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Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen H. Hicks' Remarks at the 42nd Annual Department of Defense Disability Awards Ceremony (Virtual) (As Delivered)

Good afternoon everyone. On behalf of Secretary Austin and the entire Department of Defense, welcome to the 42nd annual DoD Disability Awards Ceremony.

Today, we celebrate the core element of our unmatched strength as a military and Department of Defense—our people.

Maintaining that strength requires tapping into every reservoir of talents and skills that America has to offer. 

That includes people with disabilities—who bring so much to this department through their talents, skills, education and motivation to serve. 

At DoD, we're fortunate to benefit from several pathways that help us enlist the right talent and benefit from the skills and patriotism of people with disabilities, such as the Wounded Warrior program, Operation Warfighter, and the Workforce Recruitment Program.

These programs have been instrumental in increasing the number of people with disabilities who are serving their country, in a wide range of critical jobs throughout the department. 

Today's 28 individual honorees are proof of that. 

A mix of service members and DoD civilians from across the Department of Defense, these honorees are engineers, analysts, instructors, machinists, IT specialists, HR managers, software developers, and more. 

In nominating them for these awards, many of their leaders described them as out-of-the-box thinkers, innovative problem-solvers, natural leaders, and exceptional performers—exactly the kinds of qualities we need to win the competition for the 21st century. 

They're serving all around the world—from strategic air and naval bases in the Indo-Pacific, to domestic posts and installations across the United States of America. 

And wherever they serve, however they serve, all of them are making a difference and contributing to DoD's mission of defending our country. 

Here at the Pentagon, Secretary Austin and I are committed to making sure DoD draws from all of America's many and diverse strengths—and that in so doing, we also reflect the nation we're sworn to defend. 

We're also committed to fostering an inclusive and accessible workplace culture, across all of DoD. 

That's why today we're recognizing four DoD components that are leaders among their peers in hiring, retaining, and promoting people with disabilities.

Their work has also been exemplary — implementing model programs, policies, and practices that we encourage other components to adopt and expand, so that every part of our department benefits from the unique talents and skills that people with disabilities bring to the table.  

There's much to celebrate today, so let's get to it. Congratulations to all of our honorees. And thank you for what you do, every day, to serve this country.