Disabled team members play vital roles in AFRL mission

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- Throughout his 27 years at the Air Force Research Laboratory and its predecessor organizations, there was truly only one obstacle that Craig Leaver could not surmount or avoid - the day when it was time to bid farewell to AFRL and retire.
That day arrived last December, drawing to a close a successful and inspiring career.  During his years of service to the Air Force, Leaver was fueled by a strong devotion to overcome the challenges he faced and to be the best that he could be, earning him the love and respect of all those who worked around him. 

In 1982, Leaver suffered a broken neck during a traffic accident, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down with limited use of one arm.  Despite this setback, Leaver, with the support of family and friends, graduated from Wright State University in 1997 and was promptly hired by the Air Force System Command at Wright-Patterson AFB.  Following various positions around the base, he joined AFRL in 1997 as a business planning specialist for the Plans and Programs directorate.  In 1999, Leaver was promoted to chief of the financial management division of AFRL Aerospace Systems Directorate's Wright Site, where he remained until his retirement.  Leaver says that among his greatest accomplishments at AFRL was developing a budget that allowed AFRL's Technology Directorates to better understand the products and services provided by Wright Site.

Leaver is one of many individuals who have refused to allow a disability to limit them and have made valuable and significant contributions to AFRL.

"I was so blessed and fortunate to have been hired by the Air Force at Wright-Patterson," says Leaver.  "I believe our country's commitment to affirmative action and equal rights for all people is exemplified here, and particularly in AFRL.  I was always given opportunities and rewarded based on my abilities and track record."

AFRL has made strides in its effort to recruit and retain talented employees with disabilities.  The Laboratory supports and promotes an environment where diverse individuals, like Craig Leaver, are given the opportunity to use their talents and succeed while implicitly putting service to the nation's security at the forefront of their efforts.

Holly Slack has been with AFRL since 2011 and currently serves as a physical science technician at the U.S. Air Force School of Medicine (USAFSAM).  Despite her quadriplegia, Slack plays an essential role in the Analytical Services Division at USAFSAM, managing the funding that supports testing performed by subcontract laboratories and coordinating the analysis of subcontracted samples.  She also resolves any sample submission issues that may arise in order to ensure accurate results are provided to the career field in a timely manner.

Slack is particularly proud of a project she completed in 2012 that involved the creation of reference materials outlining her group's policies and procedures for new subcontract laboratories.  Working countless hours with staff from these laboratories, she established invoicing practices that were favorable for all parties.

"During my time at AFRL, I have become an integral part of a team committed to ensuring the health and safety of fellow Airmen," reflects Slack.  "I have the opportunity to tackle new challenges every day, surrounded by individuals who provide support, while fostering independence.  Should obstacles arise, I know I can voice my concerns, and the obstacles will cease to exist."

Slack adds, "I would definitely recommend a career at AFRL to others who have physical disabilities.  From day one, my disability was never viewed as a hindrance or excluded me from any career advancement opportunities."

To recruit and hire individuals with disabilities, AFRL utilizes multiple avenues, including the U.S. Department of Labor's Workforce Recruitment Program and the U.S. Office of Personnel Management's Schedule A authority, which allows individuals with disabilities to apply for Federal employment through a noncompetitive hiring process.  Essentially, this allows those who meet the eligibility status and minimum qualifications for a position to be hired without competing with the general public.

AFRL also attends the EmployAbility Career and Internship Expo for People with Disabilities, held yearly at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. 

Zach Reynolds, a graduate of Wright State, began his career with AFRL in 2004, developing contracts for Automatic Target Recognition research for AFRL's Sensors Directorate.  He currently supports the Materials and Manufacturing Directorate as a contract specialist. Reynolds grew up near Wright-Patterson AFB. His grandfathers were both WWII veterans, one of which served as an officer in the Air Force.  As a result, he was very much aware of military culture during his formative years.
"The base of my youth was central to the surrounding community," he reflects.  "I recall the fall of the Berlin Wall and the first Gulf War as a triumph of our collective spirit, represented locally by WPAFB.  I understood that the Base and the Air Force were actively shaping our world."

Reynolds was severely injured in a car accident in 1998 which caused a traumatic brain injury (TBI) that left him incapacitated for months.  While in the hospital, Reynolds regained the ability to walk and relearned how to complete basic tasks that people take for granted every day.  Reynolds' determination and will are qualities AFRL actively pursues in its mission to find the best workforce. 

Today, Reynolds considers working at AFRL for the public good to be his most significant career accomplishment.  He is particularly interested in helping veterans who have experienced TBIs find work to regain their lives after service.

"American soldiers suffering from TBI are struggling to find a place in society," says Reynolds.  "I would like my lasting contribution to AFRL to be encouraging employment and support of the disabled.  AFRL has a unique opportunity to promote employment for disabled veterans, and I would like to contribute."

Reynolds adds that he is driven by a desire to improve and positively impact the world, and he hopes to inspire others to do the same.

AFRL values the contributions of a diverse workforce and is actively developing and adapting its environment for employees with disabilities, recruitment officials said.  Personnel team members continually seek feedback and improve processes to better accommodate its disabled team members and to create environment that promotes innovation and collaboration of all employees.

"It is important for AFRL to continue to hire and recruit individuals with disabilities because it brings another added perspective to the workforce, as well as illustrates AFRL's commitment to diversity and inclusion as an equal opportunity employer," says Bryan Stevens, talent acquisition and business strategist for AFRL's Personnel Directorate. 

Leaver, Slack, and Reynolds are just a few talented team members who, despite their challenges, make vital contributions to the mission and success of AFRL.