By John B. SnyderOctober 6, 2011
WATERVLIET ARSENAL, N.Y. -- October is the National Disability Awareness Month and so, inviting someone who is disabled to talk to the Watervliet Arsenal workforce should have seemed like a natural, if not typical, thing to do to help educate the workforce about those who live with life challenging abilities. But "disabled" and "typical" was not the message brought by the Arsenal's guest speaker, Marine Sgt. Glenn Kunkel.
"A doctor said I was 70 percent disabled, but I don't have to let you believe I am disabled," said Kunkel, who was seriously injured during a 2005 mortar attack in Iraq. Kunkel visited the Arsenal this week and spoke to more than 120 of the Arsenal's workforce.
During the course of 30 minutes, Kunkel talked of his love of the Marine Corps, his injuries and recovery, and the sense of loss he suffered when the Marine Corps medically discharged him.
"I felt like I was fired because I thought I was going to serve the rest of my life in the Marines," explained Kunkel about the day the Marine Corps discharged him in 2008.
As Kunkel talked about the challenges of dealing with the psychological scars of combat and his recovery from the physical pain and suffering of his wounds, the workforce seemed to lean forward in their seats as if they were trying to see Kunkel's disabilities…to see his pain.
But the workforce would see none of that as they were blinded by Kunkel's mastery of something called hope and what he called adaptation.
After months of despair and even thoughts of suicide after his discharge, he turned his life around through the help of the Wounded Warrior Project, Kunkel said.
"I had to quit believing I was disabled," Kunkel said. "I came to look at myself as being differently abled...I adapted."
Although Kunkel thanked the arsenal workforce for manufacturing some of the weapon systems that may have protected him in Iraq, that was not the message that resonated that day. What was truly important was Kunkel's ability to elicit the emotions of the workforce to reconsider their perceptions of those who are disabled or in Kunkel's terms, "differently abled."