News   Observances

DOD Celebrates 18 Employees With Disabilities During Awards Ceremony

Oct. 1, 2020 | BY Claudette Roulo , DOD News

The Defense Department is proud of its employees, including those with disabilities, the deputy defense secretary said today. They do not let their disabilities define them, and they serve with passion and professionalism, David L. Norquist said as he opened DOD's 40th anniversary Disability Awards ceremony.

"For some of us, the disability is small and the burden is light," he said today in prerecorded remarks. "For others, it is large, and the burden is heavy. In all cases, we've had to adjust, but we are committed to making a difference and have all found a way to serve."

A man speaks from a lectern.
Disability Awards
Deputy Defense Secretary David L. Norquist prerecords remarks for the 2020 Disability Award Ceremony from the Pentagon, Sept. 30, 2020.
Photo By: Marvin Lynchard, DOD
VIRIN: 200930-D-FW736-1011

The 18 individual awardees represent three military services and nine DOD organizations. 

Their exceptionalism is why the theme of this year's National Disability Employment Awareness Month — Increasing Access and Opportunity — is of critical importance, Norquist said. "It reminds us that we already have capable individuals, they just need the chance to prove it."

How DOD leverages the strengths of each of its employees is critical to maintaining the nation's technological edge and military superiority, Norquist said, adding that not implementing equal opportunity would be a failure for the department's workforce. 

A man records data on a clipboard.
Veteran Work
John Juppe, 66th Logistics Readiness Squadron cargo specialist, processes incoming cargo at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., Oct. 8, 2019. Juppe has combat-related disabilities after being wounded twice in Vietnam.
Photo By: Jerry Saslav, Air Force
VIRIN: 191008-F-RK751-271

"Brilliance knows no boundaries — and we should not be the ones creating barriers," the deputy secretary said. "Instead, we must attract individuals based on their qualifications and character. Then, we must provide them the support they need to flourish." 

Varied perspectives spur innovative thought, Norquist said. "You confirm this; you have proven how your unique experiences address an array of challenges. You have also brought with you the enthusiasm to drive those ideas forward."

Despite our differences, we must remember one thing: we are all here to serve our country. We all have an equally important role to play in advancing our collective mission.''
David L. Norquist, deputy defense secretary

With these awards, the department is asking the recipients to play a crucial role in its success by serving as leaders and examples for others, he said. 

The deputy secretary said he is encouraged by DOD's progress toward expanding access and opportunities in its own ranks. In 2019, the DOD exceeded its goal of employing individuals with targeted disabilities at a rate of more than 2% of the total workforce.

This success is due in large part to the efforts of DOD's components and military departments, Norquist said.

An airman operates a computer with three weather-related screens.
Weather Craftsman
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Cody Drees, a 15th Wing Operational Support Squadron weather craftsman, analyzes weather radar at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Feb. 5, 2020. Drees has a cochlear implant, which stimulates the cochlear nerve in his ear so that he can hear.
Photo By: Air Force Airman 1st Class Erin Baxter
VIRIN: 200527-F-FH328-0090

"Despite our differences, we must remember one thing: we are all here to serve our country," he said. "We all have an equally important role to play in advancing our collective mission. Therefore, we must continue to bridge the employment gap and draw upon the skills that give America its strength."

The individual awardees are:

  • Air Force Master Sgt. Israel Delgado Jr., Explosive Ordnance Disposal section chief, Air Force;
  • Cole Backus, F-16 avionics equipment specialist, Air Force;
  • Navy Rear Adm. Kyle Cozad, commander, Naval Education and Training Command;
  • Matthew Housley, Navy Engineering Logistics Office;
  • Walter Kunihiro, Facilities Support Contract Branch, Naval Facilities Engineering Command;
  • Arlyn Penaranda, Administration and Resource Management Division administrative officer, Marine Corps;
  • Denise Ellis, Acquisition Management Division, Business Resource Center;
  • Marcus Montague, Defense Commissary Agency;
  • Ramnath Shenoy, Defense Contract Audit Agency;
  • Victoria Lewis, DOD Education Activity;
  • Keri Lohmeier, DOD Education Activity;
  • Sean Fenton, Defense Finance and Accounting Service;
  • John Slone, Defense Logistics Agency;
  • Joseph Puryear, Aafes Exchange In Charleston, South Carolina;
  • Jamie Critchfield, Office of the DOD Inspector General;
  • Megan Larson, Workforce, Recruitment Program Intern;
  • Christopher Le, National Security Agency; and
  • Joshua Falacho, National Security Agency.

The component awardees are:

  • The Air Force is recognized with the Secretary of Defense Award for the Best Military Department for Achievement in Advancing Employment Opportunities for Individuals with Disabilities;
  • The Defense Logistics Agency is recognized with the Secretary of Defense Award for Best Mid-Sized Component for Achievements in Advancing Employment Opportunities for Individuals with Disabilities;
  • The National Security Agency is recognized with the Secretary of Defense Award for Best Intelligence Component Award; and
  • The Defense Technical Information Center is recognized with the Secretary of Defense Award for Best Small-Sized Component for Achievements in Advancing Employment Opportunities for Individuals with Disabilities.

A poster advertises 2020 National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
Disability Employment Poster
The theme of this year's National Disability Employment Awareness Month is "Increasing Access and Opportunity."
Photo By: Rebecca Westfall, Army
VIRIN: 200804-A-YT850-007