Warrior in transition finds success as Army civilian
November 20, 2009
FORT RILEY, Kan. - Former Army Capt. Erik Stewart characterized his time in the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Riley as long.
Stewart was in the WTB for about 16 months, and he advises other warriors in transition not to rush the process.
"Make sure you're healthy and as whole as you can be," Stewart said. "It's all about your attitude. If you have a positive attitude and you work with the doctors, it goes well."
Stewart, 38, from Wakefield, Kan., currently on leave, saw his more than 19-year Army career officially end on Nov. 18. He has a promising future ahead of him working for the Directorate of Plans, Mobilization, Training and Security as an emergency management specialist.
Stewart uses his 15 years of experience as a military police officer and four years as an engineer in his new job.
"It kind of relates to what we're doing up there. There's some stuff I'm still learning, but the emergency management aspect of it, it works out," he said.
A married father of four, Stewart spent a lot of time looking before he landed the GS-12 civil service position.
"I had no idea how to navigate USAjobs or (civilian personnel online) and that," he said. "In the Army you get orders; you show up. You don't have to bring your accomplishments with you. You don't have to worry about that in the military. That was stressful."
His civilian job has him preparing emergency management plans and, if necessary, assisting in emergency response. He is in charge of Fort Riley's Ready Army program and "H1N1 is my baby right now," he said.
One of the advantages of working as a civilian is having more time at home.
"No more deployments and no more alerts. (You) come home every weekend and every night," he said.
The dynamic is different having come from an Army unit. There's not that camaraderie that you have in a unit. It doesn't feel like it does when you're in a unit."
Stewart was wounded in the tenth month of his third deployment by an improvised explosive device. For a while he tried to tough it out, he said.
"I got to where I was trying to get in and out of a vehicle and I couldn't do it, and I was in pain all the time - my back, my groin, my head and my arm. I was having trouble holding on to my rifle and I couldn't wear my gear without my back or my groin hurting. I was having trouble concentrating," he said.
He was sent through Landstuhl, Germany, back to Fort Riley where he was assigned to the Warrior Transition Battalion.
"I was like, 'OK, this is our next step.' (I was) scared at first because I've been doing this since high school. When I first got there, I was just going to appointments and that was okay at first because I had been gone for like 39 months with deployment, home, deployment, home. Then I realized I was bored; I needed to find something to do," Stewart said.
He tried to take college classes, but ended up having to withdraw three times because he said he couldn't focus and study. Stewart completed an unpaid internship with a local nature center and looked into a welding program at a local technical college. His wife mentioned looking for a job on Fort Riley, so he began to learn about applying for civil service positions.
After he interviewed for the position at DPTMS, he said, he expected to wait several weeks to hear anything. He was selected for the position the following day, and he has been on the civilian payroll since September.
He advises other warriors in transition to make a plan, including financial plans, for what they need to have and where they will be in three months and out to five years.
"They can't just (say) 'I'm going to get out and live at my folks' house, or I'm going to move home.' That's not a plan," he said.
But before they make the plan for the end of their career in the Army, he said, he wants Soldiers to have gotten all the help they need.
"Don't get out just to get away from it all," Stewart said.
He said he wants warriors in transition to take a step back when everything seems overwhelming.
"It's easy to get caught up in 'woe is me,' and it's easy to go to the dark, depressed place. Take a big problem and break it down. It's like a wall, but if you take it down a brick at a time, eventually the wall's gone," Stewart said.