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thedrifter
05-21-08, 08:32 AM
Program Offers Wounded Marines A New Career Path

Last Updated:
05-20-08 at 6:52PM

More than 8,000 seriously injured Marines have returned home from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the U.S. military. Many of them face uncertain futures, but now there's a new program designed to take skills learned in the corps and apply them to a completely different career path.

Former Marine Sgt. Tyler Betz - one of thousands of wounded Marines returning to civilian life - is now using skills learned in the Marines and applying them to a new career in media.

Betz is one of 19 injured troops to recently graduate from the Wounded Marine Careers Foundation, a 10-week training program taught by film industry giants where students learn everything from shooting video and stills to film editing and sound mixing.

"Pretty much the school is founded on the Marine Corps beliefs," Betz said.

Located in Kearny Mesa, this first-of-it-kind program offers Marines hurt in active duty a chance to pursue a career in movie making, photography, journalism and similar fields.

"You start getting out… you kind of realize, what am I supposed to do with my life?" Betz said.

Betz, who served two tours of duty in Iraq, suffered a head injury while training local Iraqi police. Suffering with short-term memory loss and post-traumatic stress disorder, Betz says the free program has opened new paths for his professional life.

"I've learned how to edit, I've learned how to take a proper picture, I've learned how to use a camera, cinematography... I've learned that I can actually write," he said.

Gunnery Sergeant Nick Popaditch, another graduate, now works as the foundation's deputy director. He says there's a connection between serving in the Marines and the task of making movies.

"The same skills that make you successful in the Marine Corps, that same discipline, attention to detail, teamwork, leadership - things that make a successful tank crew, successful rifle squad -that make a successful production crew," he said.

They're successful despite the odds. Sergeant Popaditch served 16 years in the corps as a tank commander until a rocket-propelled grenade struck him in the head during the battle for Fallujah in 2004.

"Got one of my eyes blown out, lost 92 percent of my vision in the other… it's just the way it goes," he said.

While Popaditch focused on sound editing during the program, he says no student is held back because of their disability.

"There was nobody who was precluded from anything here," he said.

It's a can-do spirit that is now helping these graduates transition from the foundation to finding work.

"There are jobs out there. Everybody's looking to hire us," Betz said.

Even when jobs are not immediately available, many organizations are taking the time to work with recent program grads, like here at KFMB.

Twenty-three-year-old Betz says the program has changed the way he looks at the rest of his life.

"I'm definitely hopeful," he said.

"You know, Marines can move mountains, and you know this is just another mountain to move," Popaditch said.

The next class of the Wounded Marine Careers Foundation will begin in September. Each class costs roughly $2 million, funded primarily from foundations and private donations.

Ellie