"We must do our part across the department to harness those talents and help bridge the employment gap," Esper said at the 39th Annual Secretary of Defense Disability Awards ceremony in the Pentagon today. "That means eliminating barriers to recruitment across the force. We must give everyone the opportunity to succeed and support them as they advance their careers."
The department must continue to recognize each worker's unique contributions and the leadership they provide so the armed forces can retain the nation's technological edge and military superiority, Esper said.
It's fitting that this year's theme for National Disability Employment Awareness Month is "The Right Talent, Right Now," he said. That's because military personnel, including those who are disabled, all bring skills that are critical to accomplishing the mission exactly when they're needed, which is right now, he added.
"People are our most important resource," Esper said. "That remains as true as ever. The diversity and talents across the department is what drives ingenuity."
This year marks the 29th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which became a global standard for nondiscrimination and equal opportunity, the secretary noted.
"Today, let's recommit to upholding that legacy," he said. "Let's shape our force to one that's united by something much stronger than our differences: that is our dedication and passion for the mission, regardless of background or disability."
Esper mentioned the 23 military personnel being honored for their achievements. He said they all embody the spirit of service that defines the workforce. "The honorees are inspiring models of selfless service for all of us," he said.