Guest blog by Randy Caldwell, Chief of Staff, Office of Director, National Technical Information Service (NTIS)
My kids seem to know Veteran’s Day is approaching sooner than I do and are always excited and pressing me to attend this function or that function. They approach this holiday with the same gusto and excitement as Halloween. Most of the time, much to my kids’ dismay, I shy away from recognition for my military service. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve very humbled and honored to have served. It’s just that I never thought of my time in the military as an obligation or a trophy to carry around my neck; it was a sacrifice I chose. I was just doing my job to the best of my abilities.
I started my military career with the intentions of not making military service a career. My plan was to ‘do my time’ for six years in the Navy as an Enlisted Nuclear Reactor Operator and then complete my bachelor’s degree with assistance from the GI Bill. In working with nuclear power on fast attack submarines, security was always a concern. I was conditioned to not talk about what I did. Living in a submarine was like closing all your doors and windows and divide your house in half. Make one side really hot (this is where you work) and the other side really cold (this is where you sleep). Store six months of canned food and powered milk on every floor in your house. And the best part, invite 150 people who you barely know to spend to live with you. It can smell bad, get gross sometimes, but during those six years with the Navy, I was fortunate enough to travel around the world – literally. Australia, Scotland, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay are some of the countries I was also to visit.
Fast forward six years later, I joined the Army Reserve as a Civil Affairs Specialist with the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) where I first worked with other government agencies, civilian aid agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and commercial and private organizations performing humanitarian missions. Even after being blessed and awarded a Direct Commission as an officer, the thought of a military career never crossed my mind. I was simply ‘doing my part’ to make the world a better place. Eventually, I was recruited and accepted to support advanced forward operations for a SOCOM ‘tip of the spear’ organization.
It was only after I had sustained a career-ending injury, resulting in retirement, did I realize that I had served over 24 years of combined active and reserve time, progressing from a lowly E-1 Recruit, shaking at attention while the Drill Sergeant greeted me with a ‘warm’ hello, in boot camp through the Enlisted ranks to an Staff Sergeant, and then from a butter bar 2nd Lieutenant through the Officer Corps to Major. It never felt like a career; it was where I was needed and where I needed to be. Looking back, I was fortunate enough to work with people from all walks of life, with different socio-economic backgrounds, education, and experiences. I learned from them all and cherish every experience shared with them, both the good and bad.
It was during this injury recover phase that I first became involved in what would become one of the most humbling and enduring in my civilian career –Operation Warfighter.
Operation Warfighter (OWF) is a Department of Defense internship program that matches qualified wounded, ill and injured Service members with non-funded federal internships in order for them to gain valuable work experience during their recovery and rehabilitation. This process assists with the Service members’ reintegration to duty, or transition into the civilian work environment where they are able to employ their newly acquired skills in a non-military work setting.
As an Intern working under the OWF program, I was exposed to working at different Federal agencies and this was one of the key programs that enabled me to successfully leave military service. Transitioning from military service is hard. Transitioning while dealing with permanent injuries compounds the difficulties in untold ways.
When I started as the Chief of Staff for the National Technical Information Service (NTIS), one of my first actions was to bring the OWF program to NTIS. Since we started with the OWF program in 2017, NTIS has helped nine wounded Service Members reintegrate and transition into the civilian work environment. Not bad considering that is comparable to about 15% of the NTIS workforce.
I am eternally grateful to the NTIS leaders and staff for their unwavering support for this program. It is personally rewarding to be able to build bonds and help these Service Members successfully transition into the civilian workforce.
I am forever grateful to all those who have and continue to serve in the military today. We are a great Nation because of your sacrifice. Thank you for your service.
Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting the contributions of Department of Commerce Military Veterans in honor of Veterans Day.