One hero turns the tables with thanks to Medtronic employees.
If there was one place where the word 'hero' fit perfectly, this was it.
Visitors filled the Medtronic Club at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis to meet true American heroes -- all recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest award America can bestow for bravery in battle.
The event was part of the 2016 week-long Medal of Honor Convention, which Medtronic co-sponsored. More than two dozen Medal of Honor recipients signed autographs, posed for pictures and shared their stories.
And one of them wanted to send a message to Medtronic employees.
In 1966, Robert Ingram was a young Navy corpsman, serving with Marine infantry, in Vietnam. Despite suffering four bullet wounds, including one to the head, during a battle in Quang Ngai Province, Ingram continued to treat other wounded Marines. He received the Medal of Honor for saving many lives on that day.
Ingram’s battle wounds healed, but pain from his injuries worsened over the decades, particularly in his neck, lower legs and knees.
“It wasn’t until I started getting the sensations in the left hand and left arm that I knew something was really not right,” Ingram said.
Eventually doctors diagnosed a spine problem and in 2010, performed surgery, using a Medtronic cervical disc to replace the one causing trouble.
It was an overnight change," Ingram said. "When I was in the recovery room I was moving my head from left to right and my doctor said 'wait, whoa, whoa, whoa. Don't press this thing.' And I said 'look you don't understand, I haven't been able to turn my head in 50 years.'"
Ingram said he wanted to find a way to get a message to Medtronic employees, and his eyes filled with tears as he delivered it.
I've had a lot of thoughts about the people who came up with the idea, the people who developed it, the people who worked on it," he said. "And I really wanted them to know how much the people who receive these devices appreciate it. This is the difference between me being in a wheelchair and me being where I am right now, looking forward to the future. I was not looking forward to the future six years ago."
The Medal of Honor was created in 1861 by President Abraham Lincoln, and receiving it is a high honor – it’s been awarded to fewer than 3,500 people in American history. There are currently only 77 living recipients, and more than half attended the convention in Minneapolis.
Honoring the past, shaping the future
One goal of the Medal of Honor Society is to help promote strong character by building on the sense of service that Medal of Honor recipients represent.
The society helped developed a school curriculum emphasizing courage, commitment, integrity, citizenship, sacrifice and patriotism. Highland Elementary School in Columbia Heights, Minn., is one of the first in the nation to implement the curriculum, which is known as the Character Development Program.
That announcement came during a ceremony at Columbia Heights High School – Medtronic co-founder Earl Bakken’s alma mater – dedicating a plaque in honor of James LaBelle.
He was a Columbia Heights High School student who joined the service as a teenager during World War II. He died at Iwo Jima after throwing himself on a grenade – sacrificing his own life to save his fellow soldiers. LaBelle was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 1945.
Patrick Joyce, vice president of IT security at Medtronic and also a military veteran, spoke at the ceremony and helped unveil the tribute to LaBelle, which stands prominently in the courtyard outside Columbia Heights High School.
"The Medal of Honor is of great importance to Medtronic," Joyce said. "It holds a special place in the hearts and minds of Medtronic employees, many of whom are veterans. Strong attributes such as trust and integrity, dependability, perseverance, a focus on the mission, and supporting others on the team are just some examples of what our veterans bring to the workplace, and we're grateful for their contributions to our country, our community and our company," he said.
One of the key challenges facing military veterans is finding a career after finishing service to their country. The Veteran Employee Resource Group (VERG) at Medtronic organized a forum during the Medal of Honor Convention to discuss the employment challenges veterans often face.
"When veterans get out (of the military) it's like hitting a wall," said Ty Carter, a Medal of Honor recipient for his service in Afghanistan and who participated in the forum. "They're returning to a society that either doesn't know or doesn't want to know what their experience is," he said.
More than 1,000 Medtronic employees are U.S. military veterans, and more than 400 belong to the Medtronic VERG. They include Samantha Lee Pree-Stinson, an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan. Now a technical specialist in the customer support and vigilance department at Medtronic, she moderated the panel discussion.
"Thinking under pressure, being resourceful, reliable, on time, task-oriented, able to learn multiple other skills, being mission-driven," she said. "These are all skills that we learned in the military that transfer to the corporate workplace," she said." Learn more about Samantha and her work at Medtronic.
The Medtronic VERG actively mentors veterans in their career development, even those who don't currently work at Medtronic.
"We need to educate our business leaders and our managers about the advantages of bringing in military people. We have to be very proactive about that," said Jose Ayala, director of global channel compliance at Medtronic and a former Navy pilot. "We really want to encourage managers to look at the qualities that a military veteran brings to the discussion, rather than just strictly job experience on a resume." Learn more about Jose and his role at Medtronic.
Medtronic leadership is committed to that goal, according to Medtronic vice president of communications, and former Air Force officer, Rob Clark.
"Medtronic, like a lot of companies, is starting to really look at this issue," Clark said. "We recognize there are skills unique to military veterans that greatly benefit corporations, and I'm pleased with how our management and leadership have embraced veterans and want to do even more."
Carter said he was impressed by the Medtronic commitment to veterans' job issues. "If companies just understand the assets that veterans have, then they'll want to utilize them," he said. "It's a huge, almost untapped resource, and corporations need to take advantage of it."
The Medal of Honor Convention was held Oct. 3-8 in Minneapolis. The 2017 convention will be in Pueblo, Colo.
Veterans interested in careers at Medtronic can learn more at http://www.medtronic.com/us-en/about/careers.html.