The NIEHS community gathered Nov. 9 to celebrate Veterans Day, hear from a local veteran, and learn about three charities supported by the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC).
NIEHS and National Toxicology Program Director Rick Woychik, Ph.D., welcomed attendees with a remote greeting from Bethesda, Maryland, where he was attending a National Institutes of Health director’s meeting. Woychik is a U.S. Navy veteran who served as a surgical nurse during the Vietnam era.
“It’s always an honor for me to celebrate our veterans and service members,” said Woychik, who introduced guest speaker Darrell Hixson, NIEHS and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief of security. “I want to express my gratitude not only to Darrell, but also to all NIEHS veterans in attendance for their unwavering commitment and service to our country.”
Hixson, a former U.S. Army Senior Operations and training Non-commissioned officer, began his journey by enlisting as a young man and successfully completing advanced training at Fort Benning, Georgia, now known as Fort Moore. Over the course of more than 20 years of active military service, he served in critical roles, including in the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment known as “The Old Guard,” the U.S. Army Drill Team, and as an infantry fire team and squad leader.
A reflection of memories
Hixson presented a slideshow of his travels during service, which included missions to Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and the Caribbean. From training forces to combating transnational crime cartels to being part of President Ronald Reagan’s funeral procession, he was inspired by new experiences and meeting new people.
“It was a great experience getting to know the people of these nations and these different countries,” said Hixson. “They are great people. Great, great people.”
Although he is thankful for his time in service, his travels, and all the people he met along the way, Hixson said he still has items on his bucket list to check off.
“I have never been to North or South Dakota or Iowa,” he said. “If anybody from the crowd is from those three states, let me know. I will buy dinner.”
Hixson closed by saying that after the Army, he found his next family at NIEHS.
“As long as I’m here, I will give you 110%, and my officers will give you 110%,” he said. “It’s all about service and taking care of one another.”
CFC charities share successes
Three charities that are part of the CFC, which supports the philanthropy of federal workers, presented their missions at the event.
- The Fisher House Foundation provides a home away from home for military and veteran families while a loved one is in the hospital. These homes are located at military and Veterans Affairs medical centers around the world. The Fisher House at Camp Lejeune, one of nearly 100 houses, was represented at the event.
- The Veteran Smiles Foundation provides dental care to North Carolina veterans in need. There are currently more than 720,000 military veterans in the state, but only about 15% qualify for dental care. This Wake Forest-based charity is helping to fill the gap.
- Based in Durham, Vets to Vets United Inc., unites veterans and dogs with the goal of improving and saving lives. Pairing veterans with dogs can significantly improve a veteran’s life — by providing companionship and help with a mental or physical disability — and save the life of a dog through adoption from a local shelter.
David Balshaw, Ph.D., who directs the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training, spoke about the importance of volunteering either time or donations to charity. He also shared this year’s CFC theme, “Give Happy!”
“There are benefits not only to people who receive your contributions, but also research shows there are personal benefits to those who give in terms of improved physical and mental health,” said Balshaw.
CFC runs through Jan. 15., and this year’s goal is to raise $75,000.
(Erica Hinton is a contract writer for the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)