There are many reasons why VA’s National Cemetery Administration has had the best customer service grade in the public and private sectors for several years.

Not the least of them is the NCA’s National Training Center in St. Louis. It is no coincidence the customer service grades correspond to the creation of the center almost 12 years ago.

Since 2004, the center has been the training ground for the future leaders of VA national cemeteries.

The graduation of 11 new directors in a ceremony at VA Central Office on Friday, Aug. 21, brought the number of graduates of the Cemetery Director Intern Program to 87.

Some center graduates become cemetery directors immediately. Most become assistant directors and work into director positions. Currently more than half of VA’s 131 cemeteries have directors from the 87 graduates of the St. Louis training center.

VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson and Interim Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs Ron Walters presided over the ceremony for the 12th graduating class. They said they feel very confident the succession plan ensures VA cemeteries will be in the good hands of leaders with big hearts for years to come.

“The team of professionals at our national cemeteries ensures a legacy of remembrance and a final resting place for the loved ones of grieving families,” Gibson said.

“The program was started some time ago and it’s basically been our feeder system for future cemetery directors as they leave, retire, go onto other things,” Walters said.  “We have a well-trained bench strength for those folks to come in and backfill those positions.”

Candidates at the NCA Training Center complete a curriculum that effectively makes them masters of many things. It emphasizes leadership, customer service, business acumen, field operations and NCA history, culture and core values.

They learned to set headstones and markers; maintain turf grass, trees, equipment and monuments; conduct interments and represent NCA to families before, during and after committal services.

All of the 11 graduates of the 2015 class are Veterans of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. Eight of the 11 came from VA’s ranks – five from the NCA and three from the Veterans Health Administration.

The 2015 graduates and the cemeteries they will now help manage are:

  • Natalie Hubble, assistant director, Houston National Cemetery
  • Thomas P. Kulich, assistant director, Great Lakes National Cemetery
  • Albert M. Maxwell, Jr., assistant director, Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery
  • James L. Mitchum, assistant director, Tahoma National Cemetery
  • Susan M. Parks, assistant director, National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona
  • Lance Steven Pridemore, director, Culpeper National Cemetery
  • Celethia De’Vonne Reed, assistant director, Washington Crossing National Cemetery
  • Darrell L. Ryan, Sr., assistant director, Fort Snelling National Cemetery
  • Anthony Walter Sessions, assistant director, Fort Logan National Cemetery
  • Mary Hazel Bilyeu-Thompson, assistant director, Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery
  • Eldon A. Woodie, assistant director, South Florida National Cemetery

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Published on Sep. 2, 2015

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One Comment

  1. James Laubler September 2, 2015 at 11:11 am

    It’s a hell of a time to brag on our Cemeteries after we exposed another mass of grave markers in southern Missouri being used to make a front patio and walkway around a house.

    How about some more coverage on why this has been repeatedly happening? How about a 100% inventory?

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