Every year the Department of Defense offers up the opportunity for persons with disabilities to fast-track a public service career through enrollment in the WRP, the Workforce Recruitment Program. For the United States Army, of all possible locations and offices that make up this institution, only three organizations, all from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), took action to harness the power of this program in 2023. And of those three USACE Districts, Japan Engineer District was the first to act.
Meet Walter Fahnestock: retired Army Sergeant First Class, former Naval quartermaster, college student, cat lover, and the newest member of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – Japan Engineer District team.
Walter is also only the second WRP selectee to ever work with USACE in Japan in its 50 years of existence, and the first in modern JED history.
“I’m here as an administrative support assistant doing special projects,” Walter explains of his duties at the District. “I get a lot of opportunity to be flexible to try and get those roles and opportunities accomplished.”
It wasn’t a hard transition for Walter, a Kelso, Washington native, to work with the premier construction agent in all of Asia. He’s been living in Japan on and off since 1998 when the Navy sent him there as a quartermaster.
The 57-year-old has had quite a colorful military career dating back to 1984, when he first joined the U.S. Naval Reserve as a quartermaster. Then, 5 years later he decided to jump ship and make the transition to Army tanker. Eventually Walter would find his sea legs again with the Navy which would bring him to Japan, giving him a taste of his future.
Walter said that while others on the ship would focus on sightseeing or partying during their shore leave, he took the time to explore the nuances of Japan. What he found would be life changing.
“Once I started realizing what Japan is, I knew this was where I wanted to stay,” he explains. “There’s lots of friendly, wonderful people here. That’s the real Japan.”
Eventually, Walter’s path would lead him to the Army one last time, serving in a reserve support unit that operates out of Japan, to Afghanistan, and then to Germany for retirement.
Then it was back to Japan for college, and the Work Recruitment Program.
But while Walter had been tipped off previously by an Army buddy that USACE Japan had been a great place to work, he had no idea that USACE Japan would come calling for him. It did one day, thanks to Holly Green, USACE Japan’s Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Manager.
She had been anxious to get JED invested in the program ever since arriving at the District years prior. Because for Holly, the WRP was personal.
“It’s how I got my start in the federal government,” Holly revealed. “I was a participant; it took me to Europe and Korea. And then in Korea I got a permanent position, that’s how I got my foot in the door.”
Holly said that her involvement in the WRP was the spark that lit the flame that fires her passion for equity and equality.
“I got to experience many different aspects of the government because of [that WPR] internship, and I ended up getting selected for a military HR position which got me toward an EEO position. That’s actually what made me become a government EEO specialist, this program itself; that I could be part of it again, recruit for it, and because I was in the EEO field, I could actually run the program. I ran it in Korea, and now I was able to bring it to Japan,” she said.
And so, Holly’s path converged with Walter’s, allowing him to bring his multifaceted background and talents to Japan District. An experience that’s been as enriching as it has been rewarding.
“It’s been very positive, in fact I like it as a good working place,” Walter shares when asked about his time with the District. “I think Japan Engineer District has a lot of fine people working here. The working conditions are very good.”
After 14 weeks with the District concludes, Walter plans on devoting his time back to his pursuance of his Masters in Transformational Leadership that he’s engaged with through University of Maryland Global College.
For Holly, Walter is proof positive that people’s preconceived notions regarding disabled persons can be easily, and rightfully, upended.
“A lot of people think when they hear “disability” of a physical disability, but there’s not just that. “Disability” is multifaceted. Yes, it can be physical, but it can be emotional, or psychological,” she’s quick to point out. “It’s a great opportunity to show people who might not otherwise be exposed to someone with a disability that ‘disabled’ can still be ‘abled.’ After all, it’s in the word. People just tend to focus on the ‘Dis’ and Walter is proof that the emphasis should be on ‘abled.’”