Honoring veterans in the midwest
November 8, 2019
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 within the Service across the country.
Administrative Support Assistant, Michigan Private Lands Office
Christopher serving in Iraq (left) and today (right). Photos courtesy of Chris Blaxton.
Chris Blaxton is a competitive handcycler, completing the Detroit International Marathon seven times. Handcycling is a human-powered bicycle that uses arms rather than the legs to move. Blaxton credits his military career to consistently performing at a high level – both in and out of the office.
As the administrative support assistant for the Michigan Private Lands Program, he keeps the office running – budgets, payroll, travel and cooperative agreements. He knows paperwork is the thread connecting the boots-to-the-ground for advancing the Service’s mission.
“My time in the military taught me to pay attention to small details, making the bigger task easier to accomplish. If you prepare behind-the-scenes, ultimately your front actions will benefit,” said Blaxton.
It was after graduating from Ferris State University when he joined the U.S. Army. Blaxton was living at home and looking for a job when his father one day came up and said, “son you got to move out of this house,”. His father encouraged him to join the military.
Blaxton was a military policeman in the 303rd Military Police Company. During 22 years of service, he deployed eight times: Kuwait, Egypt, Honduras, Guatemala, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba twice and Iraq. On October 24, 2007, he sustained paralyzing injuries in an IED blast while serving in Bayji, Iraq. His unit was heading back to base from showing their replacements the Iraq police station. Blaxton survived thanks to the soldiers who pulled from the vehicle, provided on scene medical care and drove him to a medical evacuation site.
His recovery took nine months in a Veteran Affairs rehab hospital in Chicago, Illinois and an additional two years as an outpatient at the Ann Arbor VA in Michigan. He retired from the army in 2009.
“What I took from my time in the military is loyalty. My intrinsic understanding of loyalty adds to team proficiency and builds trust in my work environment,” continues Blaxton.
This is evident with the honor of receiving the Purple Heart Medal. Purple Heart is among the highest military honors for those who served in war or while in combat. It also is demonstrated through his sense of attitude and performance since he started working for the Service in 2014.
Administrative Support Specialist, Clarence Cannon, Great River and Middle Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuges
Christina on Griffiss Airforce Base in Rome, NY in 1993 (left) and on the refuge today (right). Photos courtesy of Christina Hays.
When someone told Christina Hays there was no way she’d make it in the military, she was even more determined to prove them wrong. That’s what motivated her to join the U.S. Air Force as a medical laboratory technologist back in 1990.
“It was a wild hair, joining up. Being told I'd never make it through basic training and my desire to see what the world offered spurred me to sign up,” said Christina. “What began as a rebellious act, turned into absolutely, without a doubt, the best decision of my life.”
In her lab tech role, Christina was responsible for working in all areas of the laboratory - from cross-matching blood units to testing for infectious diseases and drawing blood. She was often on call, working through the night and became a certified emergency medical technician before finishing her time in service.
While her parents instilled the importance of integrity in Christina as a child and young person, she credits the four years that she served with the U.S. Air Force with solidifying it in her adult life. The USAF core values are Integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do.
“Probably the most important thing to me is ensuring I do my job with integrity, knowing my superiors can rely on me to do the right thing. At the end of the day, I want to know I did my best, whether that be spending tax payer's dollars wisely or helping a visitor at the refuge,” continues Christina.
Based at Clarence Cannon National Wildlife Refuge and additionally supporting Great River and Middle Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuges, the majority of Christina’s job as an administrative support specialist involves things like reconciling statements, linking expenditures to the annual budget and the like. In the midst of this computer-bound work, Christina may have times when she’s asked to go pick up someone in the field, do refuge errands in town, answer questions from visitors or even get to ride along for duck counts. She loves that things can change in an instance and there's always something new to learn and see.
Out of all of Christina’s duties, she likes reconciling money the best. Christina says that she likes things to be in order and correct, so she thrives on making sure everything is accounted for and in its place. While field folks may rely on their trusty marsh master or UTV to get around, Christina depends on her trusty EBT tool that Chief of Budget and Administration Denise Gilsrud adapted for the team. Christina says it makes her happy and feel that the world is in order. While Christina enjoys the satisfaction of reconciling things, she says that what she values most in her job is a little different. Christina can’t tell you how much it means to her to look forward to coming to work every day with her coworkers - both those in the office and at other refuges.
“I value their kindness, compassion, knowledge, and ethics. Every single employee of the USFWS I've met has been wonderful,” Christina continues. “I am truly blessed to work with an amazing group of people who care not only about our environment, but one another.”
General Service Specialist Team Lead in Property Operations, Regional Office
Retired Command Chief Master Sergeant Jan Dalton. Photo courtesy of Jan Dalton.
For Jan Dalton, a general services specialist team lead in Property Operations, credit goes to her brothers for inspiring her to enlist in the U.S. Air Force. “My two older brothers, I looked up to them so much, both enlisted in the Air Force, and whatever they did, I wanted to do too.”
From following in her siblings’ footsteps to an Air Force career, Jan went on to serve 33 years with the Air Force, retiring as the Command Chief Master Sergeant at the 934th Airlift Wing, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
When it comes to experiences and lessons learned while serving that she applies still today she noted, “I learned there is no assignment or task I can’t learn how to do. The military trains you to be a specialist in a particular field, but the tasks and duties are never limited to that one area of expertise. If a task comes up, you get the 15-minute briefing on how to do the job and then you’re on your way--doing the task. My current position is like that too. Nearly every day there is something new I learn and some new unique situation that I need to figure out.”
“My typical day in the Regional Office is a variety of duties- processing transactions, answering questions from the field, researching and writing. I’ve also been on detail for the past few months. I worked with the property and fleet team to write the Personal Property JAO Standard Operating Procedure.”
Jan noted that she really enjoys the people she works with in her current position. “Co-workers, the property fleet team and all of the great people in the field make this a job I enjoy. I especially enjoy working with the Accountable/Custodial Property Offices and admins, helping with their questions.”
Administrative Assistant, McGregor District-Upper Mississippi NWFR
Kim as a Navy Yeoman (left) and today (right). Photo courtesy of Kim Schultz.
Kim Schultz joined the Navy to be different. She chose the Navy because her father was in the Army, while her brother opted for the Air Force. “I guess I wanted to be different,” said Kim, who currently serves as the administrative assistant at Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge – McGregor District. “I needed direction in my life, and I thought the structure would be the best thing for me.”
Kim’s 21-year career with the Navy took her to places around the country, including the San Diego Naval Base and Submarine Development Group. Her assignments took her to the Naval and Marine Corps Reserve Center in Bloomington, Minnesota; the Naval Reserve Center in Cleveland, Ohio; and the Naval Air Station at Whidbey Island, Washington, a favorite of Kim’s. After more than two decades of service, Kim retired from the Joint Intelligence Reserve Command in Rosemount, Minnesota.
During her service with the Navy, Kim served as a Yeoman, handling administrative work, mostly for officers. As her career advanced, she also trained Navy Reserve members for active duty recall, processed service records, travel orders and other administrative and clerical work.
Kim says her experiences with the Navy gave her skills that help her in her current position at Upper Miss-McGregor District, paying bills, ordering supplies and processing paperwork. She says she enjoys most the opportunity to meet and work with people. And lessons learned from the Navy? “Patience, and you need to pick your battles wisely to win the war,” Kim says.
Administrative Assistant, Regional Office
Melissa at basic training (left) and today (right). Photos courtesy of Melissa Henderson.
Melissa Henderson was motivated to join the Air Force to follow in the footsteps of her family’s military service, which includes the Air Force, National Guard and Marines. She grew up listening to her uncles’ stories about the Air Force and their service in Vietnam, working at the White House and the Pentagon, and all the details about the countries they had seen.
“In my two years of service, I gained new insight into the experiences of my family,” said Melissa. “In particular, it helped me strengthen the relationship between me and my uncle. We became close pen pals while I was serving. In our letters we would bond about things I was doing in my job as an F-16 Fighting Falcon Crew Chief.”
Melissa’s favorite memory from basic training was when she used her town pass to go to San Antonio. “I was standing in my dress blues with a friend on the famous River Walk, when Aerosmith appeared riding a pontoon down the river,” said Melissa. “My friend was waving frantically, and Steven Tyler turned toward us and saluted. The pride I felt was beyond words!”
One of the most important skills Melissa took from her time in the military was how to work together as a team to accomplish a mission. She has carried this forward into her current position as administrative assistant for both Migratory Birds and Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program. There are several tasks daily that everyone in these programs work to complete and by being a team player, work is completed in a timely manner.
“My work varies quite a bit each day. Some days I am working on travel throughout the day. Other times my focus is on acquisitions, or attending to timekeeping duties. My days are all so different, I can't really give examples of a typical day!”
Even though the work varies, one thing is consistent. “The best part of my job is working with great people who are dedicated to what they do.”
Melissa’s greatest joy is making people smile and laugh. No matter how tough her day may be, if she can brighten one person’s day then her day is complete because you never know when these small gestures may mean the world to someone else.