NASA and the military have a long and storied history. Our earliest astronauts came from the military because we wanted people who had test pilot experience and the willingness to face dangerous situations. Many members of the current astronaut corps are members of the military, including five people in our newest astronaut class and the current commander of the International Space Station.
As the leader of our nation’s space program, and a proud Marine, I am committed to hiring as many veterans as I can at NASA. The President has called on NASA to once again tackle the big things for which we’re known. And that’s just the kind of challenge at which I know my military brothers and sisters excel.
Earlier this week, I attended an Office of Personnel Management summit on employing veterans. Our nation’s veterans already have a commitment to national public service. National service is founded on doing big things and doing things that benefit the whole world. Outside of the military, nowhere is that more true than at NASA. We truly believe in the potential of our veterans and in taking advantage of the diverse contributions they can make to our space program.
NASA is making great strides as an agency that places a priority on hiring veterans for our many mission-critical needs. At the end of fiscal year 2011, veteran new hires were over 11 percent of our total hires; and of those, almost 5 percent were disabled veterans. In 2012 we have a goal of 12 percent for our veteran new hires, with 5 percent of those being disabled veterans.
We have established a Veterans’ Employment Opportunity Program within our Office of Human Capital Management. We’ve identified Veterans’ Employment Coordinators at each of the NASA field centers and at Headquarters. We’re identifying high-demand occupations conducive to veteran employment and working with other federal partners to align ourselves and our needs and resources with them. Some of our NASA field centers have developed veteran information pages on their websites, and some have participated in veteran-focused outreach and recruiting events.
When I was flying combat missions over Vietnam, there were times when I didn’t think I’d come back – and five of my squadron mates did not. That’s just one of many reasons that military service is like no other career in the world. You entrust your life to the integrity and skill of your colleagues. Not every veteran has faced enemy fire, but they’ve all made sacrifices for their country and fulfilled a public duty that demands our highest respect.
President Obama has asked each federal agency to make an effort to hire veterans. I consider this not only a challenge for NASA, but a personal commitment for me. As our service members return home, it is even more important to ensure that they have a place to continue contributing to the success of our great nation. Veterans continue to be a group whose contributions are crucial to NASA’s success, and will continue to be as we enter the next great era of human exploration.