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SEPTA Salutes Veterans and Those Who Serve

Heather Redfern
SEPTA Press Officer

The nation officially celebrates Veterans Day on November 11, but SEPTA recognizes the contributions of our veterans and current servicemen and women every day.

Many veterans are currently employed in positions throughout the Authority and SEPTA has made a commitment to bringing more veterans into its workforce. "We've adopted the American Public Transportation Association's (APTA) 12 percent veteran hiring goal for rail operations," said Dan Dandrea, SEPTA's Manager of Recruitment. "To date, this year we have about an 11.5 percent veteran hiring rate for rail and almost an 11 percent hiring rate for bus operations."

To reach its veterans hiring goal, SEPTA participates in careers fairs across the Greater Philadelphia region and works with numerous military-based organizations. "SEPTA is a member of the Employer Partnership [EP] of the Armed Forces," said Dandrea. "The EP was created as a way to provide America's employers with a direct link to military service members and their families. SEPTA is able to post career opportunities for free on their website. The EP also posts upcoming veteran career fairs on its site."

SEPTA is also active with the Marine Executive Association, the Philadelphia-based Marine 4 Life Program, the Greater Philadelphia Veteran Network, Career Link's veteran representatives and the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, serving as a registered employer on their Hero2Hired job posting website.

"We have found that veterans are excellent candidates for positions at SEPTA," said Dandrea. "They are accustomed to adhering to strict schedules and working a variety of hours. Many applicants have training and skills that are transferrable to the Authority, such as vehicle maintenance and driving."

In addition to supporting our veterans through hiring initiatives, SEPTA salutes the men and women who are currently serving our country. For the past two years, the Authority teamed up with the Philadelphia Sports Congress to collect items for care packages to be sent to U.S. troops stationed around the world via Operation Gratitude. Members of the armed forces, joined by volunteers at SEPTA's Headquarters and other Center City Philadelphia locations, collected toiletries, socks, scarves, gloves, CDs, gift cards and letters of appreciation for servicemen and women.

"The men and women who will receive the donated items are true heroes, fighting for our freedom," said SEPTA GM Joe Casey. "The least we can do is give them a helping hand by serving as a collection point for care package items."

The dangers of serving in the military recently hit the SEPTA family. U.S. Army Sergeant Eric Petersen, son of Deputy General Counsel Neil Petersen, is assigned to the 1st Infantry Division out of Fort Riley, Kansas. Sgt. Petersen was deployed to Afghanistan in May 2012 along with the Fort Riley's 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, in Company D, 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment. On August 1, Sgt. Petersen was critically wounded when his team's MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) All-Terrain Vehicle (M-ATV) went over an estimated 300 pound remotely detonated Improvised Explosive Device ("IED") while on mounted patrol in the Patika province, along the Pakistan border.

Sgt. Petersen - his team's leader - was the turret gunner on the M-ATV. He lost his right eye and also needed surgery for injuries he received to his left knee and right elbow. Killed in the explosion were Lieutenant Todd Lambka, Private First Class Jesus Lopez and the Afghan interpreter. Private First Class Kevin Ware survived, but sustained serious head trauma and leg injuries and is still recovering at an Army hospital in San Antonio.

"Eric was airlifted from the explosion site to an Air Force Base in Afghanistan, then ventilated, put in a medically induced coma and flown to Landstuhl Medical Center in Germany for further treatment," his father said. Four days later he was flown to Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C., where he underwent an eight-hour reconstructive surgery to his face, including the insertion of eight titanium plates to support the cheek and eye socket.

"As the many doctors who have seen him have said, it's a miracle that he is alive, let alone having relatively full use of his faculties," said Neil.

Sgt. Petersen is currently an outpatient at Walter Reed in the Warrior Transition Brigade (WTB), waiting for final medical clearance and formal out-processing for release to Ft. Riley as part of its WTB unit. "If it were up to Eric, he would remain a 'grunt', and return to the 1-28 and his 'brothers' in Afghanistan before their deployment ends in late February," said Neil. "He was getting ready to sign a reenlistment contract for another three years in the Army when this event occurred. It is his desire to stay in the infantry and even go to Ranger School as soon as he can get himself back in shape."

Sgt. Petersen received the Purple Heart and the Army Combat Infantryman Badge (CIB) for his efforts while in combat with the enemy during the deployment. He was also presented with the "Flying Cardinal Award" by the School Board of his alma mater, Upper Dublin High School, for his service and valor in the military. SEPTA honored Sgt. Petersen as a "Wounded Warrior" at a golf tournament in September. Authority Board President Pat Deon treated the lifelong Eagles fan with suite tickets for a game and the opportunity to watch pregame practice on the field. "We can't say enough for what SEPTA did for Eric, honoring him at the golf tournament, treating him to the game and recognizing him as a hero," said Neil.

"We are proud to have honored Sgt. Petersen," said Casey. "We thank him and his brothers and sisters in the Armed Forces for their service."

SEPTA Senior Recruiter Jim Barnshaw meets with job fair attendees at an event at the Willow Grove Naval Air Station-Joint Reserve Base.

From left: Future soldier Christine Gibson, SFC Virginia Webb and OCS candidate Christopher Bleakley collected care package items at SEPTA Headquarters on Operation Gratitude Day 2012.

SEPTA customers at AT&T Station signed letters of appreciation for members of the military during Operation Gratitude Day 2011.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta visited Sgt. Eric Petersen at Walter Reed Army Hospital.

From left: Philadelphia Eagles President Don Smolenski greeted Sgt. Petersen and his father Neil on the field before the Eagles-Lions game on October 14.