WASHINGTON, Oct. 4, 2016 — The Defense Department’s enduring commitment to diversity and inclusion is significant to giving the nation the finest fighting force the world has ever known, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said here today.
The secretary kicked off National Disability Employment Awareness Month with a Pentagon awards ceremony in which he honored 18 outstanding service members and civilians for their contributions to DoD’s missions.
Additionally, four components and military departments were recognized for their efforts to advance a diverse and inclusive workforce.
The honorees are listed on Defense.gov’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month special report.
Thirty years ago, then-Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger pledged to increase the number of DoD employees with significant disabilities to 2 percent across the department, Carter noted. “While we still have work to do to meet that pledge,” he said, “our honorees and all our components and military departments have made real progress in hiring and making our workplaces more accessible to those with disabilities. From budgets to logistics, management to intelligence, and more, these men and women help defend our great country and make a better world for our children.”
As exceedingly valuable members of the DoD team, “you make us smarter and stronger every day by what you do for our mission,” Carter said.
“You help keep our people and nation safe, and what nobler mission in life can there be? I'm proud to have you in the DoD family, and I'm proud to call you colleagues,” the secretary added.
People No. 1 Priority
Carter said his first priority is the department’s people -- its military and civilian workforce.
“We’re recognizing that the thing that matters most about each person is what they can contribute to our great and noble mission,” the secretary said. “That’s a necessary perspective in an all-volunteer force. We have to start from a position of inclusivity and not exclusivity, because we depend on the most qualified [people]. We need a department where everyone who can serve and wants to serve has a full and equal opportunity to do so. Anything less isn’t just plain wrong; it’s bad defense policy and puts our future strength at risk.”
The secretary said the honorees keep the U.S. military’s edge sharp in its work to meet five immediate and evolving major challenges that DoD faces.
Carter said international challenges comprise countering the prospect of Russian aggression and coercion, managing historic change in the Asia-Pacific region, strengthening the nation’s deterrent and defense forces in the face of North Korea's continued nuclear and missile provocations, checking Iranian aggression and malign influence in the Gulf while protecting friends and allies in the Middle East, and accelerating certain defeat of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in its parent tumor in Iraq and Syria and in the U.S. homeland.
“And we’re preparing to contend with an uncertain future, ensuring that we continue to be ready for challenges we may not anticipate today,” the secretary said. “To meet those challenges, we must keep our military edge as sharp as possible. Our awardees … are doing just that.”
A More Open, Accessible DoD
As National Disability Employment Awareness Month’s awareness campaign begins, Carter said, “We’re reminded of our commitment to live the values we defend to make the Defense Department more open and accessible to all who can make a contribution to our mission.”
Carter said he encourages all DoD components and military departments to renew their commitment to increase the employment of individuals with disabilities.
“Together, we will make our workplaces more accessible to all,” the secretary said. “We will meet the five challenges we face. And we will continue to keep America safe long into the future by harnessing the talents, skills, and perspectives of 100 percent of America's population.”(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)