Sebastian Ploszaj is a decorated retired Marine who's been recognized for his bravery in battle. Now he's being honored for his efforts to bring employment opportunities to wounded veterans like himself. SourceAmerica has selected him for the William M. Usdane Award, which is awarded to an AbilityOne Program employee with a significant disability who has exhibited outstanding achievement and exceptional character.
Ploszaj said he's humbled by the recognition and appreciates the support of his colleagues.
"We work as a team," he said. "We work together. If one person has a problem, we help you out. You don't feel like you're by yourself."
That camaraderie carries over from Ploszaj's military career dating back to his first tour in 2006 where he suffered his initial injury. He remembers the first attack in Iraq – a gunshot wound – as "not too bad." But the following year, when the vehicle the young Marine was traveling in triggered a staggering explosion, the damage was considerably worse.
"Our truck actually flipped over," Ploszaj said. "It rattled my head pretty badly."
But like a good Marine, he toughed it out. It wasn't until he finished his tour that he sought help for his headaches, blackouts and partial hearing loss. He was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder "and the list went on from there," he said.
After a year of rehab, he was medically retired from the Marine Corps. His cognitive issues following the IED blast made his post-service jobs and college study more difficult. His brain didn't work the way it used to. He had to relearn topics and skills he'd mastered before his injuries.
"I wasn't able to keep up at that time," he said of his first job following his retirement. "It wasn't a good fit for where I was at the time."
He resigned from his job to concentrate on school.
"(I thought) I've been through worse, I'll make it," he said. "School was tough. I had to get a lot of accommodations. A lot of stuff I used to know, I didn't know any more. I had to take a lot of (prerequisite classes), which was horrible."
Even though he was no longer active duty, Ploszaj was still very much a Marine.
"Marines, we're bred to be tough," he said. "You don't realize how much pain you can endure until it's too late sometimes."
He joined and eventually became president of his local chapter of Student Veterans of America. He worked construction and other jobs to support his young family. He earned an IT certification through a Wounded Warrior Project program, which eventually led him to Global Connections to Employment, a Pensacola, Florida, nonprofit member of the SourceAmerica network. For the past two years he's worked there as a quality assurance analyst.
At GCE, Ploszaj is a welcomed addition and a critical member of the team, said Kristin Denman, proposal and marketing specialist for GCE. On behalf of GCE, she nominated Ploszaj for the award.
"He started with us and he really started to find his niche and realized we were a company that would work with him," Denman said. "This position and SourceAmerica provided him a career with the accommodations that he needed."
Ploszaj, a husband and father of two young boys, works from the company's Lorton, Virginia, office to find software issues and support the tech needs of GCE.
"I get to work on infrastructure that I'm used to – I was in that kind of system in the military," he said. "I don't come from a technical background, so I look at stuff a little bit differently. I find bugs in the software a little bit easier because I came in as a fresh pair of eyes."
Ploszaj continues to improve as an employee and actively advocates for other veterans with disabilities both in the workplace and on Capitol Hill, Denman said.
"He continues to grow by leaps and bounds regaining a lot of the skills he lost through those tragic events," she said. "He loves the company so much. He wanted to give other wounded warriors the opportunities he has."
Ploszaj helped set up Information Technology Training Program, CGE's training and hiring program for veterans with significant disabilities. For eight months, candidates train as software engineers, business analysts or business developers, he said. Once the first class of 21 graduates in April 2016, they'll be eligible for hire at GCE.
He's a standout employee who embodies the spirit of the Usdane award, Denman said.
"I think it's just his extreme dedication to what he believes in – to go through all of that, to come out and when you're in the Marines, you're in a brotherhood," she said. "He's never lost that sense of brotherhood. Now he includes GCE in that brotherhood. It's a really cool environment that he creates."
Ploszaj says some days are still tough, but he's up to the challenge.
"It's harder for me to learn certain aspects than other people, it takes me a lot longer to do certain things, but I'm pushing through," he said. "I'm doing what I can."