Wounded Warrior Track Program
When our military men and women come home from serving in other countries, especially if they have been in a war zone, they face many hurdles. Transitioning to non-military life, finding a job and rebuilding relationships are just a few of the major changes many service personnel have to navigate. Many face physical injuries that require medical care for a long time – maybe forever. But many times, their injuries are invisible. Employers, families and friends may not recognize that invisible traumas are just as difficult to treat as the physical ones and that can be devastating for returning heroes and their families.
Fortunately, that’s when the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) TRACK program steps in. The TRACK program is the first education center in the nation specifically for Wounded Warriors with facilities located in Jacksonville, Florida and San Antonio, Texas. The 12-month program gives warriors a jump-start on meeting their educational goals while also supporting goals around personal health and wellness, mental health and career development.
Recently, Florida Blue partnered with the WWP TRACK program to provide externships to recovering warriors. Trinidad Aguirre, a 15-year veteran of the U.S. Army, was the most recent warrior to work at our company. He spent his three-month externship working alongside our Information Technology team.
Trinidad served two tours of Iraq as a heavy construction engineer. When he retired in 2011 he had spinal injuries as a result of years of performing construction missions and surviving a couple of explosions. He also had a traumatic brain injury and a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with morbid depression.
“I saw a lot of horror in Iraq and when I got home things were not good,” Aguirre said. “I went through a divorce, couldn’t get a job and ended up homeless. I lived in my car for six months. I was suicidal and didn’t know what to do. I figured I was as good as dead.”
A friend invited Aguirre to stay with him until he got on his feet but the depression lingered. Aguirre was sleeping 18 – 22 hours a day. Then he got custody of his two children and found himself a single father.
“I didn’t want to just set an example for my kids – I wanted to be the example.” He said. “I joined the Army Wounded Warrior (AW2) program where I started to learn how to handle my PTSD. I learned how to build social skills, healthy ways to handle pain management and dealing with love and loss. The organization basically saved my life.”
The WWP TRACK program had offices across the street and representatives would often visit the AW2 participants. They offered opportunities to take collegiate-level coursework, peak performance training that helps warriors visualize and reach goals, personal finance workshops and career development opportunities like resume development, interviewing skills and three-month externships with participating companies like Florida Blue.
Dorrinda Swiger, senior human resources staffing consultant, facilitated the externship program between Florida Blue and WWP TRACK.
“We consistently reach out to military programs to let them know what Florida Blue has to offer,” Swiger explained. “As a responsible community champion we want to honor our military personnel and help them transition back into the workplace. Hopefully that workplace is Florida Blue.”
Part of Swiger’s responsibility is to educate those who will be working with the TRACK participants to ensure the warrior feels safe. Leaders learn to read body language, how to assign projects a little at a time so the warriors don’t feel overwhelmed and to provide constant reinforcement to help build confidence.
Swiger also works directly with the TRACK participants to give them advice.
“Many warriors with PTSD don’t feel at ease in crowded meetings or being too far from an exit. We tell them, ‘Be you. Be comfortable. Stand in the back of the room by the door if that makes you more comfortable.’ The great thing about this externship program is that it provides the opportunity to role-play in a real environment to test out and find what works for them.”
Warriors also get mentored and connected to other employees who are veterans through theVetNet, a Florida Blue employee resource group.
During his externship, Aguirre spent most of his time job shadowing at the IT Service Desk and learning about corporate life. He is currently carrying a 3.9 GPA and has been given a partial scholarship to complete his college degree at Jacksonville University. He recently purchased a home in the Jacksonville area and plans to find a permanent job and eventually give back to the community by helping other veterans.
“The Wounded Warrior Project TRACK program and the externship with Florida Blue was such a positive experience for me,” Aguirre said. “I looked forward to coming to work every day during my time here. Everyone was so professional and nice to work with. Because of this program, I can see my potential. It also gave me something I didn’t have for a long time – hope.”
Do you know of a military veteran that might be a great fit at Florida Blue? Encourage them to review our current job openings at jobs.floridablue.com.
*As of this writing, the TRACK program is transitioning from the Wounded Warrior organization to various colleges and universities for expansion. Florida Blue will continue to look for opportunities to partner with veteran organizations to ensure we provide support and offer opportunities to our military community
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