Disabled employee's hiring a "win-win" for workforce, AFSOC

  • Published
  • By Maj. Erin Dick
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
Peter Hoffman is a program analyst who has worked with the 720th Special Tactics Group for nearly a decade.

Mr. Hoffman is critical to the future capability of AFSOC Airmen, and he is also a quadriplegic, the result of a car accident that left him paralyzed from the chest down more than 25 years ago.

As one of the great analytical thinkers and planners within the Air Force Special Operations Command, he works day in and day out to ensure Special Tactics Airmen are on the leading edge of war-fighting tactics, techniques and procedures.

He not only analyzes trends, requirements and potential deficiencies, but advises and makes recommendations to senior special operations leadership on how special operators can be better integrated, more effective and efficient in accomplishing their missions, today and into the future.

President Obama signed an executive order July 26 directing an increase in the hiring of disabled people throughout the federal government. AFSOC made its first hire under this new executive order by finally bringing Mr. Hoffman from the position of contractor into the ranks of the quiet professionals who he has proudly represented for years.

His story, like the many shared throughout National Disability Employment Awareness Month, is meant to highlight the initiative to increase the hiring of severely disabled people. But, to put it in his words, his story is not about his disability, but rather his ability.

Prior to his accident, Mr. Hoffman worked as an aircraft mechanic at Naval Air Station Pensacola.

On Sept. 3, 1984, he was involved in a car accident that shattered his vertebrae. While his biceps still work and allow him to move his arms, he has limited movement of his hands and fingers.

"Less than a tenth of one percent of severely disabled people ever return to full-time, gainful employment," Mr. Hoffman said. "After my accident, I was offered a job stuffing envelopes. But my greatest asset is my brain, so I wasn't going to stuff envelopes."

So Mr. Hoffman went to school earning undergraduate degrees in psychology and clinical social work from the University of West Florida. He later received his master's degree in clinical social work from Florida State University.

Then in 2001, while working in the Florida Department of Labor and Employment Security, Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, he attended a retirement ceremony at Hurlburt Field with a friend. At the same ceremony, he met Col. Robert Holmes, then-deputy commander of the 720th STG.

"Colonel Holmes asked me what I did for a living and I told him I was working as a Total Quality Management consultant with the state of Florida working to streamline and improve their processes, create cost savings and save time," Mr. Hoffman said.

And that's when Colonel Holmes asked him if he would be willing to come to AFSOC for a four-month consulting assignment to develop the vision and create a strategic performance and business plan for the 720th STG.

"He wanted an outsider's business perspective on how Special Tactics was organized, trained and equipped, and what we needed to do to increase efficiency and ensure its relevance into the future," Mr. Hoffman said. "It was daunting. I didn't even know Special Tactics existed in the Air Force, and every other word was an acronym. It was scary to leave a job I'd been in for 10 years for a four-month contract assignment. But it was an opportunity, and you've got to take chances in life to get ahead."

Shirley Sims, 1st Special Operations Wing Disability Program manager, is responsible for implementing the new Presidential Executive Order by managing the program to increase the number of severely disabled people. She serves as a collaborator between potential recruits, civilian personnel and the hiring managers to gather information on the needs and demands of the available jobs and if there is a candidate who meets those requirements.

"My goal is to make hiring managers and supervisors aware that they can and should consider hiring disabled individuals who meet the specific job requirements," Ms. Sims said. "Someone can be disabled, but still have a strong drive to succeed, have vision, can follow through, and want to contribute to society. They might have to work a little harder to get the same things done but the drive and the desire is there because, for a person with a severe disability, finding meaningful work is a challenge, and failure is not an option. They are reliable, and a job means so much to them."

So finally, earlier this year, AFSOC and Col. Bradley Thompson, 720th STG commander, hired Mr. Hoffman as a civil service employee, the first severely disabled person hired at Hurlburt Field following the new Presidential order.

"People aren't aware of this program, and raising awareness is critical," Mr. Hoffman said. "People need to know it exists and Shirley Sims and others are working hard with Vocational Rehabilitation and disabled vets to get them training to get them back into the work force. This is a win-win, and I'd like to see good come out of this."

For more information on this program, please contact Ms. Sims at (850) 881-5061.