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Veterans’ Strengths Positively Contribute to NBAF’s Unified Culture

NBAF Office of Communications

Written by Stephanie Jacques,

View of NBAF front facade
An artist rendering of the front of the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, courtesy of NBAF Design Partnership.

Manhattan, Kansas, Nov. 9, 2020 — More than 75 veterans continue serving their country by protecting the U.S. against animal diseases that threaten the nation’s food supply, agricultural economy and public health at the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, or NBAF.

Designed to replace the aging Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York, NBAF is a high-containment animal disease facility being built with biosafety level-2, -3, and -4 capabilities in Manhattan, Kansas. Part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, NBAF has successfully onboarded about half of the facility's current workforce from veteran candidates.

"Veterans have sacrificed so much in defense of our nation and in the process have developed many of the skills applicable to work at the nation's premier large animal disease research facility," said Dr. Ken Burton, NBAF coordinator. "These individuals come to us with outstanding work ethic, moral fiber and the passion for serving the greater good."

According to an internal demographic survey completed in August, 52 percent of the 102 respondents reported they are veterans. Of those, 32 percent said they retired with more than 20 years of service — and six are still serving as reservists. The survey had a 60 percent response rate.

“I found my place of purpose in the Army and I will love it forever,” said Barnell Herron Jr., NBAF management analyst who served the U.S. Army for 29 years. “NBAF provided a new challenge of being part of something from the inception that is critical for the defense of our nation and the world. What greater opportunity to be part of something that is historic and provides a new chapter in my life?”

Prior to onboarding at NBAF, several of the veterans were working at Fort Riley, home of the U.S. Army’s 1st Infantry Division and about 16 miles southwest of Manhattan.

“Fort Riley has and will continue to be a source for future employees,” said Kraig Buffington, NBAF engineering technician who served the U.S. Army for 20 years. “If veterans would like to continue to serve the citizens of this country, NBAF would be a great place to do so. They might be surprised to find out how much their accomplishments in the military translate to success in civilian positions.”

Since NBAF will specialize in diagnostics, vaccine development and research of the world's highest-consequence animal diseases, security is a top priority. Many of the veterans hired either have direct experience with high security operations or are deeply passionate about it.

“I wanted to serve the public again and was looking to be part of a team whose mission was significant and meaningful,” said David Dinsmore, who served 30 years in the U.S. Army and is now part of NBAF’s Training & Document Control Unit. “The skills I developed in the military — critical thinking, adaptability, planning, communication and meeting deadlines — are important in the operational standup of a new facility.”

Led by Director Dr. Alfonso Clavijo, NBAF is creating a unified culture, which acknowledges mandates from two USDA agencies — the Agricultural Research Service, or ARS, and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, or APHIS. Employees from both agencies are working collectively to operate as one NBAF team, which is expected to have 400 total employees by the time the facility is operational. Veterans’ shared understanding of how multiple parts of a team influence other parts has helped form the ingrained team mindset.

“Success is typically a result of many diverse hands and minds working together toward a common goal,” Clavijo said. “All our units are pulling together with the same goal in mind — to stand up NBAF operational capabilities and be ready to support the facility’s scientific activities."


The mission of the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, or NBAF, is to protect the U.S. against transboundary, emerging and zoonotic animal diseases that threaten our food supply, agricultural economy and public health.