Newsroom Midwest Region

Honoring veterans in the midwest

November 8, 2018

In honor of Veterans Day, we at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are highlighting some exceptional employees. These are just a few of the veterans who have gone above and beyond in their everyday duties. We honor and thank you all for your bravery and commitment to protect our freedom and the opportunity to fulfill our mission of conserving fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.

Learn more about veterans from across the midwest and across the country.


Ryan Anthony

Migratory Birds and Eagle Biologist, Ecological Services Illinois-Iowa Field Office

Ryan on active duty (left) and at work on the river (right). Photos courtesy of Ryan Anthony/USFWS.
Ryan on active duty (left) and at work on the river (right). Photos courtesy of Ryan Anthony/USFWS.

Ryan served six years as a combat medic in the U.S. Army, including more than two in Iraq. He says he learned many lessons throughout his military service that are useful in civilian life. "Though this doesn't come naturally to me, and I have to be intentional about it, the biggest thing I learned was to adapt and overcome challenges," Ryan said. Transitioning from the military and back into civilian service can be challenging at times, so these skills have served him well.

These days, Ryan works with various partners including state natural resource agencies, wind energy companies, consultants, the general public and Service coworkers. Ryan provides technical expertise on all sorts of migratory bird and eagle-related issues, including permitting. He participates in annual surveys for ducks and eagles, as well as helping out other biologists with field work, often assisting with migratory bird field projects.

Ryan loves getting out in the field, but most importantly, he appreciates and enjoys the relationships he has built with his coworkers. Ryan says the Illinois-Iowa Field Office team is made up of excellent biologists and admins who further the mission of the agency by working together.

Ryan extends his thanks to his colleagues and other Service employees, including the regional migratory birds office, all the regional and national eagle biologists and everyone he has worked with over the years.


Tiffany Breske

Contracting Officer for Contracting and General Services

Tiffany on active duty in Afghanistan (left) and visiting the Washington Monument (right). Photos courtesy of Tiffany Breske/USFWS.
Tiffany on active duty in Afghanistan (left) and visiting the Washington Monument (right). Photos courtesy of Tiffany Breske/USFWS.

Tiffany joined the U.S. Air Force the summer after high school and proudly served for eight years. "My father was in the Air Force and I wanted to serve my country as well as see other parts of the world," Tiffany said when asked what inspired her to enlist.

While on active duty, Tiffany trained and went to school for contracting. Being away from family for so long taught her not to take them for granted and to value the time she spends with family. She learned many other things that she brought to her job today - integrity, accountability, respect and the importance of having a strong work ethic. "It's funny how you catch on to those things, and many others, so quickly in that environment," said Tiffany. "Essentially, you don't have the option to fail."

One unforgettable military experience was on 9/11. Tiffany was stationed at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska and saw Air Force One being escorted by fighter jets as President Bush arrived after the terrorist attacks.

Today, Tiffany manages many construction projects all at the same time. Millions of dollars of projects come across her desk each year, with August and September being her busiest months due to the end of the fiscal year. A typical day includes many meetings, phone calls and emails to administer those contracts. An eye for detail and keen organizational skills help her stay on top of overlapping deadlines.

In summary, Tiffany says, "I love my job! I never have two days that are the exact same. Different challenges come up every day and I love a good challenge!"


Jason Mercado

Permits Examiner for Migratory Birds Program

Jason in uniform (left) and duck banding (right). Photos courtesy of Jason Mercado/USFWS.
Jason in uniform (left) and duck banding (right). Photos courtesy of Jason Mercado/USFWS.

Jason served in the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Marine Corps for a total of eight years. Looking back, Jason said, "I was a musician all my life, and being a Naval musician out of high school offered many exciting opportunities. As far as the Marines were concerned, I was a little more career-oriented after college and began looking to obtain my officer commission so I could pursue that avenue as a Marine Corps musician." Unfortunately, those plans were cut short when he had to take a medical retirement after getting hurt in 2003.

Comparing his time in the military with his work at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Jason remarks, "the military teaches you how to prioritize, because things can go wrong very quickly when your priorities aren't straight. And I’ve applied that to my job as a permits examiner. The ability to use my time wisely is extremely important, especially during times when we have challenging deadlines."

The heart of Jason’s role with our agency is all about being a good listener. A big part of permitting isn’t about the paperwork itself, it’s about understanding the needs of the people who call in for assistance. While he gets calls mostly about depredation from farmers, ranchers and other landowners, he also helps education and rehabilitation facilities get the required permits they need to help wildlife and educate the public. Jason noted that he also gets lots of calls from the public regarding current events that involve wildlife, so it is important to be well read.

Another aspect of Jason’s job is answering all sorts of questions from people who want to know more about birds and other wildlife, along with the national laws that protect them like the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. Jason also works closely with conservation partners, including state departments of natural resources and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He also makes site visits and gives talks about permitting related topics.

"The thing I enjoy the most is getting out into the field and getting to know folks, because seeing the passion they share for birds first hand is invigorating and awe-inspiring, quite frankly. It really is impressive when you see what people, who often have modest resources, do for birds and their communities."

Jason enjoys making it possible for people to work with birds. "As we all know, government regulations are not always the easiest things for the public to understand. It’s rewarding when I can walk folks through the regulatory process. For many people, opening an education or rehabilitation center is their dream and I enjoy being a part of helping that happen for them."


Dennis Nielsen

Laborer and YCC Crew Leader at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge

Dennis during his time with the Army (left) and with 2018 Necedah Youth Conservation Corps crew (right). Photos courtesy of Dennis Nielsen/USFWS and by Roxy Gerard/USFWS.
Dennis during his time with the Army (left) and with 2018 Necedah Youth Conservation Corps crew (right). Photos courtesy of Dennis Nielsen/USFWS and by Roxy Gerard/USFWS.

Dennis was drafted by the Army and proudly served for two years during the Vietnam War. During that time, he learned to respect others and their viewpoints. Reflecting back on those formative years, Dennis says that those same lessons continue to come in handy today and help him work with others from all sorts of backgrounds.

Working as a laborer for Necedah National Wildlife Refuge brings Dennis great pride. While there are always unanticipated issues that need addressing when it comes to facilities and grounds work, Dennis is a master at setting priorities. Dennis is nimble and balances his planned cleaning and maintenance for the five million dollar visitor center and headquarters building with those moments when quick triage is needed. He enjoys the challenge.

"I have always been a manager and here I have the freedom to use our procedures to determine when and what I need to accomplish to meet our goals and keep the facilities and grounds in impeccable shape," explained Dennis.

Dennis enjoys the latitude and independence he has for scheduling his day-to-day activities and takes pride in it. That freedom allows him a space for creative problem-solving, which is essential for running facilities. He enjoys working with all sorts of people from the staff and the public every day. For the past four years, Dennis has been the summer crew leader for the Youth Conservation Corps program at Necedah and is a great mentor and leader for local youth.

On November 3rd, Dennis joined Honor Flight, a non-profit that recognizes American veterans for their sacrifices and achievements by flying them to Washington, D.C. He sees the opportunity as an honor and a privilege to be with fellow veterans to enjoy their camaraderie and experience while in D.C. exploring the memorials.

As a Vietnam veteran, Dennis has lots of stories to tell. That, plus more than 40 years of management experience in the food services industry have taught him many things. Reflecting on his time with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Dennis says that he’s happy to be working with an organization that recognizes his talents and that he’s a proud vet and employee.


Sandy Turner

Administrative Technician at the Midwest Fisheries Center

Sandy (left) receiving the Comptroller Squadron Senior Noncommissioned Officer of the Year award. Photo courtesy of Sandy Turner/USFWS.
Sandy (left) receiving the Comptroller Squadron Senior Noncommissioned Officer of the Year award. Photo courtesy of Sandy Turner/USFWS.

Sandy served 24 years in the U.S. Air Force. She was inspired to enlist by an innate sense of duty to her country, saying, "I always wanted to join the military to give back to a country that has given my family and me so many opportunities and to help retain the freedoms we cherish today."

Sandy has taken away many lessons from her time in the military, including the importance of being part of a team. Such team relationships will boost you up at times, but count on you as a pillar at other times. Sandy also speaks to the key of communication, in all directions, up and down the chain, in the success of any organization and the wisdom to be approachable. This hard earned knowledge serves her well today in her role as an administrative technician at the Midwest Fisheries Center in Wisconsin.

Sandy jokingly deems her position "death by paperwork," but really enjoys the variety of tasks and projects she is involved with at the Center. "No two days are the same. Sometimes I get to go with the Fish Health Center and vaccinate fish and sometimes I get to do outreach events," said Sandy. She also boasts about her colleagues at the Fisheries Center as a source of joy each and every day.

Sandy still strives to live by the Air Force's core values: integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do. They inspire her daily to be the best in all she does.