Finding Purpose and Passion Beyond the Uniform: Warriors Embrace New Paths
|Table of Contents|
|Food for Thought|
|A Winding Path to Fulfilling a Purpose|
|Finding the Right Fit in Fitness|
|From Army Ranger to Chicken Farmer|
There are tons of different jobs a service member can do in the military. Despite the options, however, an often difficult part of transitioning to civilian life is finding the right job after the service.
Sometimes the right job may be associated with something a veteran did in the service. But sometimes, it’s completely unrelated – and maybe surprising. As Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) celebrates its 20th anniversary, the journeys warriors have taken along the way never cease to amaze and inspire, whether personal or professional.
Here are stories from four warriors who aren’t only doing something different than they did in the military but have been able to find their purpose and passion in the next stage of their lives.
Food for Thought
Tim McDonough wasn’t a cook in the military, not even close. He was an aircraft mechanic in the Air Force. He worked aboard large cargo planes, carrying things like smaller planes, vehicles, and sadly, the caskets of those who paid the ultimate price. When Tim got out of the military, he dealt with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and cognitive issues.
Because of his own injuries and the sacrifice he witnessed from others, he wanted to continue to serve veterans and service members. He began training service dogs for injured veterans and even started his own service dog-training company. He was also going to school, majoring in psychology.
When he lost a close friend to suicide in 2015, it changed what he thought he wanted to do.
“It shook me to my core. It totally changed my whole outlook on everything,” Tim said. “I really think that was the lowest I’d been since I got out of the military.”
Before his friend’s passing, he had attended two warrior boot camps through WWP with the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). Years later, he decided to take his kids on a tour. Both events reignited a passion he’d had a long time ago, and a run-in with a veterans’ liaison encouraged him to apply.
He was worried because of his PTSD and the cognitive issues he sustained during service that he would struggle in a college setting. But the CIA has a strong program for disabled veterans that was able to work out a plan with him that worked with his medical issues.
“It was just such a great atmosphere and such a great place to be,” he said.
Tim graduated with honors in May 2023, earning a bachelor’s degree in culinary business management. He’s hoping to return to get a baking and pastry degree.
Tim said the three major highlights of his culinary journey so far have been filming a Whole Foods commercial; being 1 of 5 veteran chefs to cook with celebrity chef Curtis Stone, and his externship with the Culinary Institute that allowed him to work in seven venues with different cuisines, including a steakhouse owned by fellow Culinary Institute graduate and celebrity chef Scott Conant. He even returned last summer to work at the steakhouse.
Tim said working in a kitchen has some similarities to the military, which is a comforting environment for him.
“You become a part of a culinary family,” he said. “You have the regimented, brigade system, which is the way that the kitchens run. So, it makes sense for somebody from the military to go into the field because it gives you a sense of purpose and a sense of belonging again.”
Tim tried a lot of things but really found his passion in the kitchen. But helping veterans is still high on his list of priorities. He would love to open his own food truck one day, and on weekends he’d like to use his skills to feed homeless and underserved veterans in his community and maybe serve up some joy in the process.
“[Food] is such a universal language,” Tim said. “I traveled the world with the military. And now I know what I want to do. I really want to take care of hungry bellies.”
A Winding Path to Fulfilling a Purpose
Danielle Green started planning her future at age 7. She saw the Fighting Irish on TV from her home in Chicago and knew she would go to the University of Notre Dame.
As she grew up, she also realized she had a talent for basketball. She used that skill and her drive to earn a basketball scholarship to her dream school. While at Notre Dame she majored in psychology with plans to become a sports psychologist. After graduation though, Danielle felt she was having an identity crisis. She didn’t know how to define herself outside of being a student-athlete. It was that identity crisis that encouraged Danielle to enlist in the U.S. Army. She thought she might be interested in becoming an FBI or DEA agent, so she chose military police (MP) as her Army job. She thought it might prepare her for her future career goals.
It turns out, it did. But not in the way she thought. In 2004, while patrolling a rooftop in Iraq, Danielle was injured in a rocket-propelled grenade attack, causing her to lose her left (and dominant) arm.
While recovering from her injuries at Walter Reed Medical Center, she realized she may have to change her plans. The education field seemed like a strong fit and something she was familiar with. Danielle went on to earn two master’s degrees in the education field. She got a job as a sports coordinator for the Chicago Board of Education, but she still felt there was something else she should be doing.
“I was gung-ho about being in the field of education,” Danielle said. “That was my passion at the time.”
It was also at Walter Reed that Danielle was introduced to WWP. She got involved in Soldier Ride®, but it would end up impacting her in ways she didn’t think about at the time.
“I started attending more events with Wounded Warrior Project, and then they started asking me to speak about the programs and my journey,” Danielle said. “I started realizing I’m impacting a lot of people, so maybe education isn't the fit.”
She saw a job opening with the Department of Veterans Affairs as a readjustment counselor. She went back to school to focus on community and mental health counseling and advanced to the role of supervisor, which helped lead her to a promotion to run a vet center in South Bend, Indiana (home of Notre Dame). But in 2011, Danielle was dealt a devastating blow when her husband died.
“As I'm starting my new career, he passes and then it's like all this trauma and just trying to figure it out,” Danielle said.
In 2014, Danielle found her ultimate purpose though. She gave birth to her son, Daniel. Then, she won the Pat Tillman Award for Courage at the 2015 ESPY Awards garnering her a lot of attention. She was still running the vet center in South Bend, as well as taking care of a baby. Danielle began feeling overwhelmed.
In 2018, she made the decision to go off the grid and move to Arizona. But after about four years, she found another calling and a way to serve. She joined WWP as a spokesperson in 2022, sharing her story of sacrifice, service, and purpose across the country.
“If I didn't lose my arm or accept the loss of my arm and move forward and create these new opportunities, who knows where I would have been?” Danielle said. “I'm not bitter or angry because I've met so many wonderful people and it just took me down a different road that I had never thought about.”
Now, with her son by her side, Danielle has found not only her purpose but her passion. Being a public speaker wasn’t a career choice she thought about early on, but now she sees that by sharing her story, she can encourage others to overcome obstacles life is inevitably going to throw.
“I'm excited that I can spread my message to a larger audience, not just to veterans, families, and dependents, but beyond – to people who want to support and be a part of the [WWP] mission,” she said. “The main thing I tell people is to live your life in a way that you can accept setbacks. You have to move forward and create new opportunities.”
Finding the Right Fit in Fitness
Bill Hansen joined the U.S. Marine Corps right after high school and became an infantryman, fighting in Desert Storm. After serving in the Marines, Bill worked as a high school truancy officer and a history teacher.
He also joined the Army National Guard and was again deployed to Iraq. When he returned, he struggled with depression because of his injuries, withdrawing from everyone, including his family. The depression led him to become so out of shape he could barely recognize himself anymore.
In 2013, WWP invited Bill to participate in a Soldier Ride. At that event, he was challenged to complete an obstacle course. These two things would lead Bill on a path to physical health and wellness and impact the course of his career path.
“The more that I worked on myself, getting stronger, being able to do the things I used to do, it was a big thing,” Bill said.
He connected with Warriors to Work and took an assessment to see which jobs he might be best suited for. Personal trainer was on the list. Warriors to Work® helped Bill with his resume, interview prep, and find suitable interview clothes that fit his now-broader shoulders. He landed a job at Lifetime Fitness.
Bill now works as a personal trainer, primarily for veterans or people trying to recover from pain or injuries.
“I'd say 80% of my clients are people who had been broken, who have been injured, and I work with them to get them feeling better and feeling stronger.”
He’s working with a 78-year-old client who’s had two strokes, and he’s helping retrain to walk. Another client recently had hip replacement surgery and is working to get mobile again, with a goal of doing a century bike ride.
“My passion has always been to help people,” Bills said. “That's what I've been doing, when I was a schoolteacher, when I was a truancy officer. Now I feel like instead of helping a mass group of people, I'm helping individuals and I'm able to see personal growth with them. I feel like I'm going to do this until I retire.”
Bill has found his lifetime passion through physical health and wellness. He competes in Strongman competitions and recently placed fifth in the America’s Strongest Veteran competition. He also qualified for the National Strongman Championships in Florida for ages 50 and over.
Now Bill can’t see doing anything else. Going through the tough times helped him prepare for his future career and motivate others.
“It’s common to run away from fears or anxieties instead of going through it. But once you do it, you can say, ‘I am stronger, because I've gone through it.’ And the other thing is to find your goal and find your passion.”
From Army Ranger to Chicken Farmer
Bobby Woods never shies away from a challenge. When he joined the Army, he signed up for an extra three years to guarantee he could be infantry. He went on to become an Army Ranger and deployed to Afghanistan in 2010. When Bobby was shot in the head by a sniper during combat, he bandaged his own wound. Despite the brain injury, Bobby never lost his sense of adventure.
In 2014, Bobby started his own company – a chicken farm. It’s a far cry from being an Army Ranger, but not without its own challenges and obstacles.
The farm sells broiler chickens and counts Chick-Fil-A as a customer. You might think chicken farming mostly requires knowing how to feed and breed chickens. But Bobby said it’s important to be skilled in a lot of different areas, like electric, plumbing, welding, and mechanics. He said it’s also important to know how to motivate people, especially if you’re asking them to work a chicken farm.
“The idea of walking through a chicken house and smelling like a chicken coop is not appealing to just about anyone,” he said. “I think that from the military, your ability to work with people and learn to read people and motivate people will always transfer over to your next job.”
Bobby has steadily built up his business, started a family, and maintains connections to other veterans through WWP. But when it comes to a career, Bobby doesn’t want to tie himself down and is ready for whatever the future throws his way.
“People have always asked what I wanted to do long-term, and my answer has always been, ‘Nothing for too long.’” Bobby said. “I think the idea is to always look to do something different and be willing to change and innovate. For me, the most exciting part is learning something new and making it happen.”
He also understands firsthand the difficulty it can be transitioning from life in the military to life in the civilian world, but he encourages fellow veterans to see it as a new opportunity and a chance to grow.
“I think the best advice I can give when you’re closing a chapter in a book and starting the next one, is to realize that one's done,” he said. “Now you're able to start something new. You have what you've learned there, and you can use that. But it’s a brand-new world, and it's very different from the one you were just in.”
Find out how you can be a part of the WWP community. See what’s possible.
Contact: — Paris Moulden, Public Relations, email@example.com, 904.570.7910
About Wounded Warrior Project
Since 2003, Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) has been meeting the growing needs of warriors, their families, and caregivers — helping them achieve their highest ambition. Learn more