Honoring The Veterans We Work Alongside

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by Gordon Taylor/Region 10 ESC Executive Director

Educators are a breed apart. They’re naturally predisposed, almost by definition, to serve others. Often this means they neglect themselves and minimize the importance of their service. In my capacity as executive director for one of the 20 education service centers in Texas, I witness their selflessness and devotion to others every day.

Victoria Henderson

Victoria Henderson

It wasn’t a surprise when we emailed our 450+ staff members to ask, “Who among you have served in the armed forces?” and were soon inundated with responses – from employees like John Roberts, a Navy lieutenant who served as an air traffic controller on the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany during the last few years of the Korean war; from Mark McGahan, who manned an M-60 machine gun on a patrol boat in Vietnam; and from younger staffers like Victoria Henderson who shared that she was an “88 Mike” supply truck driver during her stint in the Army National Guard.

The list goes on.

Victor Cheatham

Victor Cheatham

Billy Rivers served 15 years as an Army staff sergeant. Arzell Ball landed at Normandy during World War II and was among the first Americans to cross the famed Bridge at Remagen into Germany in 1944. Former Fort Sill field artillery officer Victor Cheatham proudly recalls how he “prepared soldiers for greatness.” Dawn Lisenby served in the Army National Guard for ten years (until 1996) while Medical officer Lisa Burton is now in her 16th year of Guard duty.

Former Army Airborne medic Tim Freeman took part in Operation Desert Storm. Our colleague Nicholas Hernandez is also an Iraq War vet. Tony Esposito helped maintain F-106 weapons control systems.

Dawn Lisenby

Dawn Lisenby

Then there’s Travis Waddell, who landed on the front page of USA Today back in the nineties while stuck in Kuwait. He was photographed sitting on top of his tank waiting for a replacement fuel pump.

Omar Captain served a tour in Iraq with the 2/8th Cavalry. Co-worker Yvette Avila wanted to make sure we knew a few gritty details he was too humble to mention.

He almost lost his life after being shot multiple times. He jokes that when he woke up, he thought he was with angels – the nurses.

Bob Barnes supported the National Security Agency back in the mid-seventies. If the Cold War had ever gone hot, he would have been among those gathering intelligence and providing frontline communications.

Bob Barnes

Bob Barnes

Everyone has a story, like Scarlett Bayard, who traveled the world as a Navy sailor. She rode the waves from Cuba, the Caribbean, and South America, all the way over to Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and even into the Arctic Circle.

At times, we forget to consider the service given to the country by vets’ loved ones. They may not wear the uniform, but they carry the burden that comes with waiting for a special someone’s return.

Scarlett Bayard

Scarlett Bayard

Our Ernestine Townsend served by sharing her late husband (Vietnam) and her son (Iraq), while Fanchon Sherley’s husband served in the Army Special Forces, long before their Marine son Andrew was deployed to Africa. Diana James’ son, Lt. Col. Devin James, has just concluded a 23-year career with the Army National Guard.

Bianca Coker’s father Edward retired from the U.S. Marines after 30 years of service. Rebecca Lara’s military ties extend from husband Ernest, an Army vet, to brother Jose, a Navy man, as well as to another brother, who served in the Air Force. Linda Alsbrooks watched two brothers leave for tours in Iraq as a third headed for Afghanistan. Rebecca Lara’s husband and two brothers have also served with (respectively) the Army, Navy and Air Force.

Our colleague Kendall Hendricks took a minute to write,

My ex husband is still in the Army. We have two beautiful daughters who don’t get to see their dad a whole lot because of his job.

Lisa Burton

Lisa Burton

Sacrifice in service to others takes many forms, as in the humanitarian work carried out by Hillary Keys’ son, Marine Corporal Etienne Sakouhi, a combat engineer. He recently arrived back home after a deployment to Honduras, where he helped build airstrips and schools in remote parts of the country. Hillary adds,

He also entertained local children by dancing “freestyle/hip hop” and participating in a cross-cultural exchange, where he and another Marine took part in a traditional dance contest.

Then there’s Lori Aden who proudly recalls how back in 1991, she sent letters and dealt with sky-high phone bills while her new husband worked as a Gulf War flight medic.

Not being able to hear from him was nerve wracking. His parents and I leaned on each other and his EMS buddies in Huntsville always checked on me to make sure I was doing okay. More recently, he worked in Iraq as a contractor protecting the U.S. Ambassador. I think that experience scared me even more, but Skype was a godsend because I was able to communicate with him almost daily. I didn’t like hearing the sirens going off in the background. He would have to hang up to go jump in a bunker. I’m very proud of him and his service!

John Roberts

John Roberts

Pride is a common thread that runs through so many of the notes Region 10 employees shared. Patti Matthews, for instance, says

My husband Anthony was in the Air Force for 12 years, 10 months, and 23 days. As a technical sergeant, he specialized in maintaining telephone systems and communications cables while based in San Antonio, Phoenix, and Wiesbaden, Germany. At Kelly Air Force Base, he was awarded the John Levitow Award – the highest award presented at Airman Leadership School.

Rosemary Manges tells of her youngest son’s two tours of duty as an Air Force medic stationed in Iraq. He survived harsh battlefield conditions only to return home and continue trauma work at Parkland Hospital. Of the old days, his mom recalls

His job was to go into situations where airmen’s lives were in jeopardy. He talks about all of his memories except those that involved the loss of two good friends and teammates. Did you know that the life expectancy of a field medic is 15 minutes in a battle situation? I was, and still am, extremely proud of him and his drive to save lives no matter what the personal cost, then and now.

Travis Waddell

Travis Waddell

All teachers can especially appreciate the three-decade-long friendship Laura Hodges has kept up with a former pupil who has since gone on to reach the rank of colonel.

I helped Craig Hollis apply to the Air Force Academy back in 1987 when I was just a green-behind-the-ears first year teacher. A student in my French class, Craig did all of the heavy lifting in terms of maintaining top-notch academic standing and physical fitness, while I single-handedly waged a one-woman letter writing campaign to the academy’s superintendent. He got in, graduated and has continued his career, serving in theaters all over the world. Across these almost thirty years, Craig and I remain in regular contact. He has served his country fiercely and proudly in many capacities, currently as a commander with the 31st Operations Group, Aviano Air Base, Italy, where I know he leads with a servant’s heart.

Of all the notes we received, this poignant memory resonates. From 2006 to 2012, our colleague Eduardo Vargas kept Chinook choppers flying­­ over the skies of Afghanistan. He says,

Every night when I close my eyes, my thoughts still wander back to the desert, to the cold nights and the dark embrace of danger that our brothers and sisters continue to face every day. When I pray, I hold them dear in my mind. Those who wear the uniform are always with me, for in every service member I have a brother or a sister since there is no greater family than the one made facing the odds together. We lift each other up after we fall and we carry on, for there is nothing stronger than the heart of a volunteer.images (1)

These last stories prompt me to share my own connections with three military veterans. My Uncle Jim served as a field surgeon in a MASH in Vietnam during 1969-70. He has never shared his experiences other than to say it was the most intense medicine he ever practiced. He felt his service was not only to those on the surgical table, but also to their families at home. I’m proud of him.

Several of my former students have gone on to serve in the armed forces and I single out two of them as representatives of the larger group. David H. is currently a First Sergeant in the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team stationed in Italy where the proximity to the Middle East and North Africa means that he could be sent into harm’s way on very short notice. I think of David each time I hear news from that region of the world. Stephen L. has since left the Army, but his final posting was as a Sentinel at the Tomb of the Unknowns. Standing post at Arlington National Cemetery, young men like Stephen pay tribute to those we cannot honor personally at this sacred spot on the calendar.

images (2)We owe a great debt to these women and men, neighbors, and colleagues who quietly carry the memories and stories – and in many cases, the very heavy burdens – of years spent in some form of military service.

On this Veterans Day, the Region 10 family will thank our veterans. We honor them with our appreciation, and we thank them from the heart, for all they’ve done to help maintain the freedoms we hold dear.

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4 Responses to “Honoring The Veterans We Work Alongside”

  1. Mike Keith says:

    This article made me feel very proud of our employees and their families who have served in the military. I tend to take the things they do for granted and this blog put me back in perspective of all they’ve done and continue to do for me and my family. Great piece, Gordon.

  2. Laura Hodges says:

    Excellent tribute, Gordon! We are a very blessed country to be served by the many men and women who protect our freedom.

  3. Denise Barker says:

    A humble ‘thank you’ to each of you for your incredible selflessness and sacrifice in serving our country. I am reminded on this day of my late wonderful father, Donald Kiefer, who served as a radioman during Korea on a Neptune P2V plane, flying over the Pacific searching for enemy patrols. He had planned for a double wedding with his best friend (one of my mother’s triplet brothers – Harold McKnight) but tragically, Harold was killed by sniper fire a few days after the Korean cease-fire was declared.

    This day I also remember and honor my late father-in-law, William Barker, who at 16 enlisted in the Navy and served on various ships throughout the Pacific during WWII. Nothing could stop him – not a typhoon or malaria, and he was extremely fortunate to have transferred off the first U.S.S. Lexington before it was sunk.

    I honor and thank each and every one of you for your service… You will not be forgotten.

  4. dnugent says:

    Those photos are fantastic, great to see John Roberts in his younger days as well as Travis with hair to be jealous of!

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