Text Size

Goddard Warfighter Mission, Expanding Human Boundaries
Master Sgt. Mary Moore Master Sgt. Mary Moore worked at Goddard for five months supporting computer security engineers. Credit: NASA, Katy Gammage
› Larger image

Spc. Wilbur Robinson Spc. Wilbur Robinson completed several information technology projects and coordinated support from other service members not at Goddard. Credit: NASA, Katy Gammage
› Larger image
In April 2009, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., embarked upon an Earth-bound mission designed to expand boundaries and facilitate the discovery of a new life. This mission, established in support of the Operation Warfighter (OWF) program, allows service members to expand employment opportunities and discover new career paths while adjusting to daily life after military service.

The Department of Defense program is designed to provide recuperating active duty service members the opportunity for a meaningful experience during their transition to a civilian career.

The NASA Goddard mission initially began as an engineering opportunity for service members interested in pursuing a career in aerospace. "It is our intent to give back on an individual basis, to those who have already made great sacrifices," said Christopher Durachka, OWF coordinator at Goddard. "This mission also allows our center to recruit from a dedicated, talented, diverse pool of candidates to support our space and science missions."

Durachka voluntarily researched the requirements needed to allow a service member to enter the program and made personal visits to military medical facilities. "Many were surprised to learn that they possess skills useful within the Goddard community that range from science, engineering and professional administrative work."

Complementary to an intern program, this mission also provides service members the opportunity to build a resume, explore employment opportunities and further develop their skills. "We strive to ensure that each service member gains a meaningful, hands-on experience in an area of interest to them," Durachka said. "We strive to introduce them the tools, mentors and reasonable accommodations that align with their ability and future career goals."

The Goddard Office of Communications coordinated tours of the center to expose potential interns to the people working in the many disciplines needed for a successful mission. "Most service members are surprised to learn that you don’t have to be a "rocket scientist" to work here," Durachka said.

There are four paths from which a service member can enter the Goddard program. Entrance into the program can be achieved by attending an OWF outreach event at the military treatment facilities in the area; submit a recommendation from military transition coordinators; complete an on-line resume submission; or complete a tour or visit at Goddard. When accepted, an internship is designed for each service member focusing on individual interests, experience level and career goals.

Goddard's Office of Human Capital (OHCM) has also provided support to this project. Employees have assisted with resume writing and design, and provided assistance to those wanting to explore the Goddard Cooperative Education (Co-op) Student Intern Program. Entrance into the Co-op program can provide assistance to service members interested in pursuing a college degree. Service members have also worked with mentors in Goddard’s Procurement organization and the Earth Science Data Information System (ESDIS) program.

Two years after launch, this mission is realizing successes beyond expectations. "It chokes me up to see how grateful these service members are because someone reached out to help," Durachka said. "I feel they have already given so much and it is an honor for me to serve them."

The internships were originally designed to solely support Goddard’s Engineering Directorate, but the military talent pool entering Goddard quickly revealed talents useful to other directorates at the center. Intern involvement has also included planning and logistics support, software testing, a myriad of information technology support, photography, support to Goddard Mission Control Centers, assisting network engineers to develop next generation communication networks and more.

According to Durachka, the internship is not entirely about future employment. Often this is an opportunity to leave the hospital environment and experience work outside the military. "It is proven that placing a service member in a supportive work situation positively impacts their recuperation and transition," Durachka said. Mission success has already encouraged several Goddard contractor organizations to become key participants.

For the future, new mission objectives include increasing the Goddard mentor pool. "We would like to partner with members of the Goddard Veterans Committee to support our efforts," Durachka said. "The benefits of this mission have already been far reaching but I am hoping for more."

Durachka, an engineer, believes this mission will continue to build upon its successes similar to other NASA missions such as Voyager and the Mars Exploration Rovers. "I am hoping this effort continues a similar path of ever expanding human boundaries."
Dewayne Washington
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.