Operation Warfighter offers veterans career opportunities
By Meg Mirshak | The Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle | Published: June 23, 2014
After four military tours in Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan, Sgt. Dirck Moize traded gunfire for a government office cubicle.
His path to securing a robust career in the civilian world led to a federal office building at Savannah River Site.
Sometimes he misses seeing the sunshine outdoors, but his desk, computer and files of paperwork hold the key to the future for the 28-year-old Army and Marine veteran.
Moize, who is awaiting a disability evaluation for his Army discharge, works as an intern for the Department of Energy through a national program that gives returning service members with injuries a chance to transition to a full-time career.
About 15 veterans based out of Fort Gordon have participated in Operation Warfighter at SRS, where 24 percent of the federal workforce are military veterans. SRS has hired at least two of the veterans full time. Others exit the internship prepared for a career with federal agencies, government contractors or commercial industries.
“This is more than just a résumé beef-up. To me, this saves lives,” Moize said.
After four years in the Marines, Moize was turned down by employers he said were reluctant to hire a veteran. According to Moize, one said she feared he would have a violent flashback during work. He eventually found work as a garbageman, collecting trash with two former convicts, before joining the Army infantry.
Moize, 28, suffers from a long list of service-related injuries. He has permanent nerve damage in his right leg, nerve and muscle damage in his back, torn tendons and ligaments in his legs and knee injuries. But he wasn’t interested in waiting on his medical processing.
He submitted his resume to Operation Warfighter and began work at SRS last July. His experience instructing and training 154,000 Marines in the Mojave Desert helps him every day at SRS, where he works in the training oversight department, Moize said.
“I know how to train people. I had methods,” he said. “In the military, you are so adaptive because enemies are always changing their routines. You always have to adapt and change your training methods.”
Moize, who entered the Marines at 17 and has a high school diploma with some college credits, also brought extensive computer knowledge with him. He has helped develop training programs for nuclear quality assurance and other programs in his year at SRS. He has his eye on a full-time job to support his wife and two children.
According to the U.S. Labor Department, 9 percent of veterans who served since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were unemployed in 2013, about 1.8 percentage points above the national rate for the civilian population.
The expertise of military veterans and their familiarity with government practices make Fort Gordon soldiers ideal candidates for jobs at SRS, said David Hepner, the director of the acquisition operations division. Hepner has supervised several Operation Warfighter interns.
“The amazing thing about these soldiers is they’re ready to rock. You don’t have to give them a lot of direction,” Hepner said.
The soldiers are diligent, highly-skilled workers who want to learn, he said. With the planned U.S. troop drawdown in Afghanistan, Hepner plans to bring more interns into his division.
Terri Harris, a former Army staff sergeant, interned for Hepner using her experience with contracts. Afterward, she began working full time at SRS in April.
“I got to keep the skill set I had in the military. It transitions into civilian life,” she said.
Hepner said he wanted to hire Harris after the first read of her résume. He gave her full work responsibilities almost immediately, unlike an ordinary intern.
Without the program, Harris feared she would have had a stressful job search in the civilian marketplace.
Operation Warfighter also helps injured veterans heal, said Jonathan Ginsberg, a regional coordinator for the Department of Defense program.
“It helps them with the medical part by giving them that rehabilitation. It keeps them engaged, keeps them busy, keeps them constructive,” he said.
Wounded service members in every military branch are eligible for the program, Ginsberg said. The program has built local partnerships with other federal agencies in Augusta and is working to identify more eligible service members.
Moize said the federal government needs to work even harder to ensure veterans find work after deployments. He wants to work to amend law so the Defense Department must guarantee jobs for veterans when they leave the military.