FORT RILEY, Kan. - Fort Riley's Warrior Internship Network is well into its pilot stage. The WIN program, a home-grown concept developed at Fort Riley, focuses on Soldiers in the Warrior Transition Battalion to find them job internships within the Greater Fort Riley Community.

The WIN is a cooperative effort between the Soldier and Family Assistance Center, Irwin Army Community Hospital, the WTB and the Welcome Home to Heroes Foundation in Junction City, Kan. Soldiers in the WIN are placed as unpaid interns in approved businesses to experience different vocations and give them practical experience in securing employment-a tool for Soldiers who plan to exit military service.

Soldiers with an interest in the WIN program begin their various screenings at the SFAC. They are administered the Campbell Interest and Skill Survey. The CISS measures individual's attraction for specific occupational areas, and provides an estimate of the individual's confidence to perform various occupational activities.

Simultaneous to the CISS, the Soldiers are screened by an occupational therapist and must undergo several levels of command endorsement before being approved for the WIN. Once the Soldiers are approved, and their vocations have been identified, they are considered for business placement.

The prospective businesses and work sites also undergo screenings by the WHHF and OT technicians. "The workplaces and the Soldiers have to be mutually right for each other," said Tom Kelly, guidance counselor for the SFAC. "The businesses must be safe, ergonomically sound and provide a positive work experience based upon a good match with a Soldier intern," Kelly said.

Placement into prospective businesses requires a memorandum of understanding between the business and the WIN director. The MOU outlines a two-week immersion period at the start of an internship, with weekly evaluations. The businesses may have to consider the Soldiers' physical or mental capabilities, social interaction and communication levels. The MOU also covers work scheduling, duration of the internship, background checks and the Soldier's medical appointment schedules.

Some of the current business vocations in the network in the Greater Fort Riley Community are construction engineering; bio-medical maintenance and medical receiving; fitness programs and massage therapy; motorcycle, automobile and airplane mechanics; automated billing; wildlife conservation and management; and broadcast and radio operations.

The WIN is different from the Army Career and Alumni Program in that Soldiers employ their skills in resume writing and interviewing and actually go to work. The program is meant to reduce the level of uncertainty and stress associated with exiting the military.

"The WIN provides a mutually positive opportunity for the Soldiers and the community," said Col. Lee Merritt, commander of Fort Riley's WTB. "This is Fort Riley stepping out to do right by our injured and ill Soldiers, and this benefits the Greater Fort Riley Community by putting valuable Soldier skills, experience and discipline assets into the local business community," he said.

There currently are 53 Soldiers interested in the WIN; 31 have begun the screening and endorsement process and seven have been placed in job-shadow internships. The WHHF and WIN director are engaged in negotiations with 36 businesses that have specific interest in providing intern opportunities for Soldiers.

"Getting the program off the ground has been a work in progress," Merritt said. "We worked with legal advisors to address workers' compensation insurance for the Soldiers while also protecting the businesses. There are also overhead costs incurred by the Welcome Home to Heroes Foundation, and Greater Fort Riley Community businesses have made the contributions to make this program work," Merritt said.

"This is the best thing the Army has ever done," said Sgt. John Iaukea, a tank mechanic who interns at Geary Community Hospital. Iaukea also said that filling his days with productive, meaningful work is much better than dwelling on his injuries and reduced physical abilities.

First Lt. Mike Stewart, who has 17 years in the Army, said he considers the WIN program invaluable for young Soldiers who have never experienced anything other than the U.S. Army. "They have the opportunity to explore other career fields and make career adjustments, and still have the Army to fall back on," Stewart said.