The 2018 cemetery director intern class graduated from the National Cemetery Administration’s year-long program in late June. Eight cemetery director interns successfully completed the training and will now serve as assistant directors assigned to national cemeteries across the nation.
The program prepares participants to manage and operate cemeteries as national shrines for America’s Veterans and their families. This is the only training program of its kind in the federal government. The National Training Center is located on the campus of the VA St. Louis Health Care System – Jefferson Barracks Division.
“About one-third of NCA employees come through our National Training Center doors every year. Every course we offer emphasizes the critical importance of caring for Veterans and their loved ones,” said Mary Elder, NCA’s director of Training and Safety
Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs Randy C. Reeves gave the keynote address and expressed confidence in the graduates.
“This has been a very challenging and hopefully rewarding year for you. As a former cemetery director, I understand your responsibility and after having the opportunity to observe you during your training, I know we are in good hands for the future and I am very happy for that,” he said.
Reeves explained that being a cemetery director commands two important qualities: perfection and precision.
“Our formula is having excellent and effective leaders throughout the nation who have a deep commitment to providing superior care to our Veterans and their family members during what may be a difficult time in their lives,” he said.
Reeves emphasized his vision to ensure no Veteran truly ever dies, saying, “…telling stories to make sure our Veterans are remembered is truly what memorialization is. We have to be dedicated to ensure that our Veterans who are gone are not forgotten for their service to our nation. This is my pledge and I hope it is yours.”
This unique and arduous training equips interns to manage all operations at a national cemetery and includes courses such as public affairs, foundations of leadership, financial and budget systems and winter operations.
William Haggerty, who oversees the NCA intern training program and previously served as a cemetery director, explained the correlation of the training to the stellar customer service NCA provides to Veterans and their families. “We focus on achieving high standards which is why we have such high customer service ratings,” he said. “We may recruit people with cemetery backgrounds, but we appeal to individuals who seek to be the industry’s finest as an NCA cemetery director.”
Members of the graduating class offered feedback about their experience during the year-long training. Raymond Dann, assigned to Houston National Cemetery, said, “I encourage anyone to apply to this program. [We have] supportive subject matter experts and servant leader trainers who believe in our mission and overall vision.”
Lisa Brennan, assigned to Nashville National Cemetery, offered her take-away.
“Remember why you are here every single day. It’s all about the Veterans and their families. I try to see my own family in every Veteran’s family that I meet and treat them as if they were mine,” she said.
Konrad Tolai, assigned to Baltimore National Cemetery, said, “It’s a noble calling. My personal view is customer service first, customer service last. Know who you are serving and when you know that, you’ll find yourself in the right place.”
The interns developed final projects on flag and floral policies and the stewardship of historic assets and presented these to NCA senior executives the day before the graduation ceremony. The graduates will report to their respective assignments July 8.
The Class of 2018 National Cemetery Assignments are:
- Jeff Applegate, Willamette National Cemetery, Pacific District
- Lisa A. Brennan, Nashville National Cemetery, Southeast District
- Robert D. Bryson, Fort Jackson National Cemetery, North Atlantic District
- Raymond R. Dann, Houston National Cemetery, Continental District
- William T. Hartley, Jr., Mountain Home National Cemetery, Southeast District
- Douglas R. Maddox, Jr., Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery, Continental District
- Konrad M. Tolai, Baltimore National Cemetery, North Atlantic District
- Daniel J. Williams, Leavenworth National Cemetery, Midwest District
Richelle Taylor has served as a public affairs specialist with the National Cemetery Administration for seven years. She is an enlisted Navy Veteran and served during Operation Desert Storm.