TULSA, Okla. - When Sgt. Jay Silk, Operation Warfighter soldier at the Tenkiller Lake office, walked into the Oklahoma National Guard’s Christmas party, he expected a fun evening with his family and fellow soldiers. But things are not always as they seem, Silk and another Wounded Warrior, Cpl. Scott Harper, were surprised with a Purple Heart ceremony.
Silk, a combat engineer, was wounded in Afghanistan in 2011 while he was deployed with the Oklahoma National Guard. He and his unit were conducting route clearance while on a combat patrol and his vehicle inadvertently detonated an improvised explosive device. Silk suffered multiple injuries to his head, neck, back, shoulder, and foot. It was those injuries for which he was awarded the prestigious Purple Heart.
Silk knew something was strange when he saw the media at the Christmas party, but he never thought that it was because of a Purple Heart ceremony.
“I had no idea that something was going on other than just a Christmas dinner with my fellow soldiers and our families,” he said.
Silk said he is a little shy and taken aback by all of the attention.“I wanted to leave. I felt a little freaked out,” he said with a laugh. “Everything happens for a reason and hopefully everything that has happened to me will all come to make sense. Until then, I am trying to get better and get back with my unit.”
Silk began his military career in 1994 and has been in and out of the military ever since fluctuating between Active Duty and Reserve, and most recently joining the Oklahoma National Guard in 2010. Since joining the military, he has been deployed in ’94, ’97, and his 2011 deployment with the National Guard was his most recent.
Following his recovery he hopes to return to the guard “but that will be up to the medical board.”
“As civilian life goes, I would love to work for the Corps of Engineers but right now I am concentrating on attending classes and getting better,” he said.
For now, he is getting a taste of working for the Corps as a Wounded Warrior in the Operation Warfighter program at the Tenkiller Lake project office. He joined the office in September 2012.
Operation Warfighter is a Department of Defense federal internship program that places Wounded Warriors in positions at federal agencies while they are completing their medical board process. It is open to wounded, injured, or ill active duty, National Guard, and Reserve service members from all branches. It is designed to help reintegrate the service members into the community.
“The program allows for these service members to gain valuable federal work experience that will give them an edge after transitioning out of the military,” said Erasmo Valles, Operation Warfighter regional coordinator in San Antonio, Texas. “While working with these agencies, the service member will receive training and experience that will be a great addition their resumes and work history and help them in their job search when they transition.”
Federal agencies can participate in the program with no cost to the agency since the service member is on Military payroll, Valles said.
While the program doesn’t guarantee a permanent position after transitioning out of the program, 30 percent of participants have been accepted into permanent employments after they complete the internship and transition out of the military, said Katie Spencer, acting Operation Warfighter program manager.
Silk said he heard about the program through his Warrior Transition Unit and he jumped at the opportunity to work at the Tenkiller office.
“My experience with the Tenkiller office has been wonderful,” he said. “They have been very supportive.”
As Silk focuses on his recovery, he says he has learned a lot from his experience and his injuries.
“I no longer worry about the things that are not in my control,” he said. “I wouldn’t say I believe in fate or destiny, but to an extent things follow a course and I accept that better.”