PATUXENT RIVER, Md. – Wounded veterans serving a second time as government employees bring a certain strength and commitment to their jobs, according to Kenneth Cadena, a Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) Wounded Warrior Program and Command Recruitment advocate.
“They’ve transitioned through a difficult phase of their lives,” he said. “Not only do they closely identify with the warfighter; they are highly aware of what is at stake when it comes to providing capabilities. They want to continue to make a difference in the next phase of their careers.”
Since 2013, Cadena has helped more than 20 transitioning wounded veterans find employment at NAVAIR, personally mentoring six of them. “They reminded me of myself when I retired, thinking about how I was going to transition from the military to a civilian environment,” he said. “But working with civilians is not that different than being in a unit. It’s a team that works toward a common goal to achieve the mission.” The St. Mary’s County (Maryland) Commission for People with Disabilities recently recognized him with its Persons with Disabilities Award, Wounded Warrior category, for his outreach efforts. NAVAIR Veteran and Wounded Warrior Program Outreach Coordinator Sonny Fann nominated Cadena for the award.
Cadena understands the concerns and uneasiness felt by wounded veterans. Nine years ago, the retired Marine master sergeant became a wounded veteran after several extreme combat deployments. Following more than two years of inpatient and outpatient cognitive therapy training, Cadena embarked on exploring his new role after active duty.
Fann first met Cadena five years ago at a DoD “Hiring Heroes” event at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, five years ago and helped him find employment at NAVAIR. He said Cadena is an example of how programs such as the Wounded Warrior Program meets the needs of both veterans and government organizations.
“Regardless of rank, wounded veterans have been subject to extreme personal hardship and combat situations,” Fann said. “They understand the end game of NAVAIR’s mission and can use their life experiences on program teams to ensure all considerations have been made in the acquisition and the sustainment of aircraft weapon systems. Their life experiences cannot be replicated anyplace else.”
“Mr. Cadena, like all other veterans, only needed a ‘hand up’—not a ‘hand out’—to demonstrate how his abilities are invaluable to any organization,” he added. “He has demonstrated that wounded veterans have great value and can live a productive and successful life as they navigate their individual challenges.”
Preventing suicide among veterans is a central piece of Cadena’s approach. “I understand their physical challenges and how the injuries must be managed each day,” he said. “I let them know I’m here if they need to talk. It’s hard for veterans to open up, so initiate the conversation by talking about it first.”
“It’s like the battle buddy system in the military where you are responsible to someone and they are responsible to you. We need to be there for each other and help them with the ongoing management of life. That’s advice I would give to everyone.”
Cadena measures his success by how much others have excelled. “Wounded veterans are a great match for NAVAIR,” Cadena said. “They can make the transition and take on the challenge.”