Wounded Warrior gets second chance through intern program
By Monique Randolph, MCSC Corporate Communications, Marine Corps Systems Command
QUANTICO, Va. --
By Monique Randolph, MCSC Corporate Communications
When John Patterson was whisked away on a Black Hawk helicopter Jan. 23, 2011, all he could think about was recovering from his injuries and getting back to his team.
The lance corporal’s fire team was conducting combat patrols in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, and needed to clear a building along their route.
“As a rifleman, I was the first one through the door,” Patterson said. “When I kicked it in, a bomb went off.”
Realizing the severity of his injuries, Patterson picked up the radio and called for air transport himself.
“I realized it wasn’t good for me—I was missing a leg—so I called up medevac,” he said. “My guys were still working on me when I looked up and saw the Cobras coming around with a Black Hawk rolling through the center. My team popped smoke, the bird landed, the medics came out with the litter, threw me on it and took off.”
Within a half hour, Patterson was headed to Camp Bastion, a British military base connected to U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan, where he stayed for about two days.
“My sister’s unit had just deployed to Leatherneck three days before, so they sent her a Red Cross message and she was able to come see me in the hospital,” Patterson said.
Cpl. Karlyn Patterson, who is assigned to 8th Communications Battalion, II Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Lejeune, N.C., joined the Marine Corps one year after Patterson—following in her big brother’s footsteps, she said.
“John and I have always been the closest friends,” she said. “In high school, we had all the same friends, and we graduated at the same time because I skipped a grade. After I joined the military, we were stationed together at Camp Lejeune and then surprisingly, we were deployed at the same time.”
Corporal Patterson said she did not know what to expect when she arrived at Bastion to visit her brother after his accident.
“I was bawling my eyes out, and I was so scared when I saw him lying in the bed,” she said. “But as I walked up to him, he said to me, ‘Karlyn, no… stop. The good thing is I saved money on my car insurance by switching to Geico.’ I just started laughing. I’ll never forget that. After what happened to him, that was the first thing he said to me. That says a lot about him.”
After the brief visit with his sister, Patterson was transferred to Bagram, Afghanistan, and then out of theater to Landstuhl, Germany, where he was treated for about two weeks. From Landstuhl, he was flown back to the States to begin his recovery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Patterson had been in the Marine Corps less than two years when he was injured. The remainder of his four-year Marine Corps career would be spent recovering from his injuries.
“I knew I wanted to be in the military when I was pretty young,” he said. “At first, I wanted to be a fighter pilot, but the older I got the more focused I became on the Marine Corps.”
Patterson, a native of Columbia, Md., was in the Junior Reserve Officer Training Course at his public high school, and he and his sister transferred to a military school during his senior year. Once military recruiters began visiting his school, the choice of which branch to join was easy.
“I always thought Marines were awesome,” he said. “The way they carried themselves was inspirational. They were living to a higher standard and I wanted to achieve that.”
When he enlisted in the Marine Corps in August 2009, Patterson’s goal was to be a “career grunt”—to serve in the infantry for his 20 years or until they kicked him out, he said. After he was injured, Patterson knew he would not able to serve in the same capacity as before.
“There were opportunities for me to stay in the [the Marine Corps] as an infantry instructor, or working with [unmanned aerial vehicles] and things like that,” he said. “But all I wanted was to go back to theater with my friends and continue the mission.”
During the two years he spent recovering at Walter Reed, Patterson said he tried to stay positive and make the best of his situation. He participated in trips and activities offered by various nonprofit organizations. One such event was the Wounded Warrior Hunt at Marine Corps Base Quantico, hosted by the Quantico Injured Marine Sportsman Association, or QIMSA. It was during that hunt that Patterson met Dan Pierson, the man who helped him turn the page to the next chapter of his life.
“I briefed the Marines attending the hunt on the Wounded Warrior Intern Program and the positions we had available,” said Dan Pierson, deputy program executive officer for Land Systems, or PEO LS, the Marine Corps acquisition arm for major land programs. “John was one of the first ones to approach me.”
The Wounded Warrior Intern Program is part of the Naval Acquisition Development Program. It provides qualified wounded warrior candidates training in the lifecycle logistics career field and a full performance level position in the civilian workforce upon successful completion of the program.
“You have to be a minimum of 30 percent disabled, but the intent of the program is also to hire someone who was injured in combat,” Pierson said. “It’s pretty difficult to fill the billets because many of the injured Marines are younger and lack the experience and educational qualifications for positions at the PEO and Marine Corps Systems Command.”
As a young Marine infantryman without a college degree, Pierson knew Patterson would fall into that category, but Patterson’s attitude was just as important as a “piece of paper or years of experience,” Pierson said.
“When I met John, he was so enthusiastic and upbeat,” Pierson said of the Marine. “He doesn’t view himself as being handicapped; nothing holds him back. He was just the kind of candidate we were looking for.”
Patterson began working for PEO LS in April 2012 while he was still in uniform and still in recovery. He was medically retired from the Marine Corps in September 2012 and started as a civilian at PEO LS the following January. Although Pierson began looking for recruits for the program more than two years ago, Patterson was one of the first Marines selected to participate in the program at MCSC and PEO LS.
“A lot of Marines don’t want a desk job, so we had a lot of false starts,” Pierson said. “The key is to help them see the big picture—it’s not just a desk job; they’re doing something meaningful. What I tell them is, ‘Now you’re the guy who will make sure Marines are getting whatever piece of gear they need, that it’s reliable and sustainable, and it’s going to do what they need it to do.’”
Over a four-year period, interns are expected to obtain a college degree and Level 2 acquisition certification while completing on-the-job training in various programs and organizations. The educational qualifications—along with strong mentoring relationships and six-month rotational assignments both within and outside of the command—allow interns to progress from the GS-5 to GS-12 civilian pay grade by the end of the program.
“When I was in the fleet, I didn’t understand all the acquisition and processes that occur in order to feed the warfighter their gear—I just thought, ‘Here’s a truck. Here’s a pack. Here’s a gun,’” Patterson said. “Now, I get to put my two cents in by giving feedback to the [program offices] about how Marines actually operate these systems and weapons. It’s a great feeling. It’s like I’m still fighting the battle by improving it for others.
“That’s what’s so rewarding for me,” he said. “Helping the warfighter—helping the next guy out there get the job done.”