Former Master-at-Arms 1st Class Andrew Turner – a wounded warrior who medically separated from the Navy last September – recently met with Navy Wounded Warrior (NWW) – Safe Harbor representatives to discuss his successful transition from military service.
The meeting took place at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement headquarters in Washington, D.C., where Turner now serves as a paralegal specialist at the Freedom of Information Act/Privacy Act office.
“I’ve always been a self-starter. I’m not the type to take ‘no’ for an answer; I don’t like that answer, and I’ll just ask the question again tomorrow,” Turner said. “You can tell me that I can’t do something, but I don’t buy that. I think that hurts too many wounded warriors. I would tell them: Don’t believe that you can’t do something.”
“And I would tell them to keep learning. Take advantage of all the great programs available, like Navy COOL (Credentialing Opportunities On-Line) and USMAP (United Services Military Apprenticeship Program),” he added.
In addition to connecting retiring wounded warriors to education and employment opportunities, NWW offers a mentorship program and links them to various family programs, mental health resources and veterans’ benefits.
“During our meeting, I hoped to get a better understanding why Andrew’s transition from military to civilian life was so successful and use those lessons learned to better assist other enrollees,” said NWW Transition Team Lead Lt. Thomas Ryan. “It was clear that his smooth transition was due in large part to his family support; Andrew credited his wife for his many accomplishments. Hopefully his success can be an inspiration to other service members.”
Turner was wounded during a deployment to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba from 2009 to 2010. He injured his right arm while removing some particularly combative detainees from their cells. Over time, he began losing function of his right hand and experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“Doctors ultimately determined that not only had I broken bones in my wrist, but I sustained nerve damage as well. By spring 2011 I had lost feeling and use of my right hand entirely,” said Turner. “Then the ‘Little Green Monster’ – PTSD and anxiety – reared his ugly head, and I started to suffer from severe insomnia, panic attacks and anger.”
Throughout his subsequent treatment at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Turner nurtured his artistic skills and frequently took photographs, which he later shared with family, friends and colleagues. Looking back, he believes photography helped him cope with his PTSD symptoms.
“Looking through a camera helped me to focus on one thing and not all the noise surrounding me. For me it was very therapeutic,” he said.
In the fall of 2011, after reading about Operation War Fighter, Turner put together a resume and – with help from NWW and personal perseverance – was approved for a 90-day internship with U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. The internship forced Turner to confront his PTSD symptoms daily, and it was an enriching and healing experience. After separating from the Navy last year, he was able to apply for and secure a civilian job in the same office.
Recognizing the challenges many veterans face when entering the civilian workforce, Turner also joined with friends to establish a nonprofit called Teach a Man to Fish in 2012. The organization, which is still in its infancy, helps disabled veterans take advantage of educational and employment opportunities, ensuring they won’t need to depend on government assistance to succeed in life.
“There are so many great organizations out there for wounded warriors, but navigating them can be confusing. They are so large that it’s sometimes hard to find the right person to talk to,” Turner said. “We wanted to scale it back a bit and focus only on employment. Our organization is not offering hand-outs – we’re offering a hand-up. We want to make sure that when these service members transition they have something to keep them busy.”
In addition, Turner is eyeing a City Council seat in his current hometown, Hyattsville, Md. He will battle an incumbent for the seat in May, and he is planning to begin campaigning in the coming weeks. If elected, he hopes to make a measurable difference in his community and tackle his neighbors’ concerns.
Turner credits NWW for providing invaluable assistance throughout his recovery and transition processes.
“There were times I didn’t want to hear what my Non-medical Care Manager had to say, but she was always very open and honest with me. NWW provided me with a lot of great opportunities, but the program wasn’t just a safety blanket. It empowered me,” he said.
For more information about NWW and how to enroll, call 1-855-NAVY WWP/1-855-628-9997, visit http://safeharbor.navylive.dodlive.mil or email email@example.com.