RICHMOND, Va –
During his 13-year Army career, Aaron Wessman achieved the rank of staff sergeant, served in Iraq as part of the Global War on Terrorism and received numerous awards, including the Iraq Campaign and the Army’s Commendation and Achievement medals.
After leaving active duty, Wessman accepted a job with Defense Logistics Agency Aviation at Ogden, Utah on Hill Air Force Base, where he is a general supply specialist, safeguarding the stock readiness of 18 shop service centers and over 20,000 national stock numbers. He’s been with DLA Aviation for seven years.
But more than a decade as a parachute rigger in a jump status has taken a toll on his body. Wessman said he has large amounts of scar tissue in his back, causing him to endure countless surgeries with more to come. He’s also battling a rare form of cancer named Vonhippellendua that causes tumors to grow on the blood vessels in his spine and kidneys.
Because these ongoing health issues have left him with very little strength in his legs, Wessman says he uses a wheelchair to maneuver around the workplace.
“Life deals us different challenges. We need to accept them, get over them and keep moving,” he said.
It’s this positive attitude, drive and determination in providing excellent support to the warfighter despite obstacles that led to him being selected as one of 21 Defense Department Outstanding Employees with a Disability for 2021. The winners were announced during the 41st Annual Secretary of Defense Disability Awards Ceremony held virtually from the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., Oct. 7.
Enacted by Congress in 1988 and two years before the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. According to the Department of Labor, this year’s theme “America’s Recovery: Powered by Inclusion,” reflects the importance of ensuring that people with disabilities have full access to employment and community involvement during the national recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
DLA's Equal Employment Opportunity Diversity and Inclusion Office champions equality, opportunity, and diversity within the agency. EEO serves as the agency's lead respondent and subject matter expert on all equal opportunity, affirmative employment and diversity matters.
Michael Johnson is Wessman’s supervisor and nominated him for the award. He said Wessman exceeded expectations on all assigned projects including storage quality inspections of 18 warehouses, which maintain roughly 22,000 parts needed to keep Air Force planes operational. His diligent care of supplies in storage resulted in over 200 instances where the flow of materials was restored to the warfighter, always ahead of the allotted time and in an exceptional manner. His outstanding performance ensured the stock readiness of critical warfighter assets at a moment’s notice.
He also volunteered to assist in the inspection of 30 mobile Intercontinental Ballistic Missile build sets and inspected close to 9,000 parts, valued at $5.25 million, completing the inspections ahead of the seven-day goal, supporting the program’s rapid deployment schedule.
Wessman also played a critical role in the evolution of the DLA Aviation inventory/stock readiness programs by personally reviewing and updating 10 standard operating procedures and six training programs totaling over one thousand slides.
“The example Wessman sets on a daily basis inspires a phenomenal work ethic among the more than 300 DLA Aviation personnel based here at Ogden and influences a [positive] surge in morale whenever he’s around,” Johnson said.
Wessman said while humbled, he’s hoping being named one of the Defense Department’s Outstanding Employees with a Disability for 2021 will have a far greater impact.
“I appreciate my leadership and co-workers for their support. I’m hoping I can inspire someone to avoid self-pity and instead of asking “why me,” ask “why not me?” he said.