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Thursday, April 24, 2014 - 10:48pm
FORT BLISS — Retired Staff Sgt. Richard Wilson is grateful for a partnership between the Directorate of Emergency Services and the Warrior Transition Battalion.
“Instead of being at home looking for a job and getting stressed out and depressed, I come here and volunteer and it feels like you’re still part of the military,” Wilson said of his volunteer job at the directorate. “That’s what I like about being here.”
Wilson, on terminal leave until May 19, is one of eight Soldiers in the past year who have participated in a program between the Fort Bliss WTB and the Directorate of Emergency Services, said Jessica Ashmore, transition coordinator with Fort Bliss WTB.
The battalion provides medical services and transition planning so wounded Soldiers can rehabilitate and go back to a regular unit or leave the Army and enter a civilian career. The mission of a Soldier in the battalion is to heal.
Wilson said he would like to stay in the Army, but Army officials say it is not possible because of his back. “This is all I know, and I love my job,” he said. “Unfortunately, the Army says you have to get out because of my medical situation.”
Wilson spent 18 years in the Army, but injured his back after years of heavy lifting as a cargo specialist. He came to the battalion when officials determined he could not stay in the Army, and since then, he has worked on leaving.
Wilson heard Sgt. Maj. Michael Barnes of the Directorate of Emergency Services, speak about a partnership between the battalion and the directorate, and asked him about volunteering.
Wilson started volunteering December 2013, and since then, he has spent approximately 30 hours a week dispensing equipment, helping manage the directorate’s fleet of vehicles, inspecting vehicles and bringing vehicles to and from the repair shop.
“Over here, you actually work with civilians and members of the military, and it feels like I’m in the military,” Wilson said. “I feel like I’m at home.”
The work is similar to what he did as a Soldier, Wilson said, and he is keeping his skill set fresh. He is experienced with logistics and would like to get a job on a military post when he leaves the Army.
Ashmore said the program allows Soldiers who plan to stay in the Army keep their skills sharp, while those who plan to leave can learn new skills.
Barnes said Wilson has done an excellent job working with the directorate, and he is glad the directorate has made volunteer positions available to help transitioning Soldiers.
Ashmore said that although Wilson works with military police, the program includes the fire department as well.
Although Soldiers who work with the fire department cannot assist in putting out fires because they are not certified, they can get a taste of the work and see if it is something they would like to pursue further.
Also, the partnership with the directorate is one of many battalion officials have developed, Ashmore said.
On post, WTB also has partnerships with Brigade Modernization Command, the Network Enterprise Center, the Directorate of Mobilization and Deployment and Signal of Excellence, Ashmore said.
Off post, the battalion has partnerships with the Operation War Fighter Program, as well as the U.S. Marshall, the U.S. Border Patrol, U.S. Customs, the Bureau of Land Management, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“Our Soldiers have a lot of opportunity before they leave, and a lot of them come out having great jobs or a good foundation to start off with,” Ashmore said.
The length of time Soldiers volunteer with agencies depends on how long they are with the program. Soldiers who are leaving the Army for medical reasons can be with the battalion for more than a year. The battalion also helps Soldiers with education goals and finding a job, Ashmore said.
For instance, the Soldier and Family Assistance Center has vocational rehabilitation counselors, Army Career and Alumni Program counselors, Texas Veterans Commission representatives and Wounded Warrior Project representatives, Ashmore said, and all are there to help Soldiers.
Since Soldiers in the battalion are still Soldiers and have obligations such as formations and training, volunteer hours are usually between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., Ashmore said.
Wilson said he leaves his volunteer job at 3 p.m. and goes to the gym, before the after-work crowds arrive. “Even though I’m leaving the Army, I still need to stay in shape,” he said.
In addition to the program with the directorate, Wilson said he is also grateful for the battalion staff. They work hard to find Soldiers jobs and education opportunities, he said.
“They are really helping the Soldiers that need to be helped,” Wilson said. “I’m glad there’s a WTB in the Army for people like us.”