The transport mission from Baghdad in April 2002 was just like any other for Fred Phelan, an experienced aircraft navigator in the U.S. Air Force. That was until an explosion violently rocked his C-130 turbo prop cargo airplane.
Phelan and his crew had been ambushed by rocket fire and a surface to air missile, causing the aircraft to nosedive in an uncontrolled altitude. During those critical seconds, his thoughts raced back to his wife and his two small children as he prepared for the worst – a crash in enemy territory.
Miraculously, the pilot regained control of the hobbled aircraft and was able to maneuver it safely back to the U.S. base.
As the result of the accident, Phelan suffered permanent back and leg injuries. He also gained an injury that is not visually apparent, but with effects that are just as debilitating: severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD.
Phelan’s injuries classified him as a disabled veteran, and with counseling and medical treatment, he overcame the physical and mental challenges of his ordeal. Soon he began to think about life beyond the military, and how he would support himself as well as his family. As a career military officer who still felt challenged by his disabilities, a successful career in the civilian world seemed like a daunting leap. As a result, Phelan decided to use the GI Bill to go to business school, though he wasn’t sure how strong his job prospects would be given his lack of professional experience.
“As luck would have it, I was approached by an acquaintance at church who asked me if I knew any disabled veterans who were interested in a mentoring and training program to land jobs on Wall Street,” said Phelan. “I said, ‘Are you kidding? You’re looking at one!’”
That chance conversation led him to The Wall Street Warfighters Foundation and his current job as vice president of institutional sales at Drexel Hamilton, a full-service broker-dealer and a certified Disabled Veteran Enterprise with offices in New York, Philadelphia and Chicago.
Phelan says that he is inspired every day by his colleagues at Drexel Hamilton, many of whom are disabled veterans like him.
“Some of my co-workers don’t have legs,” he said, matter-of-factly. “It doesn’t matter. They can do the job just like anyone else or better.”
Phelan is dedicated to helping his fellow veteran co-workers succeed, and he views his background in the military as complementary to building a strong sense of teamwork among Drexel Hamilton’s employees. Phelan also is committed to giving back by volunteering as a mentor for veterans going through the Wall Street Warfighter’s nine-month training program.
“I get to work with fellow disabled vets on a daily basis, and help them navigate the process of going from combat to the working world,” said Phelan. “For me, it’s just like being in the military, in that we each have the responsibility to pick ourselves up, and then help the others coming behind us.”
Phelan acknowledges that Drexel Hamilton is a special place to work given the firm’s mission, but he stresses that it is by no means unique in terms of the opportunities that are out there for people with disabilities. He advises individuals looking for work to think beyond the ‘disabled’ label, and seek out diversity hiring programs.
“Once I started looking, I was blown away by the amount of companies that have programs in place for hiring diverse workforces,” said Phelan. “People may think that ‘diversity’ primarily refers to race or ethnicity, but it applies to people with disabilities as well and almost every major firm on Wall Street has an outreach program for us.”
For more information on Wall Street Warfighters Foundation, visit: http://wallstreetwarfighters.org/.