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July 17, 2012
By Nate Herring

TULSA, Okla. (July 17, 2012) -- Several federal agencies met at Keystone State Park in Mannford, Okla., to discuss Operation Warfighter, a Department of Defense federal internship program that places wounded warriors in positions at federal agencies while they are completing their medical board process.

At the meeting, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Tulsa District, which interns several wounded warriors through Operation Warfighter, shared success stories and encouraged other agencies to participate in the program.

"What we're trying to do is spread the word that there are Soldiers out there who may not have exactly what you're looking for but need a transition and have many skills to bring to your agency," said Col. Michael Teague, Tulsa District commander.

The meeting was a partnership between the Tulsa District and the local chapter of the Society of American Military Engineers. They have an objective this year to promote the wounded warrior program and specifically Operation Warfighter.

"The Tulsa District has a unique perspective because we are a U.S. Army organization and we also have great relationships with other federal agencies outside of the military," said Teague. "This is such a beneficial program that takes care of the Soldiers and helps the agencies as well."

Operation Warfighter is open to wounded, injured, or ill active duty, National Guard and Reserve service members from all branches. It is designed to help reintegrate the service member into the community by providing them an internship at federal agencies.

"The program allows for these service members to gain valuable federal work experience that will give them an edge after transitioning out of the military," said Erasmo Valles, Operation Warfighter regional coordinator in San Antonio. "While working with these agencies, the service member will receive training and experience that will be a great addition their resumes and work history and help them in their job search when they transition."

Federal agencies can participate in the program with no cost to the agency since the service member is on military payroll, Valles said.

"The agency gains a service member who is well trained, disciplined and dedicated," he said. "In most cases, these service members can offer a different prospective, and approach to problem solving, managerial methods, and work ethic that will bring a positive effect to the work place."

Bill Smiley, chief of emergency management, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Tulsa District has had three Operation Warfighter Soldiers work in his office.

"They have all been very productive and are especially good at filling the gap in projects between technical and administrative tasks that we find are hard to execute with everything else going on," he said.

While the program doesn't guarantee a permanent position after transitioning out of the program, 30 percent of participants have been accepted into permanent employments after they complete the internship and transition out of the military, said Katie Spencer, acting Operation Warfighter program manager.

Geza Horvath, who works for Smiley in the Tulsa District emergency management office, started the Operation Warfighter program in March 2009 and transitioned into a permanent position in December 2010.

"Working at the corps engaged my mind to pay attention to what I needed to do," he said. Horvath, who spoke at the meeting with federal agencies, enjoys the opportunity to share his story and to tell other wounded warriors about the program.

"It means a lot to me," he said. "Nothing feels better than having another Soldier progress, learn and succeed in the Operation Warfighter program,"

Plans are underway to hold a similar meeting with federal agencies in Oklahoma City in October.