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Wounded Warrior Civilian Transition Success Story

by Heidi Lynn Russell, Contributing Editor

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It was October 30, 2011. A roadside bomb in Afghanistan had just severely injured Marine 1st Lt. Jake Dobberke, taking both legs below the knees, breaking his left elbow, tearing his left knee and giving him a mild concussion. For the next year, then-Lt. Dobberke underwent therapy at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center before exiting the service with rank of Captain.

wounded warrior civilian transition success storyCapt. Dobberke was a logistics officer in the Marine Corps, who was advising Afghan forces at the time of his injury. So when he finally was ready to job hunt, he adopted the Marines’ results-oriented attitude to his transition. His logic worked magic on his job search. In February 2013, with the help of Bradley-Morris’ Marine Officer Recruiter, Matt Underhill, he started working full-time as Production Manager for LeJeune Steel Co. of Minneapolis, a subsidiary of APi Companies and part of APi’s leadership development program. He handles projects that range from employee training to efficiency in the shop.

As for his injuries? Dobberke gets around the steel manufacturing operation on prosthetic legs, and one of his personal goals is to jog a mile.

“It’s a matter of playing the cards you’re dealt the best way you can. I was fortunate with my injuries in the sense that my surgeries went well, and recovery went well. But like with anyone, there are some roadblocks around the way,” he says.

Finding a job outside the military is doable for wounded veterans, but, “It’s a matter of perseverance and breaking down things that are hard to do into more things that you can accomplish over a period of time,” Dobberke says. Here are tips from him and others who have their own wounded warrior civilian transition success story.

Take time to decide which employer traits are most important to you. wounded warrior civilian transition success storyWhen Dobberke worked with the Marine Officer Recruiter from Bradley-Morris, some potential jobs were not in his desired Midwest location, but they met his other criteria for employers. “I still did the interviews and tried to see if the other things I was looking for matched up with their business. So I didn’t just focus on geography. I asked myself whether they had the other values and the position I wanted to do,” he says.

He interviewed with six companies and accepted a position in a rotational program with APi. Ironically, the first subsidiary in the rotation was in Minneapolis - and its culture matched up with Dobberke’s personal style.

“It has a very good group of folks, and the way they do business, they have ethics and values. They don’t take advantage of people. These are basic things that I grew up with and that I applied in the Marines. It is a good company culture,” Dobberke says.

“Don’t shut the doors when they’re really not locked,” says Michael Negron, a former Army Sgt. Major. He now is working as a military pay technician for the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) at Fort Campbell.

Negron suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. He had two year-long deployments to Iraq and one year-long deployment to Afghanistan and served as a combat engineer for 21 years.

Negron found his current position through a Hire a Hero program at Fort Campbell’s Warrior Transition Unit. He says too many wounded veterans ignore opportunities because they think they aren’t qualified. Recently, the DFAS asked him to attend a job fair to share his personal success story with job hunters. He was shocked at their response.

“The feedback was, ‘I can’t do that.’ They didn’t have a finance background. I say, ‘Hey! I didn’t, either!’” he says. “Don’t be limited in your job hunt to what you’re doing now. You have basic competencies. With any job, you will have some type of job training. You can get in on an internship or on-the-job training. Therefore, when a position becomes available, you are afforded the opportunity to work.”

And be willing to start at the bottom, Negron says. “I had to be humble. Your experience only goes so far,” he says, adding that with time, you’ll move forward in your career. “I know my work ethic, and in time, I’ll be promoted. Get in the door first; then opportunities will be there.”

Realize your military training is a strength in your favor, says Timothy Wanke, an Army Sgt. who exited after nine years this March. He was injured during the latter part of a year-long deployment to Iraq in June 2011, and has suffered from Traumatic Brain Injury.

He’s now a biomedical engineer for Steris Healthcare Corp. “When you go to the doctor’s office, anything plugged in the wall that touches you, we calibrate and maintain that equipment - this is anything you hook up to a human being to make sure you’re getting the right type of reading: anesthesia units, defibrillators, radiology,” he explains.

Wanke went through a year-long Army training program to gain the biomedical engineering skill and did that job while in Iraq for a combat support hospital. Like Negron, he worked with the Warrior Transition Unit at Fort Campbell to make the transition into a civilian job.

“I’m making substantially more than what I was making as a sergeant, and that tends to be helpful,” he says.

Dobberke notes that, even if you are starting a job with little skill training, you can still draw from your military experiences to master a sharp learning curve.

“All the things we do in the Marines are largely training-based. A lot of training is already established as guidelines. You put your spin on it to make it applicable to deployments and the new war environments that we find ourselves in,” Dobberke says.

“A lot of junior leaders on both the enlisted and officer sides get a lot of experience organizing and providing instruction for others. So many of those skills come in handy - putting programs together from scratch, applying the way we do things in the military, and providing structure and a routine.”

Heidi Lynn Russell writes about employment and business issues.


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