Joseph Weeren - Fellow

May 11, 2011
Joseph Weeren
Joseph Weeren - Fellow

The world knows about what Joseph Weeren went through in Iraq.

Weeren was a 27-year-old Army sniper team leader in January 2008 when his platoon made a fateful call on a house north of Baghdad suspected of harboring insurgents. The raid turned into a fatal trap when one of the soldiers stepped on a trip wire and detonated bombs rigged to explode the house. A reporter embedded with the soldiers wrote about the resulting carnage in the New York Times.

Six of Weeren’s colleagues and their Iraqi interpreter died that day. The force of the explosion knocked Weeren off the three-story house’s roof and partially melted his gloves. Suffering a severe concussion, blurred vision and various wounds, Weeren helped extricate other injured soldiers from under concrete rubble. Then, he returned to the nearby village alone to arrest a resident who had directed the soldiers to the booby-trapped house.

It would be a long time before Weeren could deal with what unfolded that day. “At that time, I didn’t really process stuff,” he recalls. “It was surreal.” Weeren’s superiors praised his selfless actions and promoted him to squad leader.

Weeren was no stranger to leadership under adversity. A high school All-American lacrosse player, Weeren had gone on to captain the Roanoke College lacrosse team as his father suffered with then died of lung cancer. He had enlisted in the Army shortly after the 9/11 attacks because, as he puts it, “I didn’t want to look back 40 years down the road and think I didn’t do anything.” He did highly demanding Airborne and Ranger training before joining a scout sniper platoon.

After the house explosion, Weeren’s remaining tour in Iraq was relatively quiet. Upon returning to the U.S. and leaving the army, the Purple Heart recipient struggled with direction. He joined the Virginia National Guard, but was unsure what to do for full-time work.

When Weeren heard about the Wounded Warrior Program, he saw an opportunity for direction. “I figured there were probably other vets like me that I could help.” There would be new training and new perspectives. Having struggled with readjusting to civilian life, Weeren wanted to learn more about transition issues and what could be done for others. As a natural leader, he figured he could have an impact on others.

As a Constituent Service Representative for Military and Veterans Issues in Rep. Gerald Connolly’s Annandale, VA office, Weeren does a range of work from handling benefits requests to doing outreach. Weeren has only been on the job for a few weeks, but he has already had gratifying experiences. He helped a woman obtain benefits for her husband, a World War II veteran still suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. “She was almost crying on the phone,” Weeren says. “She was very thankful.”