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Spotlight on Commerce: Crystal Keaton, Administrative Support Specialist, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

Blog post by  Crystal Keaton, Administrative Support Specialist, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) 

My name is Crystal Keaton, and I am grateful to be able to say that at the age of 38 I’ve had two careers. One in the U.S. Army SSG (Ret). The second is the position that I currently hold with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Center for Neutron Research as an Administrative Support Specialist. 

I grew up in Baltimore, MD, not really knowing or having an idea of what I would be good at in any job or career, so I did just enough to get by. After graduation, I obtained a position here at NIST as a procurement clerk but decided to leave because I wanted to travel and see different parts of the country. I made the decision to join the military as a human resource specialist. The U.S. Army gave me not only the stability but the fulfillment in serving others. I found that I was able to help soldiers and provide a service that was needed and appreciated. This is when I decided to go back to school and obtain my bachelor’s degree in human resource management in 2015. 

After deploying to Iraq and being stationed all over different parts of the United States, my most memorable duty station and the one that I take the most experience from as well as the most sadness, is the 673rd Mortuary Affairs Company in Dover, Delaware. During that tour, I attended and had to conduct funeral honors for a massive number of soldiers. The hardest part of each funeral was folding the flag and giving it to the grieving family members. But it also made me very proud to be able to be there for them. 

After I returned from my Iraq deployment, the Army released me with a permanent disability medical retirement. The transition from being an active duty soldier to a civilian was hard on me and my family. 

The support of family is absolutely the only thing that kept me pushing throughout the years. I came from a very strong foundation. My husband has been very supportive since day one, and my daughters have been able to grow up and see different parts of the United States and meet new friends. I believe that the people around me can be taken for granted sometimes, but I know I have been influenced directly from my family because they are here each day and I am thankful for that. One thing that my great grandmother always told me when I was growing up was: “You should never go to bed angry with your loved ones.” And I try to make it a point not to!

I went through – and I am still going through – a lot of changes, and I do not believe that I will ever be free of the burdens that I carry from the things that I had to endure while in the military.  It puts a great deal of stress on soldiers and their families when they are constantly separated from their spouses and children for long periods of time. Having the right resources in place for military families allows for an easier transition into civilian life for the entire family. 

Being a veteran can mean a lot of different things, but to me it means you should be strong and supportive, sympathetic yet loving and caring. It means being a leader and follower, a teacher and a student. I also think these attributes go hand-in-hand with being a career civil servant. 

I am proud to have served in U.S. Army. Joining the military has been one of my greatest accomplishments, and it also helped with my education and my federal government career. 

If I could give any advice for today’s youth interested in working for the federal government, it’s that they should go for it. 

Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting the contributions of Department of Commerce Military Veterans in honor of Veterans Day.