By Anita Noguera, USFWS
“Hey, I didn’t realize you were in the military,” I said to Vanessa Porter, as I strolled into her cubicle in the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Arlington, Virginia, offices.
Rebekah Giddings, her division chief, had just mentioned Vanessa’s military service to me; she knew I was looking to write a story about one of the veterans working in our human resources office at HQ.
“Why, of course,” she said, smiling. She looked up at me, striking a dramatic yet humorous pose. “Can’t you tell from my professional demeanor and my pleasant manner? Where do you think that comes from?”
Vanessa was kidding around with me, but actually ... she’s right!
You can always depend on her to greet you with a smile, asking how you’re doing.
Vanessa Porter (Photo: USFWS)
As a Human Resources Specialist, specializing in the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), Leave and Leave Share, Transportation Subsidy, and Awards, she is well-suited as the “go to” person for these valuable benefits in the federal government.
Before coming to the Service in 2010, Vanessa worked for a federal government contractor, providing record management services for five different government agencies, overlapping her second career as a Reservist for 17 years.
Vanessa’s military career also included four years of active duty service in the United States Air Force, as a Sergeant. She retired in 2002.
Vanessa began her active duty career overseas as a dental assistant, delivering humanitarian dental services to citizens in the Philippines, and the troops stationed in the area. In addition, she provided education and training to the local residents on preventive dental care. This was her first trip abroad, which introduced her to both the joy and realities of travel and foreign cultures.
Vanessa loved the Pacific Ocean and went to the beach with her friends and co-workers almost daily. “On my first day in the Philippines,” remembers Vanessa, “I was invited to a barbeque and truly appreciated the warm welcome I received. It was my first experience with the local food, and that’s when I found out that Filipinos ate things that I wasn’t accustomed to eating. I was respectful of their culture, but also a practitioner of my own… I courteously passed.”
Her career took a serious turn during her period as a Reservist in Desert Shield/Desert Storm. Vanessa was asked to use her skills as a dental technician at Port Mortuary in Dover, Delaware, assisting in the identification process of soldiers who died during the war. Assigned to the Dental Squad, a team of 16, she was the only woman in the group.
“Most of the female dental techs didn’t take to the job, so they didn’t stick around for long,” says Vanessa, “But I felt that freedom is not free and it comes at a cost ... this was one of the most important jobs of my military career.”
“The guys in my unit took to challenging me at first, you know, giving me some of the more difficult cases at first to see how I was going to react,” she recalls, “but I didn’t give them the satisfaction. I just put my mask on, threw my shoulders back, and got to work. We all ended up being good friends, though.”
She laughs as she tells me about “the mask,” which she never removed while she was working. “My co-workers renamed them, ‘Vanessa,’ as in ‘I’m wearing my Vanessa,’ when they put on their masks. It’s was funny.”
Vanessa stayed busy throughout her military career. She went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts, and an associate’s degrees in dental assisting while on Active Duty status at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. She also received the Air Reserve Meritorious Service Medal, Air Force Achievement Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal and other distinguished awards.
In the HQ Human Resources Office, she’s a valued addition to the staff. Vanessa likes working with people and enjoys the customer service aspect of her job. “I just love working with people,” she says. “Can’t you tell from my history?”
(See and learn more about vets who are continuing to serve in the Service: http://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwshq/sets/72157627957958795/)
Anita Noguera is manager of BPHC Marketing Communications for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service