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May 28 2012

A heroes day

A few years ago I met some great people, and wrote the article below, it seems even more relevant this Memorial Day than it was then. -- DS

Justin Callahan’s life changed forever in one violent instant on a cold, bleak January morning in 2004. The then 21 year-old army sergeant was on routine patrol in Afghanistan when a hockey-puck sized land mine called a PMN2, a Soviet relic from the cold war, detonated a mere yard away. He never even heard the explosion:

All I remember is dirt falling on top of me. My first thought was that I was dreaming, I closed and opened my eyes — then realized it was real. There was no pain at first, just a dead cold feeling all over, like my body was submerged in ice. My buddy was driving a humvee 10 yards ahead of me. I’ll never forget the look on his face when he opened the door and saw me on the ground. Everything after that is hard to remember …

Callahan’s fellow soldier not only saved his life but also his knee, by getting him in the humvee and to a field hospital in record time. Five long months of extensive physical rehabilitation and seven intense revision surgeries later, Callahan walked out of Walter Reed on a prosthetic leg. Even so he was fortunate; he quickly found a job. Many of his fellow soldiers walked or limped or wheeled their way out of WR and straight into unemployed civilian limbo. That’s when Callahan, encouraged by the person who had hired him, got a brilliant idea: Hire Heroes USA.

Will Rogers once remarked that we can’t all be heroes, ‘because somebody has to sit on the curb and applaud when they go by.’ Sad to say, America’s heroes have become a political football in today’s highly charged political climate. All candidates, both parties, and pundits galore line up to trade clever childish insults, each accusing one another of not supporting the troops, while shamelessly congratulating themselves for doing so. And the heroes walk by. Heroes, but just for one day.

But for Callahan and a small group of disabled veterans, supporting the troops is far more than an expedient cliché, a well meaning magnet on an SUV, or a bumper sticker. These men and women will live with the all too real consequences of their service to our nation for the rest of their lives. And yet, in the most inspiring tradition, they’ve turned that adversity into an asset for their fellow service members wounded in action.

Most jobs in today’s modern military not only require training on some of the most highly sophisticated technology, they train service members to perform in extremely dangerous and stressful situations. Anyone who can calmly keep an IT network operating while mortars fall, can probably deal with a stubborn server in an office-cube farm. But as any handicapped person can attest, too many employers see only the disability, even when the applicant before them has completed a regimen worthy of an Olympian.

To recover from a severe injury is to find the heart of a dedicated athlete. The wounded in action will train, sweat, endure immense physical pain, like any athlete. But unlike today’s lavishly paid ball players, they won’t be training for money or fame. They build muscle, to power their wheelchair; hone reflexes, to balance on a prosthetic leg; work their heart and lungs, to develop the endurance to live independently. And when they diet, it’s not for vanity or photo shoots, but to take mechanical stress off the scar tissue, metal pins, and stainless steel staples knitting torn flesh and shattered bone together.

There are men and women out there who feel they are only approached to be put on a pedestal or used as props. If you want to thank a veteran for their service, offer them a job. Give them a chance to apply their skills, work ethic and values to the civilian workforce. Let them have the opportunities to take care of their families. They’re not looking for sympathy; they just want to contribute to the society they fought for. If you are a veteran with a disability from any branch of the military who is returning from Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom, Hire Heroes USA is here for you.– Sgt. Justin Callahan, 10th Mountain Division, pictured above.

A few employers have done more than sit and applaud. But with a weak recovery dragging out and so many wounded veterans returning home, our vets need more, lots more. Whether you are a small business or a large corporation, conservative or progressive, if you’re looking for trained, quality employees, that have the ability and desire to succeed, contact HHUSA.

And if simply doing the right thing doesn’t motivate you, let’s talk cold hard dollars: Unlike traditional agencies, this non-profit, non-partisan group provides job placement services at no charge to veterans and employers. They’re supported solely by employer and private contributions.

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