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National Disability Employment Awareness Month: Foreign affairs specialist provides diverse skill set

By Robert Goetz | 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs | Oct. 16, 2020

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO, Texas —

After applying for a position with the Air Force Security Assistance Training Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph late last year, Andy Smith received an automated email telling him he was not qualified for the job. 

Then, something surprising happened. 

“After receiving the email, I just thought I’d move on and find another job,” Smith said. “But then I received a phone call for an interview for the job I applied for.” 

A few days later, during the phone interview with a hearing panel consisting of three AFSAT team members, Smith learned why he was chosen for an interview and ultimately for the position. 

“They said one of the reasons I was selected was that I have a great work ethic and a diverse skill set they could use at AFSAT,” he said. 

His “charisma and good looks,” along with his “good sense of humor,” Smith joked, helped his cause as well. 

Smith, who is wheelchair-bound due to lifelong cerebral palsy, applied for the AFSAT position through Schedule A, a hiring authority that allows federal agencies to hire individuals with disabilities directly into the workforce.  

He started his job as an AFSAT foreign affairs specialist in March, at the beginning of the novel coronavirus pandemic, so he has spent nearly all of his time as a teleworker – a work style that is second nature to him. 

“In this particular office, our duty is to support the men and women who go overseas to support our international partners; that’s what we do in a nutshell,” he said. “We make sure they get to their location in a timely fashion so they can complete their mission. Our office works with all of our international partners – Canada, Mexico, The Bahamas, Saudi Arabia, Poland and other countries.” 

Smith is assigned to the AFSAT “Teams” office, which manages mobile training teams, also known as MTTs, said Charles Bailey, AFSAT Mission Support director. 

“When the pandemic hit the U.S., there was almost an immediate requirement to recall all MTTs from around the world,” Bailey said. “Andy played a direct role in making that recall a complete success.”  

Smith was also recently selected to participate on AFSAT’s governance team, Bailey said. 

“The GT is recording best practices, policies and processes in an attempt to develop continuity and capitalize on 21st century technology,” he said. 

Smith, who also has arthritis in his hands and wrists, said he’s had a few challenges at his job. One of them was a delay in the delivery of a speech recognition program that allows him to speak into his computer with the software translating his spoken words into text, but once the software was delivered, it was installed in less than a day.

Another challenge was learning military jargon, a common issue for anyone new to the Department of Defense. 

But his proficiency in computer technology has enabled him to make an impact “right out of the gate,” Bailey said.  

"One of the first impacts Andy made was a collaborative guide to our virtual onboarding process,” he said. “Many of the ideas he and the team suggested were incorporated into our onboarding business practice.”  

Bailey agreed with the review panel’s assessment of Smith’s skill set. 

“One of the key things that Andy brings is an added diversity that makes our team stronger and more vibrant,” he said. “He has maintained a positive attitude during the pandemic and certainly brought new perspectives to our team.” 

Smith’s disability has posed challenges for him all of his life, he said, but with the help of supportive parents and his own resiliency, he’s been able to overcome obstacles and succeed in his educational endeavors and in the workplace. 

“My parents were really encouraging,” he said. “They would tell me, ‘As long as you put your mind to it and you’re doing your best, that’s all we ask of you.’” 

Because sports and other physical activities were not an option for him, Smith turned to video games, computers and technology – and to academic pursuits. 

He has earned bachelor’s degrees in history and interdisciplinary studies and a Master of Business Administration, and he plans to pursue a doctorate in education this fall. 

Smith’s diverse employment background includes jobs as an American Red Cross medical records technician, a search engine marketing specialist, an information technology cybersecurity and SharePoint consultant, a Navy logistics management consultant, and a support technician for a cloud-computing company.  

He said he continues to receive support in his current position, particularly from supervisors such as Bailey and Kathleen Doss, AFSAT International Training Program manager, whom he cited for “facilitating things for me.” 

Smith also acknowledged the DOD’s role in championing individuals with disabilities. 

“Schedule A was a really big help in getting me this job because it enabled my resume to be seen more easily,” he said. 

Smith said his position with AFSAT enables him to contribute to the defense effort. 

“What I enjoy is getting the opportunity to help – in some small way – our government complete the mission of training our partners to make the world a little bit safer.”