By Kevin Ferris
Four years and almost 40 surgeries ago, Marine Staff Sgt. John Jones was blown 25 feet in the air when his Humvee hit a double-stack antitank mine while on convoy near the Syrian border with Iraq.
He remembers landing directly behind the Humvee, his legs a mess. One would be amputated below the knee soon after the blast. Ten months later, after getting used to one prosthetic, he finally agreed to amputate the second leg.
“Basically it wasn’t existing anyway,” he says. “It didn’t work. I said, ‘Screw it. Take it.”’
Today, medically retired from the Corps, he’s traded in his military greens for business-suit gray. But the lessons learned as an NCO still apply.
Jones is executive director of the Wall Street Warfighters, an organization that helps wounded vets find careers in the financial services industry. As one of the first two graduates of the program, Jones is a believer. So much so that he’s putting his own full-time career on temporary hold to help others.
“I saw it as my duty while in the service to take care of my fellow Marines,” Jones says. “Now, I’m giving fellow Marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen the opportunity to thrive, despite their disabilities.”
The privately funded program is sponsored by Drexel Hamilton, a Philadelphia brokerage firm headed by Vietnam veteran Lawrence Doll, and the investment per recruit ranges from $25,000 to $42,000. The firm and a host of sponsors provide a monthly stipend, room and board, a clothing allowance, road trips to places like Goldman Sachs and the Chicago Board of Options Exchange, and an array of training opportunities, from classes at Wharton to hands-on sessions with financial professionals. The goal is to help the vets prepare for the grueling securities exams they need to start working.
Once they pass those tests, they are guaranteed a job.
That promise — backed by retired Marine Gen. Peter Pace, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who heads the Warfighters Foundation’s board — helped overcome Jones’ initial reluctance to sign on.
With years of surgeries and therapy behind him, Jones had moved with his family to Colorado to attend business school. When first recruited by Warfighters, the father of three wasn’t eager to leave his family for six months. But the guarantee — and a trip home every other weekend — was enough for him to accept the “mini-deployment.”
Jones finished the program in 41‚Ñ2 months and deferred a job with Drexel Hamilton to head Warfighters. “It turned out to be a good fit for me,” he says. “One, I can work from home. Two, I’m independent like I want to be.”
While the flexibility and range of jobs makes the industry ideal for vets, the recruits are equally well-suited to the challenges they’ll face.
“It’s a very mental field, very stressful,” says Brooks Hulitt, managing director at Drexel Hamilton. “But they’ve been to hell and back. ... They eat stress for breakfast.”
Case in point is current student Jason Leisey, who wrote in his application letter: “I have a renewed confidence in myself after surviving the suicide car bomber’s attack, ... there is no obstacle in my future that could slow me down or prevent me from reaching objectives ...”
Who better to help staff the increasingly important compliance and regulations end of the business? “It’s like sending them out to go after bad guys again,” Hulitt says.
Vets’ life experiences, whether dealing with people of other cultures or leading troops, give them something to offer a firm that job seekers fresh out of school can’t match, Jones says.
“How many kids out of college with an MBA actually managed anyone?” he asks. “They managed a book and a schedule, not a platoon and multimillion-dollars worth of equipment.”
He adds, “We’re offering companies proven problem solvers. ... We just have this mind-set: This is the job I have to do and I’m going to do it to the best of my ability. And God help anyone who gets in my way.”
The second class of Warfighters — this one with four vets — began this month, and organizers hope to be able to eventually serve 12 recruits a year. The program will be matched to the vet’s needs.
X Kevin Ferris is assistant editor of the Editorial Page of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.