TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Thanks to some relentlessly persistent people across the Continental U.S. NORAD Region-1 st Air Force (Air Forces Northern) enterprise, there’s a client systems administrator in the 101st Aerospace Communications Squadron who heard her own voice for the first time in her life April 17.
Lynn Hill, profoundly hearing impaired since birth, has been a federal employee since 1982 and successfully managed her CST duties by reading lips when she helped customers. But one day last year, her friend and coworker, Martha Johnson, suggested Hill should be able to get a government-funded hearing aid.
Johnson said she shadowed Hill as a CST herself several hours a week and witnessed the frustration for Hill when she could not hear her customers. Johnson thought to herself, they have desk and chair medically-related accommodations for people in government, so why not hearing aids. Hill recounted Johnson “would be my ears” when they worked together.
“I saw her struggle first hand, so I decided I’m going to make this happen,” Johnson said. “Lynn resisted at first but I finally talked her into it.”
According to Dave Kostic, Chief, CONR-1 AF (AFNORTH) Financial Management, this was not a precedent-setting event as he recalled a similar successful request approximately 12 years ago for an enterprise sector employee.
“The Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers to provide an adequate work environment for them,” he said.
In fact, Johnson said the hearing-aid doctor was amazed at how long a successful career Hill had given her profound hearing impediment and credited her impeccable skills for lip reading.
Hill said from kindergarten through 12th grade, she learned to read lips from her speech therapist.
“She would sing and I would put my hand on her throat and watch her lips. I wanted to learn how to read lips so I could go to a regular school and not a school for the deaf.”
Capt. Sherri Stanfill, Communications and Information Deputy, Chief Programs and Plans, has known Hill for several years.
“Over the years, Lynn and I have formed a friendship,” Stanfill said. “From birth Lynn has been unable to hear and to see how successful she has been throughout her career, speaks volumes of the type of person she is. From the way Lynn interacts with users throughout our building, you can see why she is asked for by name when a user has computer issues. When Lynn first received her hearing aid, she told me she heard a bird for the first time, something I take for granted every day. She is truly an inspiration. “
For her part, Johnson researched regulations and instructions and along with the CONR-1st AF (AFNORTH) human resources advisor, Linda Mauro, helped Hill complete the paperwork package to submit to the appropriate Selfridge Air National Guard entity.
But the initial approval was just the beginning. Locally, the package review directorates included not only financial management but supervisory and legal personnel as well. Additionally, since Hill is a member of 101st ACOMS, the FM and JAG from the 601st Air Operations Center were also key. There assistance from members of the 325th Fighter Wing’s Medical Group and Contracting Office.
“Because she’s so deserving, there definitely were a lot of people in our organization who wanted to see this happen. We just had to figure out the process and that takes time. But no matter how long it took, we were not giving up,” Johnson said.
Then came Hurricane Michael, a category-five storm that ravaged Bay County.
Hill felt her hopes for hearing fading.
“I thought after Hurricane Michael, all the government money would be going toward recovery efforts, but Martha was persistent and kept making phone calls,” Hill said.
“It got pushed back,” Johnson said of the process, “but I knew we had to get it rolling again, and we did.”
Terry Bartnett, deputy director of Communications and Information Directorate, was pleased as he watched the process continue to unfold post-Hurricane Michael.
“It’s always nice to see when a big government organization/agency like the DoD or Air Force takes the time and works through the process to get it right and takes care of the individual,” he said.
Finally, the day arrived. Johnson met Hill and accompanied her to the doctor’s office in Santa Rosa Beach.
“It was incredible to watch,” Johnson said. “It was overwhelming, everyone in the office was crying tears of joy as they realized the first voice she heard was the doctor and then she heard her own, for the first time in her life. It was an amazing experience.”
Hill recalls the moment.
“I was so ecstatic, I kept pinching myself to make sure it was really happening,” she said. “The thought of being able to hear, I have no words to describe the feeling.”
After they left the office, and Johnson dropped Lynn off at their meeting point, Johnson looked back to see Hill standing still in the parking lot. She later found out Hill was listening to the seagulls. Work the next day proved just as dramatic when she heard her coworkers’ voices for the first time.
“We are super happy for her,” said Staff Sgt. Steven Anderson, executive communications. “When she came in that morning, her excitement was contagious.”