Skip to main content

USDA Celebrates the Public Service of 12 Unsung Heroes

Posted by Assistant Secretary for Administration Dr. Gregory Parham in Conservation Health and Safety Forestry Animals Plants Research and Science
May 06, 2015
USDA colleagues and teams honored at Unsung Hero Award Ceremony
As part of Public Service Recognition Week, outstanding USDA colleagues and teams from around the country were honored at the Department’s 31st Annual Unsung Hero Award Ceremony in Washington, DC. USDA photo by Lance Cheung.

Every day, USDA employees are hard at work providing safe, nutritious food for our families and children; conserving our land and natural resources; supporting our nation’s farmers and ranchers; expanding market opportunities for American agriculture at home and abroad; and investing in our rural economies.  Recently, Secretary Vilsack penned a moving essay as to why he dedicates his life to public service at the USDA.

Nearly 100,000 USDA employees serve our country with pride and dedication. As part of Public Service Recognition Week, I joined the Organization of Professional Employees at the Department of Agriculture to honor 12 outstanding colleagues and teams from around the country in our 31st Annual Unsung Hero Award Ceremony.  I invite you to congratulate these extraordinary public servants for their dedication to their jobs and their communities.

Aubree Chaffee, Forest Service, Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest, Elk City, ID

Aubree is a Forest Service fire technician who specializes in fire prevention and suppression and coordinates Smokey Bear’s appearances across Idaho.  Aubree is also a volunteer with the Elk City Ambulance corps and was a critical first responder to a colleague experiencing a life threatening emergency. During this emergency, Aubree quickly transported her colleague to the nearest hospital, which was nearly 60 miles away. Her colleague was on life support and upon her recovery, nominated Aubree as an Unsung Hero for “the time she spends in training and in the ambulance performing lifesaving procedures that she doesn’t get paid for.”

Jesse Childre Jr., Agricultural Research Service, National Peanut Research Lab, Dawson, GA

When his two year old granddaughter was diagnosed with Leukemia and in need of multiple blood transfusions, Jesse took on the cause. He organized a successful on site blood drive at the National Peanut Research Lab and the first blood drive at the annual Georgia Peanut Farm Show in 2011. The Georgia peanut industry embraced Jesse’s efforts and the cause, and worked with other members of the peanut industry to encourage blood donations.  Jesse’s colleague nominated him for an Unsung Hero award describing Jesse’s goal as wanting to “increase awareness for blood donations. He accomplished this goal and his efforts are still impacting awareness and participation to date.”  

Christa Eisenbuth, National Agricultural Statistics Service, Washington, DC

As an Internet Support Specialist for NASS, Christa is responsible for maintaining two of NASS key web profiles – the NASS public website and the Agricultural Census website. Christa worked directly with 12 regional field offices, 46 field offices and 7 divisions to manage over 230,000 files across the two websites.  In 2014, there were over 1.7 million page views for the NASS website and 575,000 page views for the Ag Census site.  Her colleague nominated Christa as an Unsung Hero because she “is always responsible, pleasant, responsive, levelheaded, effective, and always has a smile.”

Gallatin NF Rappelers and Dispatchers Team (Ward Hiersterman, Kevin Brown, Jon Benfatti, Matt Heaney, Matt Schutty, Brian Matlock and Dennis Sheridan), US Forest Service, Bozeman, MT

One fall day in 2013, a terrible crash between a motorcycle and a car happened near the Shenango Helibase. Both drivers were critically injured. The Rappel crew team sprang into action, coordinating emergency support personnel, air ambulance support, and first responders to quickly assess and address the situation.  With the team’s quick thinking and logistic prowess, the crash victims immediately received needed medical attention. Their colleague nominated the team for an Unsung Hero awards for “helping to save the life of an injured motorcyclist.”

Teena Ligman, US Forest Service, Hoosier National Forest, Bedford, IN

Teena is a dedicated public affairs specialist in the Hoosier and the Wayne Forests. Teena manages the Forests’ public relations and outreach activities, including press relations, regular radio appearances, website management and event coordination. She also co-manages the Forests’ volunteer program, and has nearly doubled the work output using volunteer support.  Teena is a volunteer herself as the Committee Chair for the Education/Outreach Committee for the Indiana Historic Pathways, the Bicentennial Scenic Byways, and the White River RC&D Forestry Committee.  She works with high school students on the Indiana Envirothon, a state wide natural resource competition. She is also involved with the American Red Cross and the Lawrence County Emergency Planning Committee.  Teena’s colleague nominated her for an Unsung Hero award because she “takes great pride in her position with the Forest Service and the Hoosier National Forest.”

Sally Liska and staff of the Office of the Executive Secretariat, Washington, DC

With a small staff of 20, the OES manages the Secretary’s official correspondence and records.  During 2014, OES processed 12,397 pieces of individual correspondence and other Secretarial documents, and 508,071 pieces of campaign correspondence addressed to the Secretary. Of the controlled correspondence, OES managed responses to 11,030 documents, including 2,058 signed directly by the Secretary or Deputy Secretary. OES made additional progress in reducing its records backlog, resulting in the classification and final disposition of approximately 9,733 records that were for transferred in 2014. In addition, OES drafted approximately 1,082 pieces of correspondence responses (letters, Memorandums of Understanding, reports, USDA Secretarial Proclamations, electronic employee messages, etc.) and other special writing projects in support of the Office of the Secretary/Deputy Secretary. OES was nominated for an Unsung Hero award for being a “small but mighty team”.

Candace Morrison, US Forest Service, White Mountain National Forest, Campton, NH

As an essential member of the White Mountain National Forest Conservation Education program, Candace has enhanced the on-site educational materials for Forest visitors. She developed a popular traveling Forest Ecology education program which she presents to schools, hospitals, seniors centers, camps and Scouting troops. In 2014 alone, Candace presented wildlife and conservation programs to over 400 people and represented the forest at the annual New Hampshire Fish & Game Hunting and Fishing Expo. In addition to being an educator, Candace also has also taken on ensuring that the forest meets the requirements of the Recreation Enhancement Act and Compliance and Enforcement program by enforcing fee and food storage compliance regulations. She also supports law enforcement efforts throughout the Forest. Candace’s colleague nominated her for an Unsung Hero award because “during her time with the Department of Agriculture, Candace has personally made a positive impact on a very large amount of individuals, wildlife and resources and has done this with little to no recognition.”

Kent Munden, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Waco, TX

When the fertilizer plant in West, Texas suffered a devastating explosion in April 2013, Kent immediately tended to the community’s hardest hit and most vulnerable members. In the immediate wake of the disaster, Kent and his wife personally transported nursing home residents to safer locations.  He was then tapped by the Waco Emergency Manager to direct field support for the animal rescue efforts.  Working with key local authorities and organizations, Kent coordinated search and rescue teams to identify and rescue livestock and pets impacted by the disaster. During his 15 years of service, Kent has also been instrumental in various special APHIS veterinary projects, including building and designing the facilities to insure safe imports of Mexican cattle to the US.  He is also a leader in training inspectors and other APHIS and FSIS employees on BSE and has developed bilingual training materials on the issue.   Kent’s colleagues nominated him for an Unsung Hero award because he “has displayed truly incredible respect, dedication and cooperation.”

James (Jim) Neill, Farm Service Agency, Sturgis, SD

Jim is the FSA County Executive Director for the 3,482 acres of Meade County, South Dakota. Jim’s priority has been to effectively and efficiently implement the 2014 Farm Bill across Meade County, including facilitating disaster relief payments, training his staff on ARC/PLC and personally reviewing applications for more than 500 farmers and ranchers. During 2014 alone, Jim helped facilitate over $32 million in disaster relief payments. Jim was also key in making sure Meade County’s farmers and ranchers received critical support in the aftermath of the devastating 2013 Winter Storm Atlas, described as the worst agricultural disaster USDA Under Secretary Michael Scuse had ever witnessed.  In addition to his FSA duties, Jim is also an active Captain in the National Guard.  Jim’s colleague nominated him for an Unsung Hero award because “thanks to Jim’s hard work, South Dakota can continue providing valuable resources to the Nation.”

Earl Sandquist, Agricultural Marketing Service, Stanwood, WA

At 85 years old, Earl is still one of the region’s most active agriculture commodity relief graders for poultry, egg and meat processing plants across the Northwest. For nineteen years, Earl has been traveling the region with AMS, often at a moment’s notice, to get the job done. He is deeply respected by both the industry and his colleagues. Earl has had several previous jobs in the private sector and has taken on his inspection duties instead of retirement. His colleague nominated him for an Unsung Hero award noting “as Earl puts it, his working for the federal government is his retirement and we are fortunate to have such a great person working for us.”

Thomas Shanower, Agricultural Research Service, Albany, CA

Tom is the Associate Director for the USDA ARS Pacific West area. He recently completed a 3 week volunteer mission to Nepal, where he helped train farmers on Integrated Pest Management (IPM) to improve Farmer Field School (FFS) management practices where farmers start utilizing new practices for plant protection.  As part of this training, Tom managed workshops, led field based sample trials, gave lectures, and facilitated hands on learning seminars to help train 25 farmers directly on sustainable farming practices. 

Derek Davenport and Justin Abbey, US Forest Service, Bitterroot National Forest, Darby, MT

What initially began as a short presentation to a local college about how military veterans can successfully navigate USA JOBS has now blossomed into a concerted effort to recruit military veterans into the federal government. Now Derek and Justin have done job and employment trainings on four military bases, reaching thousands of military service members. Derek and Justin recently finished a month-long intensive resume building and professional development class for military veterans on Joint Base Lewes McCord and at the University of Montana’s Veterans Affairs division, which reached nearly 1,000 active military members. Their colleague nominated Derek and Justin for an Unsung Hero award because “they have  made more head way in getting the message directly to our Servicemen and women and helping those that have served get a better chance at jobs in the private sector and with the federal government.”