St. Louis, Mo. – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs National Cemetery Administration celebrated its future leaders as 14 men and women graduated from the cemetery director intern program during a ceremony at NCA’s National Training Center on July 25th.
The graduation follows a comprehensive year-long director internship program as part of the NCA’s National Training Academy. The assistant directors were presented their graduation certificates by Mr. James Byrne, General Counsel performing duties of the Deputy Secretary for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and Randy Reeves, Undersecretary for Memorial Affairs.
“NCA is a standard of excellence for VA,” said Mr. Byrne, the ceremony’s guest speaker. “Thank you for giving Veterans another class of exemplary leaders who know exactly what their purpose is.”
This class of interns showed eagerness to get out into the field to continue the legacy.
Edward Lyons, a Marine Corps Veteran and Purple Heart recipient, was one of the graduates.
“The overall experience was more than I expected,” Mr. Lyons explained about his experience going through the program. “Being in a centralized facility like the National Training Academy offered us countless opportunities to network with our peers, future supervisors and the team members we may supervise. This makes NCA more like a close-knit family than anything. The relationships I’ve made over the course of the program are one of my favorite parts.”
Mr. Lyons began his career with NCA as a caretaker at Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver, Colorado. He accepted a position as an assistant director at Sarasota National Cemetery in Florida.
“Having started in the field with hands-on experience as a caretaker and performing the labor portion of cemetery operations, I had to learn to step back, have faith and confidence in the staff to accomplish the mission versus doing it myself. It was an extremely humbling experience.”
Since 2005, NCA’s director internship program has graduated 133 VA National Cemetery directors. Over the course of the year-long program, the graduates gained mastery of cemetery operations and management, further developed their leadership skills, improved their business acumen and an understanding of NCA’s history and culture. Due to the large success rate of the intern program and NCA director retention rate, the program will take a one-year pause to focus on developing new curriculum.
In 1862, in the midst of the Civil War, President Lincoln’s signature enacted a law authorizing the establishment of national cemeteries “… for the soldiers who shall die in the service of the country.” Today, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs National Cemetery Administration operates 136 national cemeteries across the country.
Story by Eve Neison, VA Office of Public Affairs, Denver Regional Office