Systems engineer overcomes adversity, recognized by Secretary of Defense

Huntsville Center Public Affairs Office
Published Nov. 3, 2017
Jason Moore, a Huntsville Center Systems Engineer, hasn’t let a debilitating muscular disease or even cancer get the best of him. During National Disability Employment Awareness Month, Moore was recognized with the 2017 Secretary of Defense Award for Outstanding Department of Defense Civilian Employees with Disabilities.

Jason Moore, a Huntsville Center Systems Engineer, hasn’t let a debilitating muscular disease or even cancer get the best of him. During National Disability Employment Awareness Month, Moore was recognized with the 2017 Secretary of Defense Award for Outstanding Department of Defense Civilian Employees with Disabilities.

Systems engineer overcomes adversity, recognized by Secretary of Defense

Jason Moore, senior IT specialist, Huntsville Center, was honored in October with the 2017 Secretary of Defense Award for Outstanding DoD Civilian Employees with Disabilities. He has worked with Huntsville Center for seven years, where he is the network and systems administrator of the local and wide area networks in support of a high-priority multi-million dollar program. Jason was presented the award by Anthony M. Kurta, Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, along with Maj. Gen. Funkhouser, USACE Deputy Commanding General For Military and International Operations, and Raymond F. Reese, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Training, Readiness, and Mobilization.

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama--For the last seven years, Jason Moore has worked at the U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville as an information technology specialist for the Center’s management review office. He loves his job, which involves supporting a high priority, multi-million dollar, classified network. He interfaces and coordinates with diverse government and contractor organizations to determine and recommend how automation techniques can be used to support and enhance the organization’s ability to meet mission requirements.

Moore has a master’s degree in Information Security and Assurance and is also a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer, Information Assurance Administrator and a Computer Forensics Investigator.

“I am a geek,” Moore admits. “But I’m not your typical geek.”

With all his degrees and certifications, and because he works in IT, most people would think Moore would be the epitome of a what American society has us think about geeks; that they are socially awkward and more comfortable playing online science fiction computer games. However, as Moore rolls through Huntsville Center’s halls, it’s evident he is far from socially awkward; he’s quite popular among the workforce, greeted with fist bumps and hugs. He eagerly chats about the latest University of Alabama football game results. He can tell you where to get a good barbecue sandwich. He can diagnose issues coworkers are having with their cars and recommends repairs.

He’s a geek, but not your typical geek. He’s not your typical coworker either. Moore sits in a wheelchair most of his waking hours due to a muscle disease limiting his ability to walk. However, he hasn’t always been this way.

The farm, the work ethic and the trips

Moore grew up on his parents’ farm outside Florence, Alabama. From a young age he knew the meaning of work ethic.

“I understood at an early age that you have to work for what you want; if you want to have fun, you have to work hard. I did not know any other way of life,” Moore said. 

From a young age, he worked the family garden and kept the grass cut. He also liked fixing things and was mechanically inclined. When he was 8 years old, he disassembled the lawn mower motor and put it back together. He wanted to see how it worked. Soon he has working on other equipment. He was repairing and maintaining the trucks, tractors and other pieces of equipment used on the farm. He said he believes his mechanical comprehension directly led to his career in IT. He wasn’t just turning wrenches on tractors, he was also improving and repairing the family computer by installing sticks of RAM and replacing video cards and hard drives.

“Computers were fascinating to me. To disassemble a computer and put one back together and make it better was exciting to me.”

Moore’s life wasn’t centered solely on working the farm. He was a typical Alabama boy growing up who played football, basketball and baseball. He played organized sports on through high school. However, Moore recalls that when he was about 12 years old, his mother noticed he wasn’t walking correctly. Sometimes he would trip for no reason. Later he began slightly dragging his foot. His mother took him to the family doctor. They were referred to other specialists in the local area. Soon they were seeing specialists at the Kirkland Clinic at UAB Hospital in Birmingham, Alabama.

“I was diagnosed with a degenerative muscle disease, but I wasn’t going to let it hold me back,” Moore said. “I wasn’t going to let anything keep me from doing the things I wanted to do due to the attitude instilled in me from a young age.

Moore said his grandfather was a huge influence in his life, teaching him that life is what you make it and not what someone gives you.

“He taught me to have a solid work ethic,” Moore said.

Moore said the greatest lesson he learned from his family while growing up was not just to work hard, but also to set goals and work to obtain those goals.

“I have always lived that way through my life, worked hard, set goals and pursued opportunities when the time was right,” Moore said.

Although he had been diagnosed with a muscular disease, Moore went about his business through his teens attending school, playing sports, hanging out with friends and figuring out his future. 

A path forward

After graduating from Central High School in Florence in 1990, Moore knew exactly what he wanted to do to increase his opportunities to meet his goals. Although computers weren’t as vital in business and industry as they are today, Moore knew they would be integral to the future. However, Moore also knew it wasn’t just the computers themselves, but more importantly the networks computers used to talk to each other; especially the security required to keep information and data safe.

After receiving his associate’s degree in Computer Information Systems from his local community college, Moore jumped at an opportunity to work for a Birmingham company that was in the business of building and maintaining networks. The on-the-job training and certification process was integral to Moore staying on top of the technological wave that was beginning to have such an impact on business and government.  He was building and maintaining networks for municipalities and large corporations.

However, after more than five years living and working in the Magic City, Moore and his new bride, Carrie, decided they wanted to live somewhere less crowded than Alabama’s largest city. They agreed Huntsville was the best choice for them.

Moore applied for and was offered a job with Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) providing contracted network services for what is now the Missile Defense Agency at Redstone Arsenal.

Moore said he loved his job there as he was learning more and more about large network systems and details regarding network security. He was working 50-to 60-hour weeks while also taking online classes toward his bachelor’s degree. He soon had his bachelor’s and not long after that he had a master’s degree under his belt.

A few words bring a new perspective

For years Moore had worked long hours and knew he was overextending himself. He would counter the exhaustion with rest on the weekends. Then in 2007, Moore said he felt extremely exhausted. He knew it was more than too many hours at work.

“This was different. I was working a lot and putting in a lot of hours and I would be tired and get some rest on the weekend and be back at it on Monday. But I just felt very weak. I didn't feel normal” he recalls. “So I went in for a doctor’s visit and they did blood work and then results came in and we were floored.”

in January 2008, Moore was diagnosed with Stage Four Hodgkin Lymphoma, a cancer that develops from cells in the lymphatic system that produces white blood cells to help the body fight infections.

“Hearing the words ‘you have cancer,’ really puts things in perspective,” Moore said. “I have a degenerative muscle disease, but I was never going to let that stop me. Now I’ve got cancer and I was at a point of thinking to myself ‘I’ve got to make a choice; live or die. I knew I only had one choice to make.’”

Moore started chemotherapy treatment March 3, 2008. By May 23, 2008 he was in full remission. Moore said the medical care he received was fantastic, and his optimistic attitude to beat cancer had a lot to do with his quick recovery. He said he still attributes his recovery to a higher power.

“Who can say it (remission) didn’t happen but through divine intervention,” Moore said.

Setting roots with change

Going through life–altering medical issues as a young man, Moore said he began closely evaluating his life and was determining what was important to him. His muscular disease was having a greater impact on his mobility. He and Carrie wanted children in their future. They wanted to establish roots in Huntsville. Moore knew that as he climbed the corporate ladder working for a large international company like SAIC,  he might be asked to relocate to another city in another state.

“I had been working as a contractor supporting the Department of Defense for years,” Moore said. “SAIC was great, and I really learned a lot with them, but I decided that if I was going to keep doing the kind of work I do, I wanted to do it as a federal employee.  I really wanted to serve my country.”

Moore said since he was a teenager, he had always felt a need to serve his nation in some capacity.

“I know I would have served in the military — probably with the Air Force. But I couldn’t enlist because of this muscle disease. Sure, I was helping the military with the work I was doing at SAIC, but I’ve always felt a need to serve,” Moore said.

In 2010 Moore began applying for federal positions at multiple agencies at Redstone Arsenal. He also applied for a position at Huntsville Center and soon received a call asking him to interview for the position. Not long after that, he accepted the job offer and in 2011 was a member of the Huntsville Center workforce.

With more than seven years serving at the Center, Moore said he sees Huntsville Center’s workforce as more of an extension of his family.

“When I began working here, I was having to use my crutches more and more, but I was accepted into the Center with open arms,” Moore recalls. “The Center is full of great people working as a team on very important missions supporting the warfighter. It’s been a great work-environment and not once have I ever felt out-of-place because of my disability. I’ve always been treated as a member of the team; as someone that matters and as someone who belongs, and that means the world to me.”

One of Moore’s coworkers, Col. Pete Reyna, Huntsville Center’s Military Programs Directorate assistant executive director, said Moore is an exceptionally dedicated team player. Moore maintains the wide area network Rayna uses for contingency planning.  

“Jason is the kind of person that no matter what else is going on, if you pick up the phone and ask him for help, he will absolutely stop whatever he is doing and provide that assistance,” Rayna said. “Jason has a great sense of humor and will tease you a little bit while he is solving your problem, but he will stay with you until you are good to go.  I depend on Jason's expertise as an information technology specialist, but I also consider him to be a friend.”

Recognition and inspiration

Moore’s value as a Center team member was evident when he was honored with two others representing the Corps of Engineers during the 2017 Secretary of Defense Service Members and Civilian Employees with Disabilities Award Ceremony at the Pentagon Auditorium, Oct. 5.

Moore said he was humbled by the nomination. “I’ve never received an award of this magnitude,” Moore said. “It just blew me away.”

Moore said what was more humbling was listening to the ceremony’s keynote speaker, Iraq war veteran Dan Nevins, a double amputee wounded during an improvised explosive device attack in Mosul, Iraq in 2004.

“His speech was focused on what choices he had to make to move on with his life after his injury,” Moore said. “His speech focused on not letting yourself get beat — you have to move on and do what it takes to live. I’m certainly not a war hero, but during his speech something matched up with the decisions I have had to make — the determination to just survive, but to survive and thrive for my family. His speech was so inspiring, and it really resonated with me.”  

Nevins’ speech may have been inspiring to Moore, but for many in the Center, Moore is an inspiration for all he has endured, and all he will endure in the future. Moore said people often ask him how he gets up in the morning and goes to work and keeps a positive attitude after all he’s been through and is still going through.

“I tell them ‘It’s what I do. I make a difference,’” Moore said. “There are plenty of challenges, but there isn’t anything I can’t do.”