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Aeronautical Systems Center Office of Public Affairs (Oct. 27, 2006): DoD selects Air Force civilian for disabled employee award.

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- The beginning of the award reads, "outstanding DoD employee," defining a career marked by a strong work ethic and many achievements before mentioning the life-threatening injury that changed his world 11 years ago.

Paul Gabriel, an electronics engineer at Aeronautical Systems Center's Engineering Directorate, will accept the 2006 Employees with Disabilities Award during a special ceremony in Washington, D.C., in December. Gabriel was selected for the DoD award after having been similarly honored at the Air Force and Air Force Materiel Command level.

"Paul has contributed a tremendous amount of technical ability and hard work, with increased positive progress and results for the Joint Strike Fighter team," said Air Force Col. James Godsey, deputy director of engineering at ASC.

But the challenge of working on one of the Air Force's newest weapon systems does not compare to the challenge that Gabriel faced in 1995 when, while on his way to a class to complete his master of science degree in mechanical engineering, an automobile accident left him a quadriplegic with little feeling below the neck. His attention was suddenly diverted from graduate school to two-and one-half years of intensive physical therapy.

Still, as Godsey said, "Paul has never let his disability get in the way of his dedication and talent."

After the accident, Gabriel had to focus on learning how to do day-to-day tasks, but his desire to get his master's degree remained. "I felt the need to finish what I started," Gabriel said. He had to reinvent how to communicate in a time before voice-recognition computer software. One challenge was how to dictate mathematical equations involving complex expressions and Greek letters to nontechnical helpers. He did his school work by patiently describing what to write and type to his wife and nurse. Gabriel continued school and completed his degree in May 2002, attending his graduation in his wheelchair.

When asked what is most challenging for him since his spinal cord injury, Gabriel said, "Everything. Putting one foot in front of the other is rather difficult, but the most difficult thing is learning that I have a limited amount of energy. Before the accident I could plug away at a task for hours. Now, I must measure my efforts, as I tire easily." Constant neuropathic pain in his non-functioning limbs also makes it impossible to concentrate enough to work at times.

Upon preparing to return to work, special effort was made to find the right job fit for Gabriel "based on his particular talents and special needs" according to Ann Kreider, his supervisor in the engineering directorate.

As a weapon system integrity engineer, Gabriel's talents were aligned with the task of designing an integrity program for the JSF.

"Doing the work is not a problem," Gabriel says. "My disability is a minor inconvenience, which I have retrained myself to work around.

He often works from home using telecommuting capabilities. A special telephone and voice-activated computer were provided. From this venue, he is able to analyze systems for the JSF, making sure reliability, integrity, maintainability, and durability are designed into the system up front when changes are cheaper and more efficient. Changes made at a later time might result in extensive retesting and modifications.

Gabriel works closely with his contract partners at Lockheed Martin Aeronautical Systems Co., Ft. Worth, Texas. Winning the award comes after years of accolades from fellow professionals at the plant.

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"We are fortunate and honored to work with a technical expert of Paul Gabriel's caliber", said Paul Watson, Vehicle Systems Integrity, JSF Program. Colleague Mitchell Ratzloff added, "Paul Gabriel's contributions to the JSF Program have been tremendous. I am proud to have him as a peer and colleague."

Holmes is with Aeronautical Systems Center Office of Public Affairs.
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Title Annotation:Acquisition & Logistics Excellence
Author:Holmes, Estella
Publication:Defense AT & L
Date:Jan 1, 2007
Words:629
Previous Article:Department of Defense News Release (Oct. 26, 2006): DoD announces maintenance award winners.
Next Article:Department of Defense News Release: Department of Defense civilian awards presentations announced.
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