PHILADELPHIA — If you didn't know John Jones, you'd assume he was just another overworked securities trader, hustling across the sidewalk to wolf down a quick lunch in this city's financial district.
But when he sits down, his recent past is on full display. Titanium shins poke out from the cuffs of his slacks, revealing prosthetic legs. Jones was a Marine staff sergeant in Iraq in 2005 when a land mine blew off both legs below the knees.
Now he spends his days hunched over a desk, taking a crash course to become a licensed securities broker. He doesn't have a college education or a finance background, but he does have a wealth of experience as a leader and decisionmaker in highly stressful situations.
"It all boils down to morals: Do the right thing; keep your integrity intact," Jones said of his intention to join an industry blamed by many for helping trigger the economic collapse.
Jones and a fellow soldier, Army Master Sgt. George Holmes, are the first two students in a six-month course designed to train badly injured veterans for finance industry jobs. The Philadelphia brokerage firm that runs the program was founded by a wounded Vietnam veteran who believes that anyone who excels in combat can flourish in the high-pressure world of Wall Street.
The timing may not seem opportune: The financial sector is in meltdown, the stock market is volatile, layoffs are rampant and the public backlash against Wall Street is fierce.
So why bring wounded veterans into this cauldron?
"These are the guys who sacrificed to keep us free. If you don't trust them, you don't trust anybody," said Lawrence Doll, the disabled Vietnam veteran who started the Drexel Hamilton brokerage.
The firm's program prepares wounded veterans for the two grueling exams required to become licensed securities brokers. If they pass, they are guaranteed a job buying and trading securities. The program pays for living, travel and instruction expenses, at a cost of roughly $19,000 per veteran.
Jones and Holmes, who beat out 15 others for the first two slots, are immersed daily in the ways of Wall Street. Most classes are held at Drexel Hamilton's 14th-floor office in a Philadelphia skyscraper, with weeklong field trips to the New York Stock Exchange, Goldman Sachs, the Chicago Board of Options Exchange and other places.
The two were honored Sunday at a conference at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, where they were seated at dinner with Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens. Pickens offered both men jobs.
Drexel Hamilton is dominated by brokers who serve in the Pennsylvania National Guard. They use terms like "boots on the ground" to describe field trips and "basic training" to describe the course.
Holmes, 37, has an MBA and worked as a credit analyst while also serving in the National Guard. He volunteered for tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he was badly wounded in a rocket attack in 2008. Two soldiers next to him were killed, he said.
Once the two veterans graduate in July, four more wounded veterans will be trained, said Joel Canfield, who runs the program. He said 47 vets have applied for the next course, and more than 300 have inquired — many of them Vietnam veterans.
"Leadership is the key," Jones said. "It's what America needs. It's what the finance and business world need. We have it."