Wounded Warriors Welcome at the Exchange

MEDIA CONTACT: Lt. Col. Thomas Shrader
MEDIA ADVISORY: 11-049
RELEASE DATE: October 12, 2011

WACO – Staff Sgt. Shad Fowler was on a patrol in Iraq when an IED detonated nearby and changed his life forever.  After being medically evacuated, he recovered and remained on active duty.  Fowler said that after that, “I ended up deploying two more times to Iraq, and when I came back this time, my body kind of gave out on me.”

Fowler is now going through physical therapy and at the same time participating in an internship program where he works at the Army & Air Force Exchange Service’s Waco Distribution Center, a facility which ships more than $745 million of goods annually to Exchange facilities throughout the central United States.

The Exchange supports wounded or injured warriors by participating in Operation Warfighter.  According to the DoD website:  “Operation Warfighter (OWF) is a Federal internship program for wounded, ill, and injured Service members. The main objective of OWF is to place servicemembers in supportive work settings that positively impact their recuperation.” 

The program provides an opportunity for transitioning Service members to augment their employment readiness as they build their resumes, explore employment interests, develop job skills, experience formal and on-the-job training opportunities as well as gain valuable work experience.

“The way the program works is troops who are going through treatment get to participate in an internship to learn a marketable skill,” said the Exchange’s Chief of Organizational Development and Recruiting, Chris Haefner. “The idea is to help prepare them for the time when they leave the service. With the Exchange being a $10 billion-a-year business, we can offer some unique training opportunities.”

The Exchange’s Wounded Warrior program is currently operating in two places, but will grow in the future, particularly in locations underserved by other federal agencies.

“Right now at the Exchange our OWF program is in its infancy,” said Haefner. “We have two locations with fully operational programs: Fort Hood and the Waco Distribution Center.  We are planning to expand into several more locations, including:  Joint Base San Antonio, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Fort Drum, Fort Riley, and our Newport News Distribution Center.” 

The Exchange has placed five personnel in the program, all with highly successful results for both sides. The organization works to place personnel in fields they are interested in or that they already have some background in. 

“We had one person working in our FMO (Field Management Office) and another in our admin office at Fort Hood,” said Haefner. “We placed another service member, Staff Sgt. David Shaw, in our LP department, which is similar to the work a store detective or security agent would perform.”

“This is an opportunity of a lifetime,” said Shaw. “Getting wounded takes something from you and you feel that with a disability, you can’t perform. Operation Warfighter places you in an environment where you can show yourself and others that you can still be the best.”

Fowler, who previously served as a battalion motor sergeant with the 1st Cavalry Division, works in the Waco Distribution Center maintenance department inputting records and checking the readiness status on long-haul trucks.  He said, “It’s a very welcoming environment down here.  I do recommend this program. It’s a very good program for wounded Soldiers.”

What advice would Haefner give to wounded warriors?

“Every Warrior Transition Brigade or WTB has a transition coordinator in charge of the internship program,” said Haefner. “I would advise all wounded or injured warriors to talk with their coordinator and check out this program.  You might just find the job of a lifetime.”

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The Army & Air Force Exchange Service is a joint command and is directed by a Board of Directors which is responsible to the Secretaries of the Army and the Air Force through the Service Chiefs of Staff. The Exchange has the dual mission of providing authorized patrons with articles of merchandise and services and generating non-appropriated fund earnings as a supplemental source of funding for military Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) programs. To find out more about the Exchange history and mission or to view recent press releases please visit our Web site at http://www.shopmyexchange.com.

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Media Notes:  For more information or to schedule an interview with an Exchange representative please contact Lt. Col. Tom Shrader at 214-312-2753 or shraderte@aafes.com.