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Environmental Factor, January 2013

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Stokes honored by U.S. Public Health Service

By Eddy Ball

Rear Adm. William Stokes, D.V.M.

Stokes, above, and the other uniformed speakers saluted briskly as they received military honors and entered the auditorium to make their way to the stage. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Presenting of the colors

The U.S. Surgeon General’s Honor Cadre presented the colors, as well as performed the symbolic retirement of Stokes’ Assistant Surgeon General flag and the Old Glory tribute. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

USPHS Commander George Durgin

As master of ceremony, Durgin set the tone for the event with his gravitas and defined the military cadence of the ceremony with the staccato emphasis of his delivery. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

NTP center director Rear Adm. William Stokes, D.V.M., received the Distinguished Service Medal from the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) Dec. 19, 2012, during his flag officer retirement ceremony at NIEHS. The event (496KB) filled Rodbell auditorium with well-wishers, including members of his family, many of his co-workers in NTP, and more than 70 fellow USPHS officers in dress uniform.

The Distinguished Service Medal is the highest award presented by USPHS, and the flag officer retirement ceremony is a time-honored tradition of the USPHS, based on the centuries-old pomp and circumstance of maritime changing-of-command formalities. On hand to support the carefully choreographed event were the U.S. Surgeon General’s Honor Cadre, USPHS Choral Ensemble, and U.S. Army Forces Command Brass Quintet.

Stokes’ retirement as a rear admiral and assistant U.S. Surgeon General, with nearly 34 years of active duty service as a commissioned officer, was mandated by USPHS regulations.

High praise for a stellar career

On stage with Stokes during the 2 1/2-hour event were NIEHS/NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D.; NTP Associate Director John Bucher, Ph.D.; Deputy U.S. Surgeon General Boris Lushniak, M.D.; and fellow officers who had served with Stokes during the course of his career as a USPHS commissioned officer.

Master of Ceremony USPHS Commander George Durgin, Resilience Division chief at the Defense Centers of Excellence introduced the program of nine speakers who delivered the highest praise for their retiring colleague. Captain Terri Clark, D.V.M., the tenth chief veterinary officer for USPHS and director of the NIH Office of Animal Care and Use, set the tone for those who followed her. “Bill is just a steadfast visionary leader,” she said of her mentor and longtime comrade.

Others praised Stokes for his work in disaster deployments, including the 2005 aftermath of Hurricane Katrina; his important contributions during the transformation of USPHS to a more consistently military-like uniformed service; and his selfless efforts to spur the career development of subordinates and colleagues. The ceremony included the reading of letters from the assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona, M.D., members of the North Carolina congressional delegation, and a number of colleagues who were unable to attend.

Lushniak offered the ultimate praise from a commanding officer, when he said of Stokes, “If you want a job done the right way, put Bill in charge.”

Emotions run high at this important point in an officer’s career, and it was hardly surprising that Stokes had to pause several times when his turn came to speak. Facing the sea of blue uniforms, Stokes recalled fondly the many role models who, during his life, helped to build his strong work ethic and instill, early on, the core values of USPHS — integrity, excellence, leadership, and service to others.

Stokes received USPHS and U.S. flags, as symbols of his dedicated service, as well as gifts from colleagues. In an especially touching part of the ceremony, Lushniak presented Stokes’ wife, Nancy, with a citation and flowers in appreciation of her support during what Lushniak described as Stokes’ marathon of service to the nation’s public health.

Stokes’ legacy at NIH

Prior to his official separation Dec. 31, 2012, Stokes served as director of the National Toxicology Program Interagency Center for the Evaluation of Alternative Toxicological Methods (NICEATM) and executive director of the Interagency Coordinating Committee on the Validation of Alternative Methods (ICCVAM). NICEATM and ICCVAM provide scientific support and coordinate interagency initiatives for advancing new and alternative safety testing methods, including those designed to replace, reduce, and refine the use of animals in toxicity testing.

Stokes has 33 years of experience in biomedical and toxicological research, 26 years of that with NIH, and has served the NTP since 1992. He served his country in three of the seven uniformed services, for a total of 42 years of active duty and reserve service. He also held positions as the animal program director at NIEHS and the The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and as the eighth chief veterinary officer for USPHS.

Deputy U.S. Surgeon General Boris Lushniak, M.D.

Lushniak was energetic, humorous, and candid, as he described the changes officers face as they move from active duty as health warriors on call virtually 24 hours a day to officers at ease awaiting orders that may not come. Turning to face Stokes, Lushniak said, “This ain’t gonna be easy for you.” (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Captain Paul Jung, M.D.

In one of his final acts as NIEHS chief of staff, Captain Paul Jung, M.D., read letters of congratulations from the North Carolina congressional delegation. Jung assumed the position of deputy director of the newly formed headquarters for the USPHS Commissioned Corps in Rockville, Md., Jan. 1. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Rear Adm. William Stokes, D.V.M.

In a moving tribute to Old Glory and the long history of selfless sacrifice to country on the part of uniformed officers, Stokes received his retirement national ensign that had flown at several of his duty stations, including NIEHS. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Stokes' family members

Stokes’ family members enjoyed a place of honor on the front row of the audience. His wife, Nancy, right, was also honored for her support of her husband’s career, especially during the times he was deployed and absent from the home. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

NTP Associate Director John Bucher and NIEHS/NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D.

Following their own tributes to their colleague, Bucher, left, and Birnbaum had an opportunity to enjoy the comic relief Stokes’ uniformed colleagues and friends added to this generally solemn ceremony. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Warren Casey, Ph.D.

Warren Casey, Ph.D., who assumes the role of acting director of NICEATM with Stokes’ transition, was among the many NTP colleagues on hand to congratulate and thank him for his long service to the cause of alternative testing. Casey joined NICEATM as deputy director in 2010. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Stokes receives his symbolic permission to go ashore

The ceremony concluded with the speakers and the audiences standing in respect as Stokes received his symbolic permission to go ashore. Following the benediction, attendees gathered for a reception in the NIEHS cafeteria. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

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