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Jessica Holdman, The Bismarck Tribune, Published December 02 2012

North Dakota companies helping put veterans back to work

BISMARCK – Former Marine Mark Haegele lost both legs when he stepped on an improvised explosive device while deployed in Afghanistan in April 2011.

The 21-year-old Bismarck resident spent a year and two months in a Maryland hospital learning how to walk on prosthetics. While he was there, he thought a lot about what he wanted to do with his life.

Though he couldn’t exactly say why – he’d never done it before – Haegele decided he wanted to be a butcher.

“It sounded cool, I guess,” he said.

Haegele has worked at West Dakota Meats for about three months. He was connected to the owner, Keith Kline, by his recovery care coordinator. When Haegele applied, Kline told him he wasn’t hiring at the moment but that he would be the first one Kline called when he started hiring in the fall.

Kline hired Haegele to debone the meat – cutting the meat off the bones and trimming away the fat.

“I thought if I’m going to give anybody a chance, I’m going to give this guy a chance,” Kline said.

Employers across the state are helping put veterans like Haegele back to work. John Hall, a Disabled Veterans Outreach Program specialist at Job Service North Dakota, said 85 percent of veterans registered with JobsND were employed in the first or second quarter of 2012.

“I don’t care who the employer is, you’ll probably find a veteran there, especially in this community,” Hall said.

Hall helps veterans find a job and works with companies to eliminate any barriers to employment.

“They’re no different than anybody else,” Hall said of disabled veterans. “If they can still do a job, then they do their job.”

Hall said there has been a 55 percent increase in the number of veterans registered with JobsND since 2008. There are now 4,600 registered veterans in the program, 733 of whom are disabled.

Kline said when Haegele came in he was walking on prosthetic legs. Kline could tell it was difficult for him to get around.

“With what he’s been through, I figured he’d figure out a way,” Kline said.

Even if Haegele has to struggle a little, Kline said, he always finds a way to get the job done.

His first day, Haegele said, he was cutting from his wheelchair, which sat a little too low to the cutting table. He ended up getting a stainless steel stool that lifts him up to the right height.

“Any adjustments I need, they’re really good about,” he said, and the other employees are more than willing to help out if he needs it.

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