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DoD Civilians Succeed in Life Despite Physical Adversity

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 8, 2006 – Two Defense Department civilians, James N. Templeman and Donald C. Cobert, have not let severe disabilities keep them from success.

Templeman, 51, was born without arms. Today, he holds a doctorate degree in computer science. He’s developing a virtual reality system at the Naval Research Laboratory here, that’ll be used to train Marines to operate in urban warfare environments.

He decided to study computer science during the mid-1970s. The Washington, D.C., native credited his success in life to his parents, hard work and keeping focused. “I had a very supportive family,” Templeman said, noting his parents gave him the confidence and inspiration to compete and succeed in the world.

“They ‘mainstreamed’ me. I went to public school,” he said.

He described how he uses his feet for purposes other than just standing and walking. “I write with my feet and ‘mouse’ with my feet” at the computer, Templeman said.

Living in a world designed for people with arms caused Templeman to apply his unique perspective across everyday life, he said, which carries over into his work. “I’m constantly looking at things and thinking, ‘How can I use it?’” he said. “I think that relates, a bit, to my own research right now.”

Templeman was recently recognized for his accomplishments as one of 14 outstanding DoD civilian employees with disabilities.

He said people who want to succeed in life should focus on their individual strengths. “That’s where you need to put your effort and just make the most of what you have,” he said.

Cobert also bested adversity, having been stricken with polio as a child. The disease paralyzed Cobert’s legs and weakened his hands. Today Cobert walks with the use of braces and is a payroll administrator at the Missile Defense Agency at the Navy Annex in Arlington, Va.

He recalled how Catholic school teachers helped to give him confidence to learn how to write. “I was unable to write or actually hold a pen until I was almost 6,” Cobert said. “Luckily, I was taught by nuns who had the patience to work me through that ‘hump.’”

Cobert later learned to play the guitar. “That’s one thing that helped me to develop dexterity in my hands,” he said.

He was also a successful wrestler in high school and at college. “I pushed myself, because I wanted to compete,” Cobert said, noting he developed his competitive instincts while growing up among four brothers and three sisters.

“When you’re in a big family like that, even at dinner you’re fighting over the last roll, so you had to kind of develop some strength and speed,” he said.

Cobert experienced a successful 22-year career as a business manager at physicians’ offices and hospitals in northern Virginia before coming to work for DoD. Disability “is exactly what you make of it,” Cobert said, noting the key to success in life is developing, pursuing and achieving goals.

“They have to be realistic goals, but you can never have an ending goal,” he said. “Once you’re getting close to something that you want to accomplish, you better have two or three goals ahead of that, or you’re going to hit that one spot and stop.”

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