Army Sgt. Joe Gracia had always dreamed of becoming a police officer after he completed his tour of duty in Afghanistan, but while on patrol in 2006, his tank hit an IED and his plans were derailed. He sustained a traumatic brain injury and other severe wounds, and had to have his right leg amputated.
"I thought, What am I gonna do? Where am I going to live?" Gracia told ABC News' Bob Woodruff.
Gracia believed he might never be able to work again, but during his recovery at Naval Medical Center in San Diego, Gracia was presented with an unusual opportunity. He was approached to take part in the Transition Training Academy, a program created by the U.S. Department of Labor, the Naval Medical Center, Cisco Systems, and the Wounded Warrior Project, among others, to train wounded veterans in computer IT support.
"I call it 'IT light,' " said Richard Reynolds, director of the TTA. "What we're doing is introducing interested veterans to IT, giving them basic IT skills."
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Since October 2001, approximately 1.64 million U.S. troops have deployed to support operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Many have been exposed for prolonged periods to combat-related stress or traumatic events. These invisible wounds of war have posed challenges for returning service members trying to find new careers.
To ensure that these service members succeed, the Department of Labor recently created a Web site called America's Heroes at Work, which addresses the employment challenges that face those living with the wounds of war.
The courses taught at the TTA are tailored to the specific educational needs of the wounded service members.
"We found TBI patients don't retain things as well as they used to, so sometimes they need to hear it more than once or twice," said Reynolds.
To work around this challenge, the TTA offers each class multiple times so that students with memory problems can take full advantage. "They would come and take the full class on Thursday morning, come back and take the full class Thursday afternoon or Friday morning, and it helped," said Reynolds.
Now, three times a week, right after his physical therapy, Gracia learns computer skills -- skills that he hopes will lead him to a new career in technology. After the trauma of his injuries, this new opportunity has proved emotional. "I'm actually happy," said Gracia. "I know that this is a good field. This is a job you can advance with."
By the end of 2008, more than 200 active duty military personnel will have completed the TTA program. It currently exists at three sites -- the Naval Medical Center in Balboa Park, Calif., Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio and the Eisenhower Medical Center at Fort Gordon, Ga.
Thirty percent of these graduates have gained civilian employment following separation from the service; 15 percent have returned to service in an IT-related military occupational specialty, while the remaining 55 percent are still continuing with their medical recovery.
"These guys have not completed their mission, and they will tell you that. So now they don't want to become a burden on this country. They want to participate in the growth of this country," said Reynolds.