News | Oct. 30, 2020

“Disability does not define me”

By Jake Joy DLA Disposition Services

“Disability does not define me.”

Defense Logistics Agency employee Brad Messenger’s spine was crushed in a motorcycle accident 21 years ago. He wants to help people understand that those with disabilities “are not dumb. We just have to do things differently.”

“Disability doesn’t mean we can’t do things,” he said. “We may not be able to do everything, but we can do a lot. I want people to see me, not my disability. Don’t only see my chair, or my walker, or my hearing aid. Look at me. Look at me as a person.”

Messenger shared some of his personal story during a short video recorded in October in observation of National Disability Awareness Month. The 12-year agency vet has spent the entirety of his government service with DLA Finance, monitoring the funds of DLA Disposition Services as a business analyst in his hometown of Battle Creek, Michigan. During the video, he touched on parts of his pre-government civilian career, his multiple attempts to become a civil servant, and opportunities his time in the Defense Department have brought.

VIDEO | 16:49 | DLA Disposition Services, DLA Finance Analyst Brad Messenger Shares His Story (open caption)

Messenger had been working in the automotive industry as a production and specialty welder, trainer, and sometime customer service technician when he got hurt. He said he felt both lucky and grateful to work for a business that said a job would be waiting for him whenever he was ready to return and daughters that adapted and learned to help.

“You don’t know what that means to a person sitting in a hospital, not knowing where their next paycheck is coming from,” he said.

Eventually, a downturn in the automotive industry and a corporate buy-out of the family-run rear-access minivan company where he worked prompted him to look for other career options. He said a mentor recommended government service, right in his own mid-Michigan backyard, at the Hart-Dole-Inouye Federal Center. That voice of guidance told him to give it a shot and never give up trying, because someone would eventually see all he had to offer and give him a job.

“I’d never even thought of it,” Messenger said of government service.

The mentor was right – breaking into the federal workforce did not come easily. Messenger said he submitted 34 applications, made it into the hiring consideration pool 29 times and interviewed for a role 27 different times before getting hired.

“It’s not a quick and easy process, but it’s the best thing that ever happened to me in my life, beside my children,” Messenger said, noting his appreciation for the types of accommodations federal employment provides its disabled employees. “In the private sector, I don’t think disability is necessarily viewed as a bonus. A lot of companies still see it as a liability.”

Messenger encourages others with disabilities to strongly consider bringing their skills into the civil service. He cited strong job security, mobility between jobs and locations and opportunities to take on greater responsibilities as the attractive aspects of government work.

“If a person with disabilities gives it a chance, [DLA’s] a great place and a great way to go,” he said.

Messenger’s video is available for viewing on YouTube – viewers may need to access it from a non-government device, as video streaming is frequently blocked on DOD networks to preserve operational bandwidth.