All Jon Fish ever wanted to do was serve his country.
Growing up, Fish dreamed of joining the military, following the example of his father’s 20 years of service in the Air Force, but a disability stood in the way.
In high school, Fish was self-conscious about his disability. “Through the help of friends and sports, I realized that those people closest to me and those whom I worked with day in and day out, really did not care about my physical appearance,” he said. “I learned that my behavior, attitude and performance were the true measuring sticks for who I was and what people saw, not my physical appearance.”
Fish didn’t give up on his goal.
“When it became clear that I could not follow my dad’s footsteps in the military because of my disability, I looked for other ways to serve,” he said. “I decided that working for the Department of Defense as a civilian was the best route.”
Fish, now a NAVAIR logistics management specialist, first learned of NAVAIR as a student at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He attended a meet-and-greet session in May 2011, where he met NAVAIR recruiters, learned more about the Command and interviewed for an acquisition internship.
“The day of the meet-and-greet was fantastic,” he said. “The facilities were great, the people were awesome, and it was evident that a lot of hard work went into the event.”
Attending the meet-and-greet convinced Fish that he wanted to work for NAVAIR.
“What I really took away from the whole experience was that NAVAIR really cares about and wants to meet new people, especially civilians with disabilities and wounded warriors, which is not always true in other organizations,” Fish said.
Wanda Donald attended a similar meet-and-greet session for individuals with disabilities in November 2011.
“I had seen the [NAVAIR] website and I saw pictures of people that enjoyed their job. I read testimonies from people with disabilities that were making significant contributions to the fleet, and I wanted to be a part of that,” she said.
In February 2012, she started working as a NAVAIR logistics management specialist. A U.S. Coast Guard veteran, Donald said one of her favorite parts of the job is working next to those in uniform, “serving our country and aiding in the cause.”
Donald focuses more on the positive, especially when it comes to adversity. At a previous job, she struggled to find opportunities to move up the career ladder. Instead of dwelling on the negative, she began to network and volunteer to serve on committees, while gaining valuable leadership, teamwork, problem solving and communication skills.
“I changed my outlook from looking at the problems to solving problems,” she said. “The greatest opportunities come from my place of frustration. If we will change our perspective, then opportunities will present themselves.”
NAVAIR hosts two invitational meet-and-greets annually at Patuxent River for people with disabilities and at other sites nationwide, as needed. At these events, job candidates can interview with NAVAIR hiring managers, tour the station and collect and review information about Southern Maryland. From the last four meet-and-greet events, NAVAIR has hired approximately 40 employees.
Paula Hummer, human resource specialist, said the events are less about hiring people with disabilities and more about hiring good candidates to fill a need at NAVAIR.
“We know that people with disabilities are often an untapped resource,” she said. “We hire people with disabilities because it is good for NAVAIR, the Department of the Navy and the federal government.”
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities in March 2012 was 15.2 percent, while the unemployment rate for people without disabilities was 8.1 percent.
While Donald and Fish admit the job search can be daunting, they both encourage other individuals with disabilities to take a chance.
“I think the best advice I could give any job seeker is that you only need one ‘yes,’” Donald said. “I know after hearing so many no’s it can be discouraging, but I remember the one day someone said ‘yes’ to me, and I am working in the job of my dreams in a bad economy.”
Fish advises job seekers and individuals with disabilities not to sell themselves short.
“For a long time, I thought I wasn't good enough for some jobs, so I simply did not apply,” he said. “I believe you need to be confident in yourself during the job hunt, no matter what your setback may be; there is a lot that you can offer.”
To learn more about NAVAIR jobs, visit http://jobs.navair.navy.mil.