Combat Veterans Lindsey Kibler and Gabrielle Holcomb hold photographs from their service in the US Army at the New Mexico Veterans’ Memorial Park in Albuquerque. Lindsey and Gabrielle are the first two women to participate in Sandia’s hiring program for combat-injured veterans. (Photo by Randy Montoya)
First women join Sandia hiring program for combat-injured veterans
When we consider US service members in combat, putting their lives on the line, what are the first images that come to mind?
“When my husband and I are out, people assume that he is the veteran, and I’m the Army wife,” says Gabrielle Holcomb, a quality assurance specialist at Sandia and an Iraq war veteran. “It is so common now that I am used to it. Most people expect that if someone is a veteran, they are a man.”
Sandia recently added the first two women veterans into its Wounded Warrior Career Development Program (WWCDP), a staffing platform that specializes in hiring combat-injured veterans into positions at the Laboratories. Gabrielle was the first woman to join, followed by Lindsey Kibler, an emergency public information coordinator and a veteran of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. WWCDP offers injured veterans opportunities to acquire practical skills through job training and executive-level mentoring at Sandia. The goal is to facilitate a smooth and successful transition from military to civilian careers. Veterans typically are hired for limited term employment of one to three years and are expected to pursue advanced-level college degrees.
Organizers of Sandia’s WWCDP say they are excited about the new trend they are seeing of more women veterans in the hiring program.
“We really want to recruit more women,” says WWCDP co-lead H.E. Walter II, an Air Force veteran and an information security specialist at Sandia who helped launch the program in 2010. “It is important that women veterans know this opportunity is available to them.”
According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, 9 percent of American veterans are women, making up about 2 million of the nation’s 21.9 million veterans.
Sandia’s Wounded Warrior Career Development Program is the only staffing initiative of its kind among the 17 DOE laboratories. “I think we are leading the way for other national labs to consider doing these kinds of programs,” says H.E.
“These individuals have sacrificed so much for our nation. They bring leadership, integrity, and that mentality of national security and national service that contributes to the missions at Sandia. This is one way we can show our combat-injured veterans, if you are willing to work for us, there are programs that can assist you,” says H.E.
WWCDP has 26 participants with many more applicants waiting to be hired into positions across the Labs. The big challenges, organizers say, are increasing manager awareness about the program and identifying existing positions at Sandia to bring on more veterans.
“The key for this program continuing to succeed is for hiring managers at Sandia knowing about it, and being willing to sponsor combat-injured veterans. Right now we have at least 35 people on the waiting list. We need more managers to say, I am willing to do this,” says H.E.
Warrior Gabrielle Holcomb
Gabrielle “Gabby” Holcomb joined the Army Reserves at 17. She moved around a lot growing up, and she says she learned about disabilities early because both her mother and father are handicapped. An eager student and the eldest child, she felt a military career offered a solid support system. “I knew I was going to need a job right out of high school where I could support myself and continue my education,” she says.
Gabrielle entered the Army as a civil affairs sergeant, where, she says, “I was intrigued to have an opportunity to make a difference and to help people.”
Gabrielle spent nearly 18 months in Sadr City, Iraq, from 2005-2006, where she helped create a women’s shelter. “We offered counseling and a place for local women to go if they needed help, or to get away. Our services were there to gain the trust of the Iraqi people.”
She worked in a combat role in the 448th Civil Affairs Battalion, which fell under a Special Forces group operating out of Baghdad. Gabrielle says, “Women bring a lot of skills to the military. There are fewer of us, but we are still a force to be reckoned with.”
While in combat, Gabrielle suffered multiple head injuries. Three were close encounters with explosives. “Each time I was hit in the head by various objects, I received a concussion. I experienced several concussions in a short period of time, leading to a traumatic brain injury.”
The disabilities she has learned to cope with since then include speech issues, memory loss, extreme anxiety, and headaches.
Gabrielle received an Employee Recognition Award for her exceptional work in the counterfeit program.
“Having disabilities does not mean that I will not be an outstanding employee,” Gabrielle says. “I work hard to prove myself and I always strive to do the best job possible.”
Gabrielle says the Wounded Warrior Career Development Program has set her up for career success. “The mentors I work with have really helped guide me along the way.”
Gabrielle holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and project management from Colorado Technical University. She plans to pursue a master’s degree in business administration and is considering a degree in engineering. She and her husband Travis have a 5-year-old son, Tyler, and a baby girl due in June.
Warrior Lindsey Kibler
Albuquerque native Lindsey Kibler is a single mom to son Azrael, age 8, and a veteran of two wars. She served as an Army public affairs specialist for nine years with combat deployments to Iraq (2009-2010) and Afghanistan (2011-2012). She was awarded the Purple Heart for injuries sustained during her second deployment while embedded with a battalion from the 25th Infantry Division.
“People call it your alive day,” she explains, recalling her ill-fated day in Afghanistan. “It’s the day you should have died, but you didn’t. Mine was Oct. 24, 2011.”
Lindsey was working near a combat outpost in a volatile area of southern Afghanistan when an 82 millimeter mortar shell, launched from a shoulder-fired weapon, landed less than 10 feet in front of her. The blast whipped her backwards, resulting in a traumatic brain injury and ruptured discs.
Lindsey now lives with numerous invisible disabilities, including brain and spinal injuries, PTSD, and debilitating migraines.
She says that despite everything she went through in war, “I really loved my job in the military. I joined because I wanted to be able to say, I have served my country. There is never going to be a brotherhood or sisterhood quite like there is in the service.”
One week after separating from the military with honors including the Meritorious Service Medal, Lindsey was hired by Sandia as an emergency public information coordinator.
“The transition I had from military to civilian life was honestly really hard,” she says. “But to come to an organization that emphasizes health and wellness, national service, and teamwork, I don’t think I could have found a better or more supportive place to work straight out of the military.”
Lindsey says while looking for employment, she didn’t find any better fit than the position she has at Sandia. With experience in crisis communications, the job in emergency public information was a near-perfect match.
Today she is a strong advocate for veterans, a member of Sandia’s Military Support Committee, and a participant in Sandia’s Wounded Warrior Career Development Program.
“Here is an organization that accepts us — wounded warriors — just as we are. There are so many benefits to this program. The biggest one for me is knowing that I have other people who can understand some of the things that I have been through,” Lindsey says.
“From my mentors and managers at Sandia, I am reassured that people here believe in me, and want me to succeed.”
Lindsey holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and cultural anthropology from St. Martin’s University. Looking ahead, she is considering pursuing a master’s degree in public relations or corporate communications.