Sandia LabNews

Sandia hiring program helps wounded veterans get back in the game

Caption: Cheston Bailon on patrol in Iraq in 2005 . . . and at Sandia today.	(Photo by Randy Montoya)

Cheston Bailon of Shiprock, N.M., was the first injured veteran hired under Sandia’s Wounded Warrior Career Development Program. Bailon was a U.S. Marine deployed to Iraq and now works at Sandia in information technology. (Photo on left courtesy of Cheston Bailon; photo on right by Randy Montoya)

 Combat veterans often return with wounds — some visible, some not.

Sandia has launched a hiring program with the simple goal of helping those wounded warriors get into the workforce and develop career-based skills and experience.

“We want to give back to those who have given so much to our country,” says James Peery, director of Information Systems Analysis Center 5600 and champion of Sandia’s Wounded Warrior Career Development Program (WWCP). “They’ve earned the right to work here.”

The program helps combat-injured veterans catch up to their peers who entered the civilian workforce, not the military. “It can be hard for someone who’s been in the infantry or behind a rifle to develop technical skills and a resume,” says H.E. Walter II (4232-1), a co-chair of the Wounded Warrior Working Group, part of Sandia’s Military Support Committee. “They are trained, experienced leaders, but their skills don’t always translate into a civilian resume.”

The WWCP opens specific required jobs at the Labs only to military veterans injured in combat. Successful applicants are hired for a term of one to three years with the potential for permanent employment. An applicant can be out of the military for any length of time. And a college degree is not required, but those hired are expected to pursue higher education while working at Sandia.

“We are looking for highly motivated people who want to continue serving the nation and national security and have a passion to continue to improve themselves in skills and education,” James says. “Through their job, they gain training and experience while making contributions to national security.”

People to identify with

A key component of the program is mentorship. Wounded Warrior hires are assigned executive, technical, and veteran mentors who help them adjust to the civilian workforce and to Sandia, and steer them toward the work they really want to do. Mentors serve as role models and peers the veterans can learn from and identify with. “The executive is there for career counseling, the technical to get skills up to speed, and the veteran to help with assimilation to civilian life,” James says. “It helps to have someone who’s been there.”

The mentee “graduates” in one year to become a mentor to new Wounded Warrior hires, but still has access to mentors. “You never really lose your mentors,” H.E. says. “Once in the program, always in the program. There are all kinds of additional roles to be a part of.”

Four people have been hired so far, in Orgs. 90, 5300, and 5600. Three more hires are in the pipeline, in Orgs. 2900, 4020, and 9300.

The program is modeled after one at Oracle that James learned about at an October 2010 Sandia Fall Leadership Forum. Oracle’s Bud Langston talked about their program’s focus on helping wounded veterans who joined the military after high school catch up with their peers who went to college. “They lost ground because they served our country,” James says. “It was quite moving. I was sitting there and could sense that this was something Paul Hommert would get behind.”

After getting a green light from Paul, a Wounded Warrior working group in 2011 began the process of emulating the Oracle program with a Sandia flavor.

Hiring managers, volunteers needed

 The WWCP is looking Labs-wide for hiring managers who will sponsor an injured combat veteran with a real job need, and executives, members of the workforce, and veterans who can be mentors. Today more than 20 people volunteer their time to the program in some capacity.

“We’re constantly looking for more veterans, especially those with combat experience,” H.E. says. “We try to match up the mentee and mentor with the best possible fit, so it’s very important to have as broad a pool as possible.”

Hiring managers and volunteers can contact James or H.E. for information. Wounded veterans interested in working at Sandia can go to the website, click on “View All Jobs” and enter the keyword “Wounded.” That will bring up current Wounded Warrior job openings.

James envisions bringing six to 10 combat-injured veterans to Sandia each year. “For every hour I put into this program, the Wounded Warriors give me 10 back,” he says. “These are people who have faced a bullet, likely lost buddies, and survived horrific conditions. They bring to us incredible passion, loyalty, honor, commitment, sacrifice, integrity, and maturity beyond their years.

“They bring a presence unlike most people, having gone through that experience of serving our country without question and putting their lives on the line every day. They get up every day and want to do more. I’m inspired by their desire to get back in the game. We have so much to learn from them.”