USDA Employee Receives Patriot Award
story by Dee Ann Littlefield
Dan Henson, district conservationist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) in Hillsboro, Texas, recently received the Patriot Award, issued by the U.S. Department of Defense.
Henson was presented the award by retired National Guardsman Bill Truss, representing the Secretary of Defense, at a ceremony held at the USDA Service Center in Hillsboro.
The Patriot Award program is designed to recognize employers who support a strong National Guard and Reserve force. Employers qualify for recognition when they practice leadership and personnel policies that support employee participation in the Guard and Reserve.
Henson was nominated for the award by Army Reserve Sergeant John Crawson, who has spent the last six months working with Henson while interning as a NRCS Earth Team Volunteer through the Wounded Warrior Project. NRCS is the USDA agency that provides landowners with land management consultation services, technical assistance, and aid in implementing conservation practices on their farm or ranch.
"I feel honored to have the opportunity to help this individual during his recovery time," Henson says.
The Wounded Warrior Project partners wounded soldiers with federal agencies while they are recovering. NRCS was the federal agency Crawson approached to sponsor his recovery. He was familiar with NRCS because his brother, Jim, works as a NRCS soil conservationist in Tulia. The NRCS state office staff in Temple worked it out so Crawson, a Whitney, Texas native, could live at home with his family by letting him intern at the NRCS field office in Hillsboro, under Henson's supervision.
While deployed as a civil engineer in Afghanistan, Crawson was severely injured May 1, 2012 when a rocket propelled grenade exploded five feet from him, piercing his body with shrapnel and exploding both ear drums. Crawson was then shot in the shoulder during the gun fire exchange that followed. He was air-flighted to Kandahar where he underwent surgery. He was awarded the Purple Heart the next morning. Crawson has since undergone six surgeries.
"As a wounded warrior they understand that I will be gone for medical appointments often and are willing to work with me in any way possible," says Crawson. "They act as if they are grateful and appreciative to have me in the office, when it is I that am thankful for the opportunity to be here."
Henson has had a 25 year career of helping people heal their land through the use of conservation management practices. Right now his job duties include helping to heal a wounded soldier. Henson has made Crawson a part of his regular staff, mentoring him and performing job shadowing duties.
"I have treated him like one of our employees and taken him along with me on the job," Henson says. "He has helped me develop livestock ponds, measure fences, check pastures, visit with farmers and ranchers, and just about anything else I do as part of my job."
Because of his injuries, Crawson is currently ineligible for reenlistment in the Army. He is hopeful for a continued recovery and future eligibility. However, he has enjoyed his internship with NRCS so much he is considering a career with the agency.
"Learning the ropes about how the agency works has been interesting to me," Crawson says. "I'm stilll learning and looking for more responsibilities. I really enjoy when we go out in the field and get to be out on the land."
NRCS in Texas currently employs over 75 military veterans, over 10 percent of its staff, in addition to providing land management consultation services to hundreds of veterans across the state.