By Rose L. Thayer
Fort Hood Herald
When Luis Feliz joined the Army in 1999, he thought he would make a career of it.
But a combat injury sustained in Iraq is forcing the sergeant first class through the Army Medical Evaluation Board after 14 years of service.
“I always saw myself doing 20 years in the Army, but sometimes the situation changes. Life changes,” he said. “For the time being, I’m making the most of the experience that I can. I’m making the best of it.”
Feliz joined the Warrior Transition Brigade in March and a month later, he began interning for the Drug Enforcement Agency in Waco through Operation Warfighter — a federal internship program that gives recovering wounded, ill and injured service members civilian work experience at participating federal and government agencies.
The program began at Fort Hood in 2009 with 10 soldiers interning at the Internal Revenue Service, said Anthony Thomas, transition coordinator of the program. Now, he oversees 51 soldiers interning with more than 25 agencies including Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Army and Air Force Exchange Services, Fort Hood and the Central Texas Veterans Affairs Healthcare System.
“It’s a win-win situation for these soldiers and agencies,” he said. “You can tell their morale is boosted once they get into the program. ... They start feeling worthy.”
Feliz is the only soldier at DEA and through his internship, he has already been an asset to the agency, said Steven Robertson, supervisory special agent of the Waco office, which covers 13 counties, including Bell and Coryell.
“He fills a need — that’s the important thing,” Robertson said.
Feliz said he had never considered law enforcement until he started working with Robertson on intelligence support, tracking data from cellphone information and other resources to help drug investigations for about 20 to 24 hours each week.
“It sparked my curiosity after doing it for three months and I’ve chosen the path of law enforcement after my Army career,” he said. The time left until his medical board decision is final is unclear.
A native of the Dominican Republic, Feliz has been able to help out on cases where speaking Spanish is required — even joining Robertson on a trip to Limestone County to interview a Colombian drug trafficker being jailed there. The interview fell through, but it wasn’t Feliz’s only chance to get out of the office.
Robertson also allowed him to come along last month on a nationwide round up of synthetic drugs being sold at area smoke shops, such as bath salts, K2 and spice.
“This is my very first experience being out with law enforcement,” said Feliz, a former infantry platoon sergeant and transportation management specialist. “It gives me the opportunity to see the profit of what they do behind closed doors.”
The Warfighter program doesn’t just offer Feliz this opportunity, it also provides transportation to make the hour commute to Waco about four days a week, depending on medical appointments.
Two vans support the program, one heading toward Austin and the other making stops in Temple and Waco to bring soldiers to and from their internships.
Since the program focuses on getting these soldiers experience working in the civilian sector, they are also required to wear civilian clothes to the workplace.
“When they get out of the uniform, they feel free,” said Thomas.
Soldiers are allowed to stay in the program as long as they and the agency want, or until they leave the Army. About 10 of these soldiers were hired full time by the agency they interned with.
“In a perfect world, we would give him a job in DEA. It would be in DEA’s advantage for him to join,” Robertson said. An agency hiring freeze stands in the way, he said.
Feliz said his first choice would be to work at DEA once he leaves the military, but he is looking into other law enforcement opportunities, too.
“I’m telling him to look at FBI and customs as well,” said Robertson. “They key point is he’s doing a good job here and he’s got me as a reference.”