Turning Pain into Purpose: This Veteran Uses War’s Wounds for Good
In a sudden, violent burst, shrapnel ricochets through the air like fireworks, slamming combat medic Jordan Webster to the ground. Before the cloud of dust and smoke clears, Jordan spots a crumpled silhouette on the ground only a few feet away. It is his brother-in-arms, who just a few minutes prior, switched places with Jordan while en route to attend to other wounded soldiers. As he watches blood stain the dry dirt of southwest Baghdad, Jordan knows that for this brave solider, there will be no wounds to pack and no tourniquets to tighten. Like thousands of Americans who gave all in the name of freedom, Jordan’s friend will leave this war-torn land with fifty stars and thirteen stripes bearing eternal witness to his sacrifice.
Fifteen years later, Jordan can still recall every detail of that deadly IED explosion down to the oppressiveness of the desert air, thick with the scent of hot lead and diesel fuel. It is Jordan’s first combat mission in Iraq—a day of days that would define and divide his life much in the same way history is separated by B.C. and A.D. There is only before, only after.
Although Jordan would go on to execute many missions during the year in which he was deployed with the Scout Sniper Unit as part of the U.S. Army 2nd Battalion, 8th Infantry Division, in many ways time ground to a halt on December 27, 2005. With fingers curled around the cold metal of an M4 carbine rifle and medic bag slung over his shoulder, Jordan learns to measure the distance between life and death in inches and seconds. It is a lesson that will prepare him well for a future career in construction safety.
But when Jordan returned home to his next duty station in San Antonio, Texas, building a career outside the military wasn’t on his immediate radar. Neither was seeking support for his invisible wounds that would later be diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and survivor syndrome.
Many nights, Jordan would wake to images of bullet-riddled buildings and mouths gasping for their last breaths, his heart racing in rhythm with the crack of sniper fire. “It’s like looking at the sun,” Jordan compares, “the images are burned into you.” Other nights, sleep would elude him entirely. Hailing from a long line of soldiers who shared stories of heroism in war but never its horrors, Jordan did not seek help for nearly two years.
Although Jordan has accepted that his personal battle may always rage on, he has turned pain into purpose by raising awareness within the construction community about the importance of mental health and suicide prevention. It would take exposure to a potentially fatal yet highly preventable construction accident to set his destiny in motion.
Stationed halfway around the world managing an emergency medical clinic at Camp Stanley in South Korea, Jordan was accustomed to triaging almost every type of illness and injury. But when a construction worker was rushed in, having suffered electrical shock when his boom lift contacted an energized power line, Jordan felt overwhelming emotional exhaustion. “The compassion was there,” Jordan recalls, “but I didn’t have any more capacity for exposure to horrific injuries.”
A career change was in order, but what, Jordan pondered? He enjoyed working with his hands, and growing up, had visited construction sites with his grandfather who owned a door subcontracting company. Dynamic, challenging and demanding complex problem-solving skills, construction checked all of Jordan’s boxes, and he enrolled in Texas A&M University’s construction science program.
The stars further aligned when Jordan interviewed for an internship with Balfour Beatty on The New Parkland Hospital. When asked if he would consider working with the safety team due to his medical experience, Jordan responded “I’ll do anything you want,” hiding his skepticism.
It wasn’t long before Jordan realized he had not only found the perfect career track, but also a home and another ‘band of brothers’ at Balfour Beatty. When he woke up late one morning, he feared reprimand or even the termination of his internship—despite disclosing his PTSD diagnosis. Instead, he was met with compassion and a reminder that Balfour Beatty puts people and their health first in every situation. “Balfour saw in me a skillset no was else was looking for and created a safe, supportive environment where I could contribute,” praises Jordan.
And he’s been a key member of Balfour Beatty’s Texas Buildings team ever since, creating a safety culture for teammates and trade partners grounded in three principles: production, safety and quality. For Jordan, these facets of project performance are inextricably linked. “I’ve heard people say, ‘Production is our problem. Safety is our problem.’ No, it’s one team, one fight.”
Jordan’s experiences in Iraq give him a unique lens into the mindsets of our trade partners, many of whom are immigrants trying to provide for their families. “If I’m a worker, and you give me a six-foot ladder when I really need an eight-foot ladder and tell me to go do this task, I’m probably going to do it.” For Jordan, that’s where psychological safety comes into play. By showing workers that we care about their safety and wellbeing, mindsets shift, and they become more comfortable voicing needs and concerns.
Jordan Webster’s unlikely journey to become a construction safety leader began in a different continent and under tragic circumstances. A few inches spared his life on December 27, 2005, while it claimed the life of a brother-in-arms and a friend.
Real heroes rarely boast about their acts of valor. They sign up and stand up, never counting the cost. And if we aren’t careful, we can miss the ones like Jordan walking quietly among us, continuing the mission with a servant’s heart and a soldier’s unwavering duty.
Balfour Beatty is committed to creating an inclusive workplace that recognizes the unique value, skills and experiences that veterans offer. Looking to build your career alongside veterans like Safety, Health & Environment (SHE) Director Jordan Webster? Click here to explore our current opportunities. Learn more about Balfour Beatty’s veteran recruitment efforts and why the construction industry is an ideal fit for veterans.