Shawn Thompson poses in front of the “quarterback in the sky,” the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye. Thompson received the Department of the Navy 2019 Secretary of Defense Award for Outstanding Department of Defense Service Members and Civilian Employees with Disabilities for his work on a new E-2D air domain awareness tool. (U.S. Navy photo)

Thompson wins DoD civilian employees with disabilities award

News Release, NAVAIR News

NAVAL AIR SYSTEMS COMMAND, PATUXENT RIVER, Md.–An advanced development engineer at NAVAIR recently received a Department of Defense award honoring his contributions to fleet aircraft.

NAVAIR engineer Shawn Thompson, left, receives the Department of the Navy 2019 Secretary of Defense Award for Outstanding Department of Defense Service Members and Civilian Employees with Disabilities at a ceremony at the Pentagon Oct. 3. Pictured alongside is U.S. Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Manpower and Reserve Affairs Gregory Slavonic. (U.S. Navy photo)

Shawn Thompson received the Department of the Navy 2019 Secretary of Defense Award for Outstanding Department of Defense (DoD) Service Members and Civilian Employees with Disabilities at a ceremony at the Pentagon Oct. 3.

Thompson, based out of Patuxent River, was recognized for helping ensure fleet aircraft projects were completed on time and at a minimal cost. Within his first seven months of joining the E-2/C-2 Airborne Tactical Data System Program Office (PMA-231), Thompson made significant contributions to fleet aircraft, most notably, integrating a fully capable air domain awareness tool on all fleet E-2D aircraft and influencing the funding strategy of E-2C fleet squadrons to acquire essential hardware to support the air domain awareness tool.

“My focus is on the warfighters who put their lives on the line for the country,” he said. “My hope is that others with disabilities will see my work and this award as something to strive towards.”

Thompson suffered a severe spinal cord injury nine months after starting his job at NAVAIR in 2010, rendering him a paraplegic for life.

“NAVAIR was fantastic during my hospital stays and rehabilitation, with my co-workers gathering around to support,” he recalled. “It [my injury] taught me to persevere, no matter the situation, and I have translated that to my work. I have oftentimes been told that something cannot be done, both in my life and job. As someone with a disability, I strive to prove those people wrong and show them it is all about how you go about it.”

Thompson has had a passion for aviation since he was a child and decided to pursue aerospace engineering. He chose to work for the DoD after his stint at Ohio State University because he said he cares “deeply for this country and the warfighters protecting our interests across the globe.”

He began his NAVAIR career in the Tactical Aircraft Analysis Branch of the Warfare Analysis Dept., supporting engagement-level warfare effectiveness modeling and simulation for seven years. He later moved on to the E-2D Advanced Development Integrated Program Team to address the need for long-range air domain awareness. That’s where the air domain awareness tool comes in.

To be the effective “quarterback in the sky,” the E-2D needed the best awareness on the battlefield, Thompson explained. The tool helps direct the airborne assets on how and where to engage incoming threats. 

“With my warfighter effectiveness background, I knew bringing a new air domain awareness tool to the fleet would increase operator capability with negligible cost to the Navy,” Thompson said. 

He now works as the E-2/C-2 Airborne Tactical Data System Program Office (PMA-231) science and technology lead engineer, where he enjoys seeing his ideas being tested and, sometimes, making it to the fleet, as in the case of the air domain awareness tool. 

In his spare time, Thompson is a certified master diver, giving patients from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center the opportunity to try scuba diving as a form of therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder and physical injuries. He also gives speeches on how diving has improved his life since becoming disabled.

“I help them believe that having a disability doesn’t mean you cannot accomplish great things,” Thompson said.

The DoD has presented these awards every October since 1981 as part of its observance of National Disability Employment Awareness Month. These awards honor the accomplishments of civilian employees and service members with disabilities who have made significant contributions to the department’s mission and best demonstrate the core values of their respective DoD components. 

National Disability Employment Awareness Month raises awareness about disability employment issues and celebrates the many and varied contributions of America’s workers with disabilities. The theme for 2019 is “The Right Talent, Right Now.”

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