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Fighting for Wounded Warriors

A Wall Street investment firm is dedicated to aiding service-disabled vets

By Scott Brinton, LIHerald.com
March 20, 2012
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Michael Steigerwald, right, in the cockpit of a C-130 Hercules cargo plane in 2006, when he was a major in the Air Force Reserve, with Capt. Brady Ohr. Steigerwald was shot down over Iraq in 2007 and attained the rank of lieutenant colonel before he was honorably discharged in 2010. These days he’s a vice president at the investment firm Drexel Hamilton, thanks to the Wall Street War Fighters Foundation.

Michael Steigerwald could have left the Air Force Reserve’s 327th Airlift Squadron after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Having served six years in the reserves, he had fulfilled his obligation to the military.

But Steigerwald, now 49, of Bucks County, Pa., didn’t flinch when his unit was activated in the fight for Afghanistan, which began on Oct. 7, 2001, and continues to this day. Steigerwald heeded the call of duty in 2002.

“It was the right thing to do,” he said.

And so, Steigerwald, who had been an international airline pilot for Trans World Airlines and American Airlines for eight years before he was activated, went to Afghanistan, and later to Iraq. In all, he served six tours of duty from 2002 through 2010, when he was honorably discharged.

Steigerwald flew a C-130 Hercules cargo plane in and out of combat zones, attaining the rank of lieutenant colonel and earning the Meritorious Service Medal, the Aerial Achievement Medal, the Air Force Commendation Medal and five Air Medals. In March 2007, he was shot down in a rocket attack outside Baghdad as he ferried vital supplies to U.S. troops, and he broke his leg and dislocated his shoulder in the crash. But he recovered and continued to fly missions.

Cumulative injuries eventually caught up with him, though, and he could no longer fly, ending the career that he had enjoyed as a commercial airline pilot, which he had put on hold to take part in the U.S.’s overseas missions.

Upon leaving the military, Steigerwald, who is married and has two sons, might have had a hard time finding work –– or might have even been jobless –– if he had not heard about the Wall Street War Fighters Foundation from an Air Force friend. The nonprofit organization trained him to work in the financial-services industry. Now Steigerwald is a vice president of sales at Drexel Hamilton, a privately held institutional investment firm.

Disabled Vietnam War veteran Lawrence Doll and Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, who served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2005 to 2007, started the Wall Street War Fighters Foundation, which trains wounded veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars for careers on Wall Street, either at Drexel Hamilton, which Doll founded in 2008, or at any number of the firm’s competitors.

Enter Merokean William Mingione. He’s a 16-year Wall Street veteran who served at one time as vice president of an equity-trading group at financial titan Fidelity Investments. Mingione, 37, knows a lot of people on “The Street.” He could have worked at most any powerhouse investment firm, but he recently joined Drexel Hamilton, a “boutique” firm with $12 million in annual revenue, because he said he believes in its core mission of helping service-disabled veterans like Steigerwald find gainful employment after the military.

“I thought it was something terribly unique,” said Mingione, who grew up in Island Park and now volunteers for the Merrick Fire Department and his sons’ youth hockey team, the Arrows, in Freeport.

Committed to disabled veterans

Mingione learned about Drexel Hamilton, which has offices in Philadelphia and Manhattan, through his longtime friend James Cahill. Cahill is a legend of Wall Street investing who was once managing director at Salomon Brothers and who lost his son, Thomas, a bond trader at Cantor Fitzgerald’s World Trade Center office, on Sept. 11. James Cahill now serves as Drexel Hamilton’s president for $1 a year.

Mingione’s job is three-pronged: sell Drexel Hamilton’s financial products, help the firm connect with municipalities that are preparing to float bonds and help train disabled veterans for Wall Street careers.

Service-disabled veterans are the only salaried employees at Drexel Hamilton. All others, including Mingione, work on commission. Of the firm’s 43 employees, seven are disabled veterans and 12 others are veterans.

The Wall Street War Fighters Foundation sponsors an intense, six-month training course designed to prepare service-disabled veterans to pass their Series 7 and Series 66 exams, which are administered by the North American Securities Administrators Association and allow those who successfully complete them to become investment advisers. Enrollees in the foundation’s training course also serve as interns at Drexel Hamilton’s offices and at other investment firms. The cost to train one veteran is $35,000, which is funded by Drexel Hamilton and private contributions.

Steigerwald completed the course and his exams in 2010 and was hired at Drexel Hamilton last year. When interviewing for investing jobs, Steigerwald said he was often asked how he handled pressure. He would note simply that his previous job was flying a $100 million, government-owned airplane through enemy fire. If that’s not pressure, what is?

Finding a new life on ‘The Street’

Steigerwald said he misses flying, but he loves his new work. “It’s busy. It’s a continually changing environment. It’s technical. I’m used to that,” he said, seated at his spartan desk on the 20th floor at 14 Wall St., around the corner from the New York Stock Exchange, with two computer screens flashing numbers and charts before him.

Still, he added, “There’s a steep learning curve. It’s a big change for me.”

Eric Eberth, Drexel Hamilton’s vice president for municipal finance, also came through the Wall Street War Fighters Foundation in 2010. Eberth, an Army Apache helicopter pilot, suffered a traumatic brain injury while deployed in Iraq in 2008. These days he’s stationed at his desk at Drexel Hamilton, just across from Steigerwald.

Though Eberth required two years of rehabilitation to overcome his injuries and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, he said he has no regrets about his service to his country. The military “never teaches you how to feel sorry for yourself,” he said with a smile.

In fact, he said, he had no desire to leave the military. “I was fighting to stay in,” Eberth said. But his injuries precluded him from further service. He might have been unemployed, or working as a trainer at a military base, if not for the Wall Street War Fighters Foundation.

Eberth said he hopes to get the word out about the foundation. “There’s not enough disabled veterans who understand the program exists,” he said.

Cauldon Quinn, a 1997 Naval Academy graduate who served with a special-forces unit in Afghanistan in 2002, required multiple surgeries to repair damage to his knees and back. Now Quinn is Drexel Hamilton’s managing director and chief financial officer.

Quinn noted that the unemployment rate among veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars is greater than 20 percent. Among service-disabled veterans, it can be as high as 25 percent. “I want to do anything that I can to help disabled veterans,” Quinn said.

Mingione said that Drexel Hamilton does what it does in the name of aiding the most vulnerable of veterans. “There’s no fat cat getting rich here,” he said.

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