placed about 30% of more than 2,000 participants.

Fort Hood Warrior Transition Brigade's Operation Warfighter Career Fair. Image source: Photo Credit: Ms Gloria Montgomery (Army Medicine)

The program is managed through the DOD's Office of Wounded Warrior Care and Transition Policy, with OWF offices at military installations in more than 20 states. When soldiers obtain medical clearance to participate, they are paired with a local OWF coordinator in their area who will assess their interests and capabilities and try to place them in an appropriate job. The coordinator is a point of contact for both the solider and the employer, working on practical issues that vary with the health needs of the solider and the physical environment of the workplace. The OWF coordinator remains in regular contact with the employer, the solider and his or her care team to ensure that the internship is having a positive effect on the soldier's health and on the employer's productivity.

Mixed Skill Sets

So how does the OWF program help engineers in the military?

Whether they have formal engineering training or a natural talent for technology and construction, wounded service members are in demand for engineering-focused internships at agencies such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

For example, the Corps' Savannah District has millions of dollars of military construction contracts and provides real estate and environmental services at Army and Air Force bases across Georgia and North Carolina. OWF interns there work on the construction military buildings, hospitals, fire stations, child development centers, roads, and infrastructure.

Doug Saxon, deputy chief of the Corps' Savannah District construction division, says interns are exposed to civil, mechanical, and electrical engineering experience as well as broad skills such as safety, quality assurance, contract management, and even public relations.

"Operation Warfighter allows the Corps and other participating federal agencies to benefit from each soldier's considerable talents, skill sets, and dedication," Saxon says.

Filling the Gap in Projects

Other Corps districts report similar satisfaction with their OWF interns.

"They have all been very productive and are especially good at filling the gap in projects between technical and administrative tasks that we find are hard to execute with everything else we have going on," says Bill Smiley, chief of emergency management at the Corps' Tulsa District.

Tulsa District Commander Col. Michael Teague says his district "has a unique perspective because we are a U.S. Army organization and we also have great relationships with other federal agencies outside of the military. This is such a beneficial program that takes care of the soldiers and helps the agencies as well."

Michael MacRae is an independent writer.

Operation Warfighter allows the Corps and other participating federal agencies to benefit from each soldier's considerable talents, skill sets, and dedication.

Doug Saxon, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers


September 2012

by Michael MacRae,