Wounded warrior blazes trail at Waco Exchange Distro Center
September 9, 2011
FORT HOOD, Texas, Sept. 9, 2011 -- Staff Sgt. Shad Fowler enlisted in the Army on his 18th birthday and planned to spend the next 20 years defending the nation. All seemed to be going to plan until 2004 when Fowler was on a dismounted patrol in Iraq and an improvised explosive device detonated near him.
He was medically evacuated because of his significant injuries, but managed to rehabilitate and remain on active duty.
"Back then, there wasn't a WTB (Warrior Transition Brigade), so we stayed with the unit," he said. "I ended up deploying two more times to Iraq, and when I came back this time, my body kind of gave out on me."
But by 2010, things had changed and there was more of an emphasis on making sure wounded warriors had a chance to transition from the military to the civilian world. So the WTB became Fowler's new unit.
As part of his rehab and transition, he began an internship in May. Through Operation Warfighter, a Department of Defense internship program for wounded warriors, Fowler now works at the Exchange Distribution Center near Waco while he continues his rehab and transition from the military.
Fowler works with the transportation maintenance program where he keeps track of vital information about the fleet of more than 120 tractor trailers at the site, which transport goods to Exchange stores all over the U.S.
"It's a very welcoming environment down here," Fowler said. "I do recommend this program. It's a very good program for wounded Soldiers."
He's been welcomed with open arms by the civilians he works with, as well.
"He does a great job. He's really helping out," Ronald Willis, the distribution center fleet manager, said. "He just fits right in. You have a lot of veterans here, so we understand the situation. You kind of have your hero, working right here with us."
Because of Fowler's maintenance background -- he was previously a battalion motor sergeant with the 1st Cavalry Division -- he not only works with the maintenance computer system and tracking program, but occasionally stops out on the floor and looks at the work being done on the long-haul trucks.
"I know the guys ask him questions because of his maintenance background," Willis said with a laugh.
"What he brings to the table is very valuable," he added.
Anthony Thomas, the WTB transition coordinator, said Fowler is the first WTB Soldier from Fort Hood to work at the Waco center and is paving the way for future Soldiers to follow in his footsteps.
"It's been a great experience just having Soldiers work at the Exchange," Thomas said. "The opportunity that the Soldiers get it's a great vehicle for the Soldiers to come here and get that training. For some of them, it just makes their mind up about what they want to do when they get out."
Fowler admitted that he thought his entire future was planned out in the military. He said after his first injury in 2004 he was terrified at the thought of leaving the Army.
"I fought to stay in because back then there was no Warrior Transition Brigade," he said. "Pretty much it was you're hurt, you're out."
He said that with the internship, he sees a light at the end of the tunnel.
"It helps me transition out," he added. "I don't lose, at one time, everything that I built for 10 years."
Thomas said the WTB internship continues to expand at Fort Hood and across the Army.
"Operation Warfighter is such a success, not just at Fort Hood but all over," he said. "It really gives them (the wounded warriors) a sense that they're giving something back."