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What I’ve learned as a Purple Heart Veteran

I never thought I’d have to learn how to walk again at the age of 27, but life doesn’t always happen the way you imagine.

As an FDC Chief in charge of the C Btry 82 Field Artillery during Operation Desert Storm, I suffered devastating injuries after being hit by an explosion that rocked my unit. As a result of the explosion, I lost 70% of my hearing, my top and bottom of my right jaw were crushed by explosion of an Iraqi artillery shell, and I was struck with 27 pieces of shrapnel, which entered my back and spine area.  I was sent home to my family at Ft. Hood, Texas to recover and over the course of the next year I learned how to walk again.

In 1990, I was awarded a Purple Heart for my service and for the injuries I received not only in Desert Storm but also during the Invasion of Panama in 1989.  I was presented the medal by Brigadier General John Abrams, whose father was the famous General who saved the 101st Airborne Division at Bastogne in WW2.  As you can imagine, this was the honor of my life.

A life that started with me growing up as a young boy, near the Philadelphia Navy Yard.  Some of my friends were Navy brats and I was surrounded by the military most of my life.  Thinking back now, maybe I was destined to join the Army. 

Joining was a decision that changed the course of my life. I served from 1981 – 2004 and throughout those years, I learned how to manage and lead people. I learned how to be flexible in tough situations; these are lessons that helped me grow to an experienced leader who cared about his soldiers even in tough times.

By 2004, I was out of the field and working for the NY State Department of Labor as a Veterans Service Officer, and although no longer in combat I recognized the tough times were becoming even tougher and I knew it was time to make a change. I received a call from a recruiter about a Contract HR Position at GSK in Oak Hill and, despite an 80-mile commute both ways, I jumped at the chance.

Oak Hill is a small manufacturing facility – we’re like a family here.

We have many generations of employees who manufacture and produce Aquafresh and Sensodyne. In my current role, I am a responsible for Global Learning and Development. It’s a role that I love because I get to help others learn and develop – not so different to the role I had in the Army.

I know that I most likely would not be working at GSK if it were not for the Army. My Training background start in the 1980s when I was a Drill Sergeant at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma and a Tactics Instructor at West Point. Being a “platform” Instructor, you’re required to be regimented in course and syllabus design. This helps me today with any class that my team must build for factory support.

If I were to look back to the moment I walked into the recruiter’s office to join the Army – I’m confident that I wouldn’t do much different.  The lessons I learned from that day on are what have made me the man I am today.

With the support of my colleagues in Oak Hill, I am proud to continue bringing support to families, like mine, who watch their loved ones head off to serve our country.  Every year, in Oak Hill and across the US, GSK comes together to celebrate those families and thank them for their service. This year we invited the Gold Star Mothers of the Hudson Valley to our annual Veterans Day Celebration in Oak Hill. Mothers who lost their sons in combat and now use their grief to support other veteran groups in the area.

Whether as an Army recruit, a First Sergeant, or a manager at GSK responsible for the development and training of my small team – I have dedicated my life to the service of others and I stand proud because of it. 


-- Ken Dwyer, PHR
Global Learning and Development Manager, GSK

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