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Vol. LVIII, No. 8
April 21, 2006

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Making Memories
Smiling Security Guard Spreads Early Morning Cheer

On the front page...

"I never forget a face. But in your case, I'd be glad to make an exception," the wise-cracking Groucho Marx remarked in one of his comedies from over half a century ago.

In the case of Damien Staten, however, it's no joke. He truly never forgets a face. Or makes an exception. In fact, the affable NIH security guard can line up the proper mug with the appropriate name of some 100, 200 or perhaps as many as 300 NIH employees who pass through the Wilson Drive entrance each morning on the way to work. How does he do it? And with a cheery countenance that lights up the morning for staffers fortunate enough to come vis--vis with him?


Damien Staten greets NIH’ers cheerfully each morning at his security post and almost never forgets a face.  

"I like the faces, I really do. When people come by my post, I try to make their day," he said with a broad, genuine smile. "You see, when I make their day, then they make mine. What I'm saying is that these people are not just NIH employees, they are my friends. So I do my best to remember their names, as well as protect them."

Staten has lots of opportunities each morning, greeting and meticulously scrutinizing the ID badges of as many as 2,000 NIH'ers who trek through his entrance 5 days a week. Meanwhile, the 25-year-old Washington, D.C., native and sports devotee has a memory bank that few can rival. He proudly affirmed that he knows the names of myriad staffers, probably numbering well into the hundreds, including the NIH associate director for communications, whom he acknowledges each morning. "I thought it was remarkable that Damien remembered my name," said John Burklow. "As I talked to others who go through his post, it turns out he remembers everyone's name — it's amazing. He's always warm and cheerful — a model for how to greet visitors to the NIH."

Staten, who currently resides in Landover, Md., has been working at NIH since September 2001 with MVM Security, which employs some 500 guards on the Bethesda campus. An early riser by nature, he holds post during the 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. shift weekdays with his partner, Edmond Sombie. His vehicle-monitoring duties notwithstanding, he also operates in tandem with the NIH Police, a group that works hard behind the scenes to ensure overall campus safety.

Of his extraordinary recall abilities, Staten says, "they're nothing new." He said he has always had a first-rate memory. "My mother used to play (the board game) Memory with me and she said even when I was a little kid that I had an outstanding memory. I would always remember just where every board piece was. I guess the process of remembering has stayed with me," he noted, "only this time it's names, not board pieces."

It also helps that he has formed a bond with the employees he receives on campus each morning. Staten never forgets that his face is the first one many staffers encounter daily. Not that this alone doesn't pose a few formidable challenges — especially on the toughest hurdle of the week — Monday. But he has a way of putting a therapeutic touch on staff — he starts the week off right by placing a smile on both his face and those of his acquaintances. "I know first-hand how tough Mondays can be. Whatever I can do to help I do," Staten said.

While standing guard, Staten admitted that challenges far beyond coming to work on Mondays can sometimes occur, even for an optimistic, cool-headed individual like himself. He recalled one particularly sticky situation where his easy-going nature may have averted a major scene. "There was a patient from the Clinical Center who approached my station and absolutely refused to show his driver's license or any other identification. I don't know why, but this guy was about ready to explode," recalled Staten, who calmed the driver down by speaking in a soothing, caring manner. Ultimately, he got the patient to show him the required credentials without creating chaos.

The fact that Staten loves what he does lends itself neatly to his calm demeanor, and no doubt influences how he comes across to others. "I love my job. I love the employees coming through. And I'm a firm believer that the response you give is the one you get back," he said. "For me, any chance I have to make a good friend — I'll take it."

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