By Amy Guckeen Tolson, USAG Redstone March 26, 2014
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- All it takes is one item.
A pen, notepad, office furniture, even bottled water -- if every office, command and company purchased just one item from their supply list each year from Industries for the Blind Inc., it could help put a stop to unemployment among the country's wounded warrior population.
Known nationally for providing employment for the visually impaired, Industries for the Blind, an authorized AbilityOne provider, has branched out their mission to now include the nation's wounded warriors.
"When you pick up the phone to order your mandated items -- pens, pencils, whatever it is -- you're hiring a wounded warrior," said Dr. David Godbold, national director of the Wounded Warrior Supply Program, who visited Huntsville last week to share the program's story with Redstone Arsenal tenants and local companies. "It's amazing. One pen, if you ordered $200,000 of them a year, you're looking at almost four or five jobs."
As the largest employer of blind and handicapped in the world, according to Godbold, it makes perfect sense to include the nation?'s wounded warriors in the nonprofit's mission. Under the Javits-Wagner-O'Day Act, government purchase card holders and federal employees are required to purchase supplies from an AbilityOne nonprofit agency, provided the supplies are available. Today, each dollar raised by Industries for the Blind purchases goes directly to hiring the men and women who have given so much for their country.
"This is a really good program," Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Kyle Crump said. "Having been the command sergeant major of the Warrior Transition Brigade at Fort Hood (Texas), I know how important it is for these service men and women -- warriors -- to get a job, to feel that they're part of a family and a team again, and not just sit around at home. What's so great about this program and initiative is that the paper and pens and markers are already on every installation, and we're purchasing them already. To gain a worker, a wounded warrior, who can come in and work with the organization or on the installation, it's a great plus for the Soldier family and asset to the organization."
Based in Milwaukee, Wis., the Wounded Warrior Supply Program works with wounded warrior battalions to identify wounded warriors across the country, and then takes them through the interview process to determine the right type of position for them, before placing them with one of the 671 AbilityOne agencies, or with other companies looking to hire wounded warriors. Currently the program has hired 3,500 wounded warriors; 27,000 are approved and waiting for a job to open up.
"We have to take these young people and rebuild them, give them a job and a purpose," Godbold said.
The program did exactly that for Jonathan Hurley, coordinator for the program. Wounded in Iraq in 2004 with the Marine Corps, even with two bachelor's degrees and two years of searching, it was hard for Hurley to find a job.
"I was denied time after time for the government positions I applied for, for everything I applied for, and I was not applying for director positions or any of the high ups, I was willing to go to the bottom level, anywhere that you could hire me," Hurley said. "Due to my disabilities from Iraq I couldn't work construction and I couldn't do a lot of other things, so that put me out of the running for manual labor positions. It was very, very hard to find employment."
Referred to the program by his wounded warrior transition coordinator, Hurley counts the job offer to become the Wounded Warrior Supply Program coordinator in the top three moments of his life. Today, he's helping other men and women just like himself experience that same joy of finding work.
"I know exactly what they go through," Hurley said. "I've been through all the downs and all the ups. It's a wild ride and it sometimes can be low. Ever since I became a wounded warrior, I've always been involved in every organization I can get my hands on that helps us out. The employment opportunities for this program are huge."
While it's the wounded warriors who get the jobs, the companies that employ them also reap the benefits, according to Godbold and Hurley, who described the wounded warriors' work ethic as second to none.
"They work every day harder than you can imagine," said Godbold, who is on the road constantly sharing the good news about the program. "These are college graduates, military trained, who have a work ethic that's hard to find. They're there every day, working early, working late, and they?'re starving for it. They served their country and they've done everything they were supposed to do. Now it?'s our time to do what we need to do."
Hurley agreed, and who would know better than a wounded warrior himself.
"They want to move up, they're ambitious, they want to go farther, it's a career position for them, they want to move up," Hurley said. "It's not just for the warm and fuzzies, it's because it's a great investment. You have a worker there who's going to be there 20 to 30 years, and who you can depend on to be there 20 minutes early. It makes my job that much easier when I hear good things back, because more companies want to hire."
For more information about the program, visit www.woundedwarriorsupply.com.