NIH’S 2013 Veterans Day celebration highlights included (from l) Army Lt. Gen. (ret.) Ronald Blanck giving the keynote talk, servicemembers setting the “Table of Remembrance,” and the Air Force Brass Quintet entertaining the audience.
Photos: Michael Spencer
“Service is what separates the veteran from someone else. Loyalty, dedication, respect, honor, integrity and personal courage exemplify the veteran and thus, we should help the vet integrate back into society and the workforce.” Such was the theme set by Army Lt. Gen. (ret.) Ronald Blanck, war veteran and medical officer who was the keynote speaker at NIH’s Veterans Day Celebration Nov. 6 in Kirschstein Auditorium.
NIH’s second annual salute honored both past and current members of the five armed branches, as well as the PHS Commissioned Corps. The program was sponsored by the veterans recruitment retention force (VRF), with assistance from the NIH Office of Human Resources and the NIH R&W Association.
Early arrivers were greeted by music provided by the Air Force Brass Quintet, which performed the National Anthem. The Joint Forces Color Guard’s “Posting of the Colors” showcased each military service’s flag.
NIAID’s Michael Nealy, master of ceremonies and chair of the VRF, gave introductory remarks, followed by personal recollections of service life from Dan Wheeland, director of the Office of Research Facilities. He focused on dispelling the myth of the “inflexible veteran…If I had not been in the service, I would probably think that vets are inflexible also. But they are not. They will succeed in (non-military) jobs if given the chance.”
Wheeland also made sure that spouses of vets were recognized, as being the partner of a military man or woman is not the easiest of jobs. Parents and children of the vet also make sacrifices and should similarly be recognized, he noted.
Blanck, who served 32 years as an Army medical officer and battalion surgeon (in Vietnam in 1968) and is a partner and chairman of the board of Martin, Blanck & Associates and chairman of the board of regents of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, said that while the overall treatment of veterans today is far better than it was following the Vietnam War, “We still have suspicions of them and thus, these men and women are not being fully integrated back into society.” He assured the audience that vets bring high ethics and discipline to the work environment, that they are an asset to any organization that hires them and that they should be given every opportunity to succeed.
The issue of employing veterans surfaced several times during the event. The good news from NIH is that we don’t just “talk the talk,” we “walk the walk.” According to Dr. Lawrence Tabak, NIH principal deputy director, NIH has made serious commitments to hiring veterans. He said more than 140 former servicemen and women were added to the NIH payroll in 2013 and that more than 1,000 veterans currently serve at NIH “as allies against disease.”
The “Table of Remembrance” was a somber feature of the program. It commemorates fallen comrades, those taken prisoner and soldiers missing in action. An inverted glass represents “a toast they cannot share with us today.” An empty chair at the table signifies their absence.
Formerly known as Armistice Day, Veterans Day is marked nationwide. On Nov. 11, 1919, President Woodrow Wilson first proclaimed the day an official holiday and in 1938, a congressional act made Nov. 11 a holiday “to be dedicated to the cause of world peace.”