News | June 9, 2016

DLA Aviation Leader Commentary: Employee embodies picture of resilience

By Teresa Smith, DLA Aviation Business Process Support director

Over the last year, Defense Logistics Agency has invested valuable time and resources into training employees in the four pillars of resiliency:  mental, social, spiritual and physical.

If you look around DLA Aviation, you can find examples of employees applying resiliency tools and overcoming obstacles; but, few portray a “picture of resilience” as well as Marc Miller. 

Marc is a business process analyst who works in my directorate. His job focus is demand planning, end user support, and training.  Catherine Huskerson, chief of the Planning Process Division, describes working with him as “never a dull moment in his presence.”

“Marcus has accepted his disability and he does not dwell on his limitations, but instead chooses to enjoy life to the fullest,” she said. “His jovial personality is needed during stressful moments. He endures excruciating pain at times, but he doesn't allow the pain to slow him down.  His ability to remain positive, persistent, and pleasant are attributes that set him apart and make it enjoyable working with him.”

Prior to April 1989, Marc was like many other young men his age.  He was a full-time college student, studying Architectural Engineering Technology, and working as a security guard at night and on weekends.  But his life was forever altered when he was just 22 years old. 

On April 9, 1989, Marc was in an alcohol-related car accident that fractured his spine at the first lumbar vertebrae (L1), leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. His ability to stand, walk, and control normal bodily functions is impacted, and he now relies on a wheelchair to get around.

Marc’s injury affects every aspect of his daily activities. Simple things that many of us take for granted require extra time and effort for him. Just getting in and out of a car requires Marc to take his chair apart and put it back together. And when it’s raining, he gets soaked. Opening doors can also be a challenge; some are so heavy that it is almost impossible for him to get the door open and his chair inside before the door closes. There are a lot of automatic door openers around, but often they don’t work because everyone uses them and the buttons aren’t designed for heavy usage. If he goes out to eat, Marc has to call ahead to make sure there is an accessible restroom, and he has to sit in a special area because a wheelchair sticks out further than a “regular” chair.

Marc is quick to mention that he gets lots of support. His wife and son are his biggest help, enabling him to live a successful and rewarding life; and his coworkers help make his daily work life more productive and rewarding.  He also points out that DLA has done much over the years to help him be able to perform his job, from installing access assistance items to making workstation modifications. Telework has been an “incredible gift,” allowing him to work from home on the days when he just doesn’t have what it takes to physically get to the office.  It also helps him get back to work quicker as he recuperates from periodic surgeries.  Marc says, “I don’t think, there is anything more DLA could do, that they haven’t already done, to help me be successful and a valuable part of the DLA workforce.”

As Marc’s director, I’m glad to work for an agency that can meet Marc’s physical needs, to work for an agency that realizes the value of a diverse, workforce and looks beyond visible or hidden disabilities to the individual and their contributions.

After 27 years of using his arms extensively for movement, Marc’s shoulders and elbows ache, and rolling for long periods over uneven terrain causes discomfort. Overuse has limited him to 40 percent nerve function from his left elbow to hand. He has also developed chronic pain that is difficult to control and sometimes makes it impossible for him to even leave home. Marc points out that his wheelchair is a “constant reminder of my disability and people treat me differently because of it.”

So, you might think Marc has every reason to be sad, bitter and difficult to be around...and you’d probably be right. But, he is very much the opposite.  Marc is one of the funniest, most jovial and upbeat people I have ever met. Even when he is in obvious pain, he pushes through and puts on a good face because, as he says, “People don’t know how to behave around me, so I try very hard to put them at ease ... I may be the only representation of disability that many folks see.”

Marc takes great pride in his work, enjoying the success and confidence that come with accomplishment. He enjoys fishing, wheelchair basketball, cycling and tennis. He is a greeter at his church, and has built close and lasting relationships with many of his fellow attendees. These are all outlets that help Marc cope day-to-day, but one of his main coping mechanisms is laughter.

Marc jokes to help others feel comfortable around him, and it also helps him forget the negative things he deals with day in and day out. Marc’s supervisor, Robbie Ogburn, points out that Marc is “a joy to work with.”

“He comes to work every day with a smile on his face,” said Ogburn. “No matter how you are feeling, when he comes around he will brighten your day.  Marcus is playful, lighthearted, and overall great human being…and is willing to help anyone in need.”

I once read that when you face challenges that you have no option but to overcome, you find out how strong and resilient you actually are. Marc is a picture of that idea for me. 

He sums it up best, saying, “Being disabled is a daily struggle, and it’s easy to give in and feel sorry for yourself or to isolate yourself. I can’t change the fact that I am. What I do have control over is my attitude. Every day, I choose to get up and put on a good attitude. People expect me to be down or negative because of my circumstances. I get joy from watching them try to figure out why I am happy. I feel like it’s important to me to show people that folks with disabilities can have a relatively normal, happy life. We have a choice every day to have a good attitude or a negative one. Both of them take work, but only one makes you feel better and also inspires those around you.”

To echo Marc, we do have a choice every day.  What will your choice be today?