It is challenging enough being a wounded warrior, a soldier injured in combat returning from war overseas and trying to transition to civilian life back home in the United States.
Some things are easier to get used to than others. Switching from MREs and mess halls to supermarkets and restaurants is usually a welcome change, but when so many aspects of everyday life are altered simultaneously, some of the changes are drastic and can be daunting.
Attempting to rejoin the workforce is among the most difficult transitions veterans face. Think about going from fighting a war overseas to walking into a career fair where nameless representatives of companies won’t even look at your résumé and say they might get back to you if they’re interested. That’s impersonal for the average college graduate, but it can be downright insulting to a war veteran.
Unfortunately, this happens all too often to veterans and after a while they come to expect it. So imagine Ryan Clark’s surprise when Northrop Grumman representatives at a September 2007 Wounded Warriors Career Fair in Fort Lewis, Washington., not only checked out his résumé but talked to him and engaged with him about his skill sets.
This single difference is the major reason I joined Northrop Grumman. I was not just another sheet of paper. I would be valued as an individual.
“At the event, only Northrop Grumman actually looked at my résumé, and the recruiters were immediately interactive and interested in how I could be part of the team. Every other defense contractor had the same response: ‘Submit a résumé to the website; we’ll contact you — no need to show your résumé or talk about specific skills,’” Ryan recalled. “This single difference is the major reason I joined Northrop Grumman. I was not just another sheet of paper. I would be valued as an individual.”
Ryan, a San Diego-based electronics engineering manager, is a left leg below-knee amputee due to injuries sustained from an improvised explosive device in June 2007 while serving with the U.S. Army in Iraq. Military surgeons worked at great lengths to repair the extensive damage to the bones in his foot, ankle and tibia/fibula, and Ryan began walking with a cane nine months after the injury.
Not satisfied with the prospect of being on the sidelines of life, he elected to have his leg amputated below the knee in November 2008. That may seem counterintuitive, but the procedure would strengthen his mobility. Five weeks later, on Christmas Eve, he received his first prosthetic and could walk again.
During the last weekend of January 2009, “I was provided the opportunity to visit Keystone, Colorado, to enjoy the snow. On my third day on the slopes, I was able to ski the expert trails again without anyone except my instructor knowing I was an amputee,” Ryan said.
Life with a prosthetic hasn’t slowed Ryan down. He stays active by hiking, paddle boarding, kayaking and snowboarding — which he just learned to do last year so he could teach his children.
Then on June 15, 2009, Ryan reached another milestone: He began the job with Northrop Grumman. Even though it took two years of rehabilitation before he could start work, Northrop Grumman personnel reached out to him several times each month, sometimes just to see how he was doing. Ryan spent a weekend traveling from San Antonio to San Diego with his wife, Heather, who was pregnant at the time, two sons, a dog, a cat and a U-Haul trailer in tow.
Ryan was hired on as an engineer for the X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) program. Though he’s enjoyed his time with Northrop Grumman, Ryan admits the transition from military life to the corporate world hasn’t always been easy.
Despite the challenges, Ryan has worked on some of Northrop Grumman’s most innovative programs. He watched as the X-47B UCAS aircraft made its first flight from Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California and was aboard several aircraft carriers as part of surrogate and X-47B flight test events. He currently works on the MQ-4C Triton program.
And ultimately, the Northrop Grumman initiative Operation IMPACT has made a difference in Ryan’s life. Operation IMPACT (Injured Military Pursuing Assisted Career Transition) is an award-winning grassroots program that provides career transition support to military service members and their families who have been severely injured in the global war on terror.
“I have been able to meet and find camaraderie with fellow Operation Impact hires, as well as form friendships beyond the daily work responsibilities,” he said. “Often, we all share similar struggles, and open, often frank dialogue has been valuable.”