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Overcoming Obstacles: Continuing to Serve

Dawn Halfaker shares how her journey as a wounded warrior lead her to start a government contracting company.

Dawn HalfakerDawn Halfaker is being honored as a Champion of Change for her efforts as a woman veteran.

There are over 2.4 million Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans in the US, and many of our veterans and their families continue to face challenges during their transition from the military. Helping our veterans successfully transition to the civilian workforce is a critical mission; I strongly believe that finding meaningful employment is a powerful aspect of a transitioning veteran’s journey. Many veterans yearn to continue to contribute to something meaningful, and they are armed with the critical skills gained during their time in the military that are needed to succeed in the business world. However, veterans all too often face obstacles that prevent them from achieving their goals.

My unexpected journey as a wounded warrior began on a combat patrol in the early morning hours of June 19, 2004, when my dreams of serving as a career US Army Military Police Officer ended after I suffered life-threatening injuries on a dark, dusty street in Baquba, Iraq. Like many wounded warriors, I am extremely lucky to be alive. However, waking up to the reality of having lost my entire dominant right arm and other critical injuries was devastating. My life had changed. I struggled to accept and come to terms with my new reality. Even with the support of my family and military community at Walter Reed, my future was riddled with uncertainties and I struggled with self-doubt. I had lost my career, my sense of purpose, and my military community of support. The turning point of my recovery came as I witnessed the positive attitude and indestructible will of my fellow wounded warriors at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. They reassured me that a successful path to recovery took time, courage, and determination.

Fueled by my need and desire to continue to be part of the fight, I decided to forge my own path and start my own government contracting company. Today, after seven years in business, Halfaker and Associates, LLC (Halfaker) employs over 130 people dedicated to the principle of “Continuing to Serve.” Almost fifty percent of our employees are veterans, and our success is one example of how the skills that military veterans learned and used to accomplish any mission – such as developing a solid team of diverse individuals and being adaptable, resourceful and resilient – are directly transferable to the business world. By adopting policies to help bridge the transition from the military to corporate culture, we are reaping the benefits from our robust veteran workforce’s valuable skills. My proudest moments as an entrepreneur continue to be the opportunities I have to hire veterans to join my team. Most importantly, my company has served as a vehicle for me to promote issues that I am passionate about, such as helping wounded warriors and transitioning veterans. Over the past seven years, our employees have supported, volunteered, and participated in various causes throughout the community and have sponsored races to donate over $100,000 for the Wounded Warrior Project, a non-profit dedicated to fostering the most successful, well-adjusted generation of wounded service members in our nation's history.

I was first introduced to the Wounded Warrior Project during my recovery at Walter Reed, when volunteers brought me a backpack full of essential supplies. I opened up the backpack and saw some really useful things offered by these thoughtful volunteers. But what caught my attention most was a pair of men’s underwear. I was eager to offer the voice of a wounded female veteran and decided to volunteer with the group. In 2011, I was elected to serve as the President of the Board of Directors and I continue in that role today. I am lucky to be a part of many organizations that work to promote veteran employment and entrepreneurship, and advocate on behalf of wounded warriors. These organizations are vital in reassuring veterans that they are not alone in this journey and helping veterans navigate the civilian job market during their search for a meaningful career.

Many transitioning veterans struggle to find fulfilling employment and would benefit from the guidance of support organizations, outreach, and a supportive company culture. There are obstacles for businesses and veterans to overcome, but companies that invest in effectively recruiting and mentoring veterans reap substantial benefits by attracting and retaining employees who display the same adaptability, resilience and dedication in the civilian workforce as they did in serving their country. For corporations, the value of hiring a veteran goes well beyond the altruistic idea of giving back to those who have served our country. Ultimately, the organizations that choose to recruit and hire veterans gain big returns on their investments.

Dawn Halfaker serves as the President of the Board of Directors for the Wounded Warrior Project.