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Wounded warriors train for new careers

March 6, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
There are thousands of wounded warriors coming home from the Iraq War looking for new careers. Specialized schools can't keep up with the need. In San Diego there's a groundbreaking training program, a 10-week boot camp for careers in media. Their motto: adapt and overcome.

Eyewitness News spent some time with the wounded Marines. Some are amputees, some recovering from traumatic brain injury.

They are learning video and still photography, editing and writing, among other skills. And they are getting back a sense of hope.

On an early Friday afternoon, the inaugural class of the Wounded Marine Careers Foundation heads to the street for the day's assignment, a video study about motion.

They will graduate from the 10-week training program this month, a program offering a second chance to wounded Marines and sailors, who are looking for careers in film and TV. Careers in film and TV are very possible for persons with disabilities. This reporter shares that message from personal experience, giving encouragement to students like Eric Cohen.

"I didn't think I was going to be able to anything with my life anymore," said former Marine Eric Cohen. "With this course and what they put together, I can do editing, and it's something I've really wanted to do all my life, so now my dream has come true."

Nick Popaditch is studying sound recording. He lost an eye when a rocket-propelled grenade hit his tank.

Popaditch conducts a daily formation, where the gunnery sergeant in him takes over.

"If you want to check out camera equipment in the evening or any sort of equipment, it'll be just like checking out a weapon," said Popaditch to the class.

There are 19 wounded warriors in this first class; many more applied.

Jamil Brown lost a leg in Fallujah, but not his motivation. He's learning to edit on professional equipment in just a few weeks.

The school is held on a production lot in San Diego. It's the idea of a couple who sold their home back East and raised $2 million for it with the Marine Corps' blessing.

Cinematographer Kevin Lombard is one half of the couple. Wife Judith Paixao says they plan to keep the program going.

"We knew that they were Marines, so that they had that discipline and focus," said co-founder Paixao. "But it's been God's work. They have exceeded our wildest dreams and hopes."

After sustaining traumatic brain injury in Iraq, Tyler Betz briefly tried college, then came here -- and something clicked.

"I'm able to function a lot better, my memory's actually coming back," said Betz. "My future looks way brighter. I don't know where it's going to take me, but I know it's going to take me somewhere."

The first class of wounded warriors graduates in two weeks. They'll have professional certifications and carry IATSE union cards, ready for work.

The Foundation is already planning for the next class this fall. For more information on the Wounded Marine Careers Foundation:

www.woundedmarinecareers.org

Don Giaquinto: (858) 974-8133


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