HEADQUARTERS, NAVAL AIR SYSTEMS COMMAND, PATUXENT RIVER, Md.– On Wednesday, Oct. 19, a panel of five from across the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) workforce discussed their experiences with National Disability Employment Awareness Month’s (NDEAM) theme of “Disability: Part of the Equity Equation,” which recognizes the vital role people with disabilities play in making the nation’s workforce diverse and inclusive.

“Disability is an ability, not a disability,” said panelist Hal Wallas, Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE), modernization team member. “You are only limited by how you limit yourself.”

Wallas began his career in the Marine Corps in 1990. His career path led him to become a federal police officer with the Marine Corps police program in 2008. As a modernization team member, which is made up of various maintenance trades used to complete complex construction and facility renovations, he plays a vital role in support of all FRCE platforms.

Panelist Eivind Forseth, Naval Aviation Warfare Center Weapon Division (NAWCWD), Sea Range Operations division head, credits his NAVAIR career to the Wounded Warrior Program. “No one understands the warfighter like someone who has been on the battlefield,” he said.

His career began with ten years of active duty service in the Army, including tours in Bosnia and Iraq. He was wounded in 2005 when an improvised explosive device struck his convoy.

“People with disabilities are bringing their modification and unique perspective and bolstering the ability to support the warfighter,” Forseth said. “We have challenges, but that doesn’t affect our ability to serve. We are fully functioning employees ready to bring goodness to the organization.”

Panelist Kenneth Monday, warehouse and supply support specialist at Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division (NAWCTSD), agreed. “My supervisors never treat me like I am hard of hearing,” he said. “They forget that I am.”

Monday began his career at NAVAIR in 2007 and was promoted to his current position in 2020, where he is responsible for outbound and inbound freight, mail, filing, and organizing documents.

Born legally blind, panelist Angela Gaillot, NAVAIR Headquarters, relies heavily on the screen reader, Job Access with Speech (JAWS), to function as Procurement Group Office automation assistant.

“I carry a certain sense of dignity every time I log on to work,” she said. She began her NAVAIR career in February 2009 with continued success over the next 13 years.

As a parent with a child with a disability, panelist Carolyn Holguin, NAWCAD, Lakehurst, Information Systems Division, supervisory program manager, brought a different perspective to the discussion. Her son Nathanial (Nate) was born with profound hearing loss. He was eventually mainstreamed through Cochlear implants and therapy sessions in fifth grade and now plays sports and the trombone.

“The only limitations are what we put out there,” she said. “Nate is proud to be wearing his implants. He calls it his superpower, his greatest strength.”

Commander Fleet Readiness Centers, Rear Adm. Joseph Hornbuckle, and Capt. Todd Evans, the H-60 program manager, introduced the NDEAM event and welcomed the panelists.

“The experiences and work the panel discusses today will amplify the importance of equity for individuals with disabilities and bring new perspectives that many, even myself, have yet to consider,” said Hornbuckle. “Recognizing the importance of equity, NAVAIR added a sixth core value, defined as “Developing and engaging a diverse and inclusive workforce that fosters creativity, innovation and mutual respect for all.”

Evans continued, “Diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility policies and narratives alone will not make our NAVAIR team cohesive. Small acts of acknowledgment, compassion, and encouragement along with collaborative and empowering environments will ultimately make a difference.”

“As executive champions of the Individuals with Disabilities Action Team (IWDAT), we are honored to recognize the amazing work the team is doing to provide this opportunity to learn from and advocate for segments of our workforce that are often overlooked yet are crucial to our success,” said Hornbuckle.

The panelists agreed that IWDAT is important to the NAVAIR workforce. 

“The key is that folks need to find a way to find peace and come to terms with their challenge,” Forseth said. “They can find the support and some sense of belonging with the support groups.”

“Being on the Diversity Action Team (DAT) is a great opportunity to share my experience as a person with a disability but also helps people see what things are like for someone visually impaired or who uses a wheelchair,” Gaillot said. “As years go on, we hope to open doors to future employees with disabilities.”

Michael E. Alicea, Equal Employment Opportunity Office, spoke about the importance of self-identifying a disability. NAVAIR employees can update their disability status by visiting the MyBiz Portal, the preferred method, or by filling out a hard copy of the SF-256 form and returning it to the Human Resources Office.

“Acknowledging a disability allows the Command to appreciate the needs of their teammates and get resources needed for them,” said Hornbuckle.

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