FORT HOOD, Texas, Sept. 21, 2011 -- Spc. Alfred Newman feels at home at the Olin E. Teague Veterans' Medical Center, part of the Department of Veterans Affairs in Temple, Texas. He is one of the many Warrior Transition Brigade Soldiers from Fort Hood taking part in Operation Warfighter internships at Department of Defense organizations around the state.
Newman, who is currently assigned to Company C, 1st Battalion, WTB, is interning in the human resources department of the VA.
"It was a fit for me. Prior to coming to the military, I worked in an office setting," he said. "I knew from my experience that I had to prepare myself to get back into the workforce. For me, it's all about preparation."
Newman didn't follow the "traditional" path into the Army. But he felt called to join when then-President George W. Bush announced the surge in Iraq, so Newman entered the Army in 2007.
"I came in when I was 41," he said with a laugh. "I turned 42 in basic (training). You have to want to do this, and I was a guy who wanted to do this. I wanted to do something challenging."
Newman deployed to Camp Taji, Iraq in 2008 with the 404th Aviation Support Battalion. While deployed, he sustained some serious injuries, one while rendering aid to another Soldier. Although serious, the injuries didn't impact his ability to perform his job and he finished the deployment with the unit.
He came to the WTB in May 2010 and while his medical issues were being resolved he began looking toward his future. He heard about the internship program, dusted off his resume and interviewed for the position at the VA. After a few months in the position, Newman believes he's found his future career.
"I like what I do," he said. "It's something that I will do when I transition out. First, (I'm going to) go to school, finish out my degree -- and then, human resources."
His supervisor, Houston Johnson, a human resources specialist at the Temple VA said Newman is an excellent fit at the office.
"It's been a pleasure having the program," he said. "For me personally, being a veteran and a disabled veteran myself, to see them (the WTB interns) come in, just to watch these guys grow is great."
Newman takes care of a variety of tasks in the office, including personnel action reports and aiding the human resources specialists with their paperwork. He's done the work so well he's even been mistaken for a new employee.
Johnson said he's not surprised Newman has done so well. He said the Soldiers' work, especially on the personnel actions has improved the productivity of the entire department.
"With our personnel shortages and some of the slowdowns in the hiring with the budget, we're short a lot of positions," he said. "Some things you have to put on the back burner but it's very important you get these (personnel action reports) in a timely manner."
Newman said the internship doesn't just give him a job; it gives him a path forward to the rest of his life, and that's helped him professionally, emotionally and physically.
"Being through the WTB you're given the opportunity to heal," Newman said. "And I think one of things of healing at the WTB is being able to challenge yourself, being able to get into programs such as this one that can heal you not only physically but mentally.
"Being here has helped me get back to the real world," he added. "I'm just trying to get back to my own self and being able to relate to each individual."
Anthony Thomas, the WTB transition coordinator said he's excited about the future of the program at the VA.
"I appreciate Mister Johnson and what the VA has done to bring our Soldiers in here, because it's been a great opportunity," he said. It's an opportunity that Thomas hopes will only continue to grow and develop.
"The program and what VA offer here for our Soldiers is tremendous and I'm looking to expand not just at the VA in Temple, but at other VAs in the Austin and Waco areas," he said. "There's a value of having Soldiers come in and learn those unique specialties and skills."
Johnson said HR and other directorates at the VA are enthusiastic about the program and hope to bring more wounded warriors in as well.
"We want you at the VA," he said. "A lot of the skills that Soldiers learn make them excellent employees. They have that discipline. They have that teamwork and they understand that mission. This has made us really look at how we're doing business and really grow too. We're excited about it."
Eventually, once he transitions from the military, Newman hopes to head to the capitol area and continue on his life goals. He said the internship through Operation Warfighter has given him a clearer picture of what his future may include.
"I know what I can do and I think once I do transition out, this (the VA) is where I want to be," he said. "It is helping people, so this is what I want to do."