Pledge of AllegianceNov 01, 2018 ● By Allie Spletter
Frisco’s Very Own Heroes
From the Air Force and Marines to the Army and National Guard, there are numerous men and women whose stories we want to share.
Jesse Chavoya, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, was raised in Dallas in a family that is part of the city’s rich history. His grandfather served in every branch of service but the Air Force and was one of the first Hispanic policemen to serve with the Dallas Police Department.
In 1987, after graduating from Bishop Lynch High School, Mr. Chavoya enlisted in the Marine Corps, where he served as a communications center operator. Upon his discharge in 1991, he held the rank of corporal and received multiple Meritorious Mast recognitions and a Good Conduct Medal. “After my grandfather retired from the Coast Guard, I guess you could say serving was in my blood,” Mr. Chavoya says. “I learned most of my life lessons from my family, but they were solidified in the service. I have always had a strong loyalty and love for my country, but the lessons of brotherhood and comradery were instilled while in the service. There is just that bond you get with someone when your life could depend on them and vice versa.”
Mr. Chavoya supports and volunteers with Carry the Load, an organization dedicated to honoring and celebrating sacrifices made by our nation’s heroes. Additionally, he supports the U.S. Armed Services, as many of his students have joined throughout his years in education.
Mr. Chavoya currently serves as an assistant principal at Lone Star High School, where he is honored with the daily opportunity to impact the lives of young people. He says, “I hope the way I live my life and the way I carry myself can be noticed by others. I have the opportunity to shape young adults into good citizens that our future depends on.”
Michael Strand, a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army, was born and raised near Oakland, Calif., to a World War II veteran of the U.S. Merchant Marine and a nurse who met during the war. He attended California State University, Chico, and graduated in 1967. Mr. Strand was immediately drafted into the Army, where he went through infantry training and was selected to attend Artillery Officer Candidate School (OCS). “I was commissioned a Second Lieutenant Artillery Forward Observer in 1968, and was then transferred to the Army Air Defense Command at Fort Bliss where I served as a Battery Commander for 550 enlisted men in the Air Defense School. The experience of leading and commanding 550 soldiers at the young age of 25 was a unique and life-changing experience. I finished my three years of active military duty as an Army First Lieutenant in 1970. My battery won several awards, including the Commanding General’s Award for Best Battery,” he shares. “The military gave me the opportunity to learn about leadership, team building, attention-to-detail, earning respect and how to be a true patriot of our country.”
During his last year in the Army, he married his wife, Marilyn. Following his service, in 1970, he went on to build a career with IBM and then formed his own technology company. In retirement, Mr. Strand remains active in local Frisco government and helped start the Frisco American Legion Post 178, the fastest-growing post in Texas and the country, boasting more than 500 veteran members! “I served as Frisco Post 178’s first vice commander running membership activities, and later was the post commander for an interim time and served on the executive committee for the last three years. The American Legion project I am most proud of is the Frisco Texas Boys State program, which I helped organize and have chaired since inception. I helped provide initial funding for our Frisco Auxiliary Unit’s new Frisco Girls State program, which is now in full swing.”
Mr. Strand has especially enjoyed working with the Frisco ISD representing Post 178, helping start the Boys and Girls State programs and initiating the post’s outreach program to register 18-year-old FISD students as new voters.
Larry Marshall, a staff sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, grew up in rural western North Carolina, where he graduated from high school in 1963. In the fall of 1964, Mr. Marshall enrolled at the University of North Carolina as a part-time student and worked full-time in construction. “In June 1965, I received my draft notice because I was a part-time college student,” Mr. Marshall explains. “I made the decision to join the U.S. Air Force instead of going into the U.S. Army so I could continue my education and see the world. My military career field was in precision photo intelligence reconnaissance, and we worked closely with the Department of Defense. While serving, I attended the University of Colorado extension in downtown Denver. During my four-year tour of duty at Lowry Air Force Base, I received the rank of staff sergeant in 1968 and was honorably discharged from service in 1969.”
Mr. Marshall married his late wife, Judy, in 1968. Following his military service, he was a vice president for McDonald’s Corporation for more than 20 years and was responsible for operations domestically and internationally.
Mr. Marshall says two things come to mind regarding what he took away from his service: First, Americanism is a set of values aimed at creating a collective American identity as a nation’s rightful place in the world, a tradition, a custom and allegiance to the U.S. And, second, patriotism is the quality of being patriotic and in unconditional support of one’s country. “I learned a tremendous amount of respect for our young men and women who serve our country and provide my freedom. Their contributions are completely underestimated,” he says.
Mr. Marshall is currently a lifetime member of the American Legion Peter J Courcy Post 178 and has held positions of training chair, second vice commander, first vice commander, Boys State chair, voter registration chair and the honor/color guard administrator. “We work closely with veteran organizations, the FISD, the Frisco Chamber of Commerce, the mayor and City Council. We sponsor Cub Scout Pack 178, Boy Scout Troop 178 and Venture Crew 178. I am the charter organizational representative for all our Scouting activities and Scout leaders. I am a member of the Frisco Veterans Advisory Committee to the mayor of Frisco. We support the mayor’s initiative to honor, celebrate and award Frisco’s veterans for contributions to our country and community and leverage talent to strengthen our community and local businesses.”
Mr. Marshall works closely with the American Legion Boys State program, which is among the most respected and selective educational programs of government instruction for high school students. “Participants are exposed to the rights, privileges, duties and responsibilities of a franchised citizen. The training is objective and practical, with city, county and state governments operated by students elected to various offices,” Mr. Marshall explains. Boys State is a nonpartisan learning experience, and Post 178 sent 22 high school students to Texas Boys State in 2018. Their goal is to send 25 to Texas Boys State in 2019.
Mr. Marvin Fisher, a member of the U.S. Air Force, was born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa, where he would ultimately be nominated to attend the U.S. Air Force Academy. “I graduated the Academy in 1981, with a bachelor’s of science degree in civil engineering after having been a part of an exceptional cadet squadron, 4th Squadron, (there were 40 at the time) that was selected as the Top Squadron in the Academy for three consecutive years, and I was selected to be the squadron commander my senior year. I got to have dinner with Charlton Heston for the Outstanding Squadron Dinner that year. It was pretty cool to eat dinner with Moses!” Mr. Fisher recalls.
Mr. Fisher says the highlight and greatest honor of his time at the Academy was rooming with is good friend, Eric Garvin. “He had a profound impact on me and taught all of us what it means to dedicate yourself to something you believe in. I bring this up because the experience my squadron-mates and I had from our time at the Academy made a direct impact on us throughout the rest of our lives,” he explains.
During Mr. Fisher’s decorated Air Force career, he was sent all over the world for various assignments. After being sent back to school to earn his master’s degree, he was sent to Europe for three years, where he was responsible for planning and programming major construction projects there and in the Middle East. From there, he was selected to be part of an intern program at the Pentagon with the joint chiefs of staff in the combat engineering department from 1987-1988. “I then went to Shaw Air Force Base, home of the Air Component Commander (General Chuck Horner) for U.S. Central Command (Middle East regions), as the operations chief of a civil engineering squadron. We were one of the few units that specialized in bare base construction, so we were doing deployments into Egypt, Oman, Jordan and other countries prior to Desert Shield/Storm, practicing how the U.S. would support allies in the region under General Norman Schwarzkopf’s command. When the Iraqis invaded Kuwait in August 1990, I commanded a unit that deployed on day one and went into the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to build five bare bases. We were probably some of the first 100 U.S. forces to land and start getting operations set up to support deploying fighter and airlift units into the theater,” he recalls. “We stayed through the combat operations, which started in January 1991 as Desert Storm, and returned home in April 1991.”
Mr. Fisher received his first Bronze Star for his role as a commander during that operation. After three years in Italy, he returned to Washington, D.C., where he was assigned to the Pentagon, promoted to colonel and became the division chief for the Planning and Programming Division for the Air Force Civil Engineer Center. “Luckily for us, our offices were under renovation when, on 9/11, they flew the plane into the Pentagon, right where our offices were being renovated. My temporary office was in a leased building across the street from the Pentagon, and I actually saw the explosion when the airplane was flown into the building. It became eerily quiet that morning in Washington, D.C. The Pentagon never shut down, and the next day, my team did the damage assessment of the Air Force offices that were still in operation,” he recalls. Mr. Fisher went on to earn another Bronze Star for his work in providing air support for combat operations in Afghanistan.
“When I returned, I became the command civil engineer for U.S. Space Command, and then, for my final assignment, I served as the director of mission support for the command,” he says. Mr. Fisher retired in May 2006 and received a Legion of Merit decoration. He currently serves as the ninety-ninth president of the Society of American Military Engineers (SAME), a society created in 1920 after World War I, in response to our nation not being able to respond quickly to mobilize its industrial base to support the war efforts. He has been involved with SAME for more than 30 years and has served in various leadership positions. “Our mission is to support the advancement of infrastructure-related programs that enhance our national security,” Mr. Fisher explains. Mr. Fisher’s wife, Julie, is also a life member of SAME and serves on the national board of directors. Mr. Fisher is currently serving on the mayor’s Frisco Veterans Advisory Committee.
Mr. Fisher hopes the way he approaches life can be an example to his children, friends, colleagues and community. He explains, “Whether it is a military unit, your company or the organizations you get involved in, it is a lot more fun to be part of a group, especially one that has common goals and a positive spirit. I always strive to bring a positive attitude to everything I do. I think that has been the best lesson I can pass along.”
Charity Wright, a member of the Army and Texas Army National Guard, grew up in The Colony and graduated from The Colony High School in 2001. She attended Collin College and the University of North Texas. Ms. Wright joined the Army in 2005 to combat terrorism and to challenge herself. “I qualified to be a cryptologic linguist, a member of the U.S. Intelligence Community. I was assigned to learn Mandarin Chinese at the Defense Language Institute and graduated with an associate arts degree in Mandarin in February 2007. I was immediately stationed at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, to perform my job in a top-secret intelligence agency,” she recalls.
Ms. Wright transitioned into the Hawaii Army National Guard in 2010, after finishing her initial enlistment. She then received a bachelor’s degree in international studies from Hawaii’s Pacific University. After beginning her career in cyber security, Ms. Wright found she missed the camaraderie of the military and enlisted in the Texas Army National Guard in August 2015.
During her service in the Guard, Ms. Wright provided aide to Hurricane Harvey victims. “I knew I needed to help. I packed my Army ‘go bags’ and told my unit I wanted to go. For the following four weeks, our unit deployed to Houston and Beaumont to assist in supply distribution, aiding in swift water rescues and helping displaced residents pull valuables from their flooded homes. It was the most impactful mission I have ever served on,” she says.
Ms. Wright works as a cyber threat intelligence analyst and has been in cyber security for four years. “I chose this field because it allows me to serve and protect innocent people from cyber threats,” she explains. Ms. Wright is also active in the Frisco community and serves as a member of the Frisco VFW and the Denton chapter of Women Veterans of America (WVA), as well as serving as a volunteer member of the very first all-woman color guard in Texas, where she carries the Texas flag.
“Mayor Cheney and city council members have made veterans a priority, and I sincerely appreciate that. Transitioning out of the military is difficult, but politicians and businesses in Frisco alleviate difficulty by organizing career fairs and veteran appreciation events. I love being involved in the Frisco VFW because it allows me the opportunity to meet veterans and encourage them to join the veteran community. Veterans need to stay connected. Working together, serving our communities, joining families together … these are things that can help prevent veteran suicide and homelessness,” she explains.
Ms. Wright recently competed in the Ms. Veteran America 2018 competition. She was encouraged to apply for the competition that allows military veteran women to raise awareness and funds for homeless women veterans. “I was not even aware it was a problem,” she admits. “Now, I know there are nearly 55,000 homeless women veterans in the U.S.” Ms. Wright entered the competition in May and made it through the first round of cuts based on an application and essay. The semi-regional competition was in July, in Las Vegas, and she made it through to the top 25 finalists! The final competition was held in Hollywood, Calif., on October 7. “For my talent, I acted out a powerful and emotional monologue about my struggle with PTSD and alcohol disorder. Our community has contributed nearly $3,000 to my fundraiser! It really has been a life-changing event — meeting other women who have shared my experiences of motherhood, combat training, gender bias and military sexual trauma. We are all survivors, over-comers and proud servants of our country.”
As a fundraiser, Ms. Wright began making and selling handcrafted wreaths. Throughout September, 100 percent of sales went directly to Final Salute, Inc., to support homeless women veterans. She is establishing the business and selling at local craft/holiday fairs and farmers markets. Wonder Woman Wreaths is named for the brave women who are selflessly serving their families and country. Going forward, 20 percent of all sales will be donated to help homeless veterans.
Businesses Giving Back
Frisco businesses have done an amazing job of supporting and giving back to our veteran population, whether through community service, donations or the availability of jobs.
Frisco’s Chamber of Commerce recognizes businesses that support and employ veterans. President and CEO, Tony Felker, explains, “Veterans bring a unique and valued skillset to any business! From leadership skills to the ability to function as a successful, diverse team, veterans consistently prove they possess skills employers are looking for. It is important to educate employers on how these skills can transfer to career categories. The mission of the Frisco Chamber of Commerce Foundation Veterans Council is to empower veterans and families by providing resources and support. Not only do we seek to support veterans who live and work in the Frisco area, but, as the ‘Voice of Business’ in Frisco and surrounding communities, we strive to educate the businesses community on the value of hiring veterans.”
Kathy Erickson, the director of partner relations at the Frisco Chamber of Commerce and staff liaison of the Frisco Chamber of Commerce Foundation Veterans Council, adds that Chamber members that are veteran-owned businesses are given an additional category listing in the business directory, as well as on the website. The veteran-owned category is one of the most searched categories, and businesses that hire veterans are given a special window decal. The Frisco Chamber of Commerce Foundation Veterans Council meets the fourth Friday of each month. Anyone is welcome to attend.
Kevin Hodes, the owner and founder of the Frisco-based credit card processing company SWYPIT, is active in the community and makes it a mission to serve veterans through business, while working to ensure his company gives back in as many ways possible.
SWYPIT was founded in 1999, and from the time it was created, Mr. Hodes’ purpose for his business was to bring honesty and integrity to the world of credit card processing. Through his business, he has been given the opportunity to give back to the community. He has been involved with the American Fallen Soldiers Project for years, and over the past seven years, Mr. Hodes has served as the sponsor for Donnie Nelson’s Texas Legends Military Appreciation Night, where he presents a portrait to the family of a fallen soldier.
The American Fallen Soldiers Project was formed to help provide comfort and healing to grieving families of fallen military. The nonprofit makes available, at no cost to the family, an original portrait of their fallen loved one that captures their appearance and personality. Mr. Hodes has had the opportunity to present a portrait to the family of fallen soldier “American Sniper” Chris Kyle, and, in 2012, presented a portrait to the family of Peter J Courcy at the July 4 FC Dallas game. Mr. Courcy was a Frisco High School graduate who was killed in action.
Each year, Mr. Hodes has 100 challenge coins made that he gives to various people. “I create a coin to commemorate a night. I give coins to military professionals whenever I run into them, and I am very appreciative of our military veterans and all they have done for our country because our freedom is not free,” he explains. “I believe if you are in business, you should give back to the community. Find something you relate to and be passionate about it. Supporting veterans in our community and the American Fallen Soldiers Project gave me the opportunity to help in an area that I have never been involved in personally.”
Mr. Hodes has an extensive background in media and is now working with Major Dan Rooney as the executive producer of Mr. Rooney’s life story to educate others on his organization, Folds of Honor, which works to provide scholarships for spouses and kids of fallen or disabled soldiers. His hope is that he can help Folds of Honor work closely with the American Fallen Soldiers Project.
Spirit of a Hero (SOAH), founded by Rick Turner, is a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to providing financial, moral and community support to veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces. SOAH raises awareness, provides hope and bridges gaps in services through community-driven activities.
In April 2012, Mr. Turner, an 82nd Airborne Purple Heart recipient, read the story of a young 82nd Airborne paratrooper who lost all four limbs. This young man, U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Travis Mills, had lost his limbs, but not his spirit. He was determined to drive on and be a husband and father. “When I read this story, I became angry and wanted to suit back up and go back to fight for this kid!” Mr. Turner recalls. “I went home and told my wife the story. I told her I wanted to send his family half of my paycheck. We are a blended family of eight, so she quickly nixed that plan, but agreed we needed to help. She had the idea to reach out to our motorcycle community and have a charity motorcycle ride. We were hoping to get 100 motorcycles together and have them pay $50 to raise $5,000 for this kid. Instead, we had more than 1,800 motorcycles show up, and, in one day, raised more than $30,000. Within the week following, more donations poured in and we raised almost $40,000 for this family.” From that day on, SOAH was born!
Mr. Turner comes from a lineage of veterans and knew the Lord put he and his wife in the position to help, given their connections in the veteran community. “It is my duty as a faithful servant to help bless other veterans the way we have been blessed,” he says.
Most recently, SOAH gave wounded veteran U.S. Marine Corporal Steve Aft the backyard of his dreams. Mr. Aft lost both legs in an improvised explosive device (IED) explosion in Afghanistan and was unable to use his backyard. SOAH made sure he got the backyard sanctuary he and his bomb-detecting dog, Buckshot, who survived that same IED blast, deserve.
To date, the organization has made significant differences in the lives of eight veterans and has been able to purchase clothing for interviews, laptops and even help with adoptions. Each year, they host two major events -- a motorcycle ride the Saturday after Mother’s Day and a gala in September.
Honoring Veterans in the Community
Each November, Frisco comes together for the Frisco Community Parade, which will be held on November 10, 2018, to celebrate community and veterans as we near Veterans Day. This parade was originally a Homecoming Parade, when Frisco was just a one-horse town, but it has grown and now features floats, school marching bands, high school football teams, cheerleaders, scouts, civic organizations, youth sports teams, Frisco-based professional sports teams and local businesses.
The 2018 parade will begin at Toyota Stadium and travel east through historic downtown Frisco before finishing at North County Road. The Community Parade is a collaboration between the City of Frisco, the FISD, the Frisco Chamber of Commerce and the Frisco Veterans Advisory Committee.
Frisco is home to the Veterans Memorial at Frisco Commons Park. The memorial was originally dedicated in 2004 and was expanded in 2014 to include a Walk of Honor, featuring a small fountain in the middle with a turning globe, which symbolizes Frisco as a small part of a much bigger world. The memorial honors residents who died in the line of duty and columns at the Walk of Honor memorialize U.S. military campaigns since Frisco was founded in 1902. The columns start with World War I and continue through the ongoing war on terrorism.
Frisco’s American Legion Post 178 is where many serve and ensure they are actively engaged in supporting veterans and families in need, while promoting employment and upgraded employment for veterans and supporting efforts in dealing with the Veterans Administration. The American Legion was chartered by Congress in 1919, following World War I, and Frisco American Legion Post 178 Commander Fred Rogers, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, says the American Legion is the largest and most powerful organization of U.S. war-time veterans and their families, with more than 2.2 million members and 13,000 posts across the U.S. “We are focused on veterans’ affairs and rehabilitation, national security, Americanism and children and youth,” Mr. Rogers explains.
Frisco’s American Legion Post 178 has grown from 15 members to 529 members today. They are the fastest-growing post in the state of Texas and strive to provide services to homeless veterans, while providing financial support to those struggling with employment or unexpected financial issues. “We have programs within the FISD that teach patriotism and Americanism in schools. Our Honor Guard, which has been certified by the D/FW National Cemetery, performs at funerals and memorial services for veterans and their next-of-kin and our Color Guard performs at local grand openings, sporting events and serves at Freedom Fest and the Community Parade,” Mr. Rogers says. The post is proud it has been recognized by the State of Texas with the Post Excellence Award, and in 2018, was recognized by the national organization with the National Post Excellence Award. Its quarterly newsletter has won first place in two of the last three years by the National American Legion Press Association.
Mr. Rogers says, “Veterans made a commitment to serve their country without reservation. Veterans Day is a special and busy time for our post color guard, as we visit assisted living homes to conduct programs to honor veterans residing there.”
Frisco has a committee dedicated to advising the mayor and city leaders on opportunities available for veterans and highlights ways in which they bring value to the community. The Frisco Veterans Advisory Committee is comprised of former Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines or Coast Guardsmen who are committed to supporting our veterans, family members and those who continue to serve. Committee chairman and veteran U.S. Army Colonel J.P. Hogan says the committee focuses on three areas, including providing opportunities for veterans to network in the community (while keeping the veteran community aware of organizations and events that are of interest to former and current service-members), sponsoring programs that support veterans’ successful acclamation into the community (and in connecting Frisco veterans to support organizations that can facilitate that transition) and educating Frisco about the value veterans bring through their contributions to local businesses and the city while by publicly honoring the service of the veteran community.
Mr. Hogan says, “More recently, the veteran community has come together. On August 31, 2018, Frisco leadership honored veterans who were awarded Purple Hearts for wounds received in combat. More than 250 people attended this event, including veterans who served in Vietnam who had never had their service and sacrifice honored. Our quarterly veteran social gatherings are growing and veterans and Frisco citizens are coming together,” he explains.
As we head into this Veterans Day, the pride Frisco has in those who have served our country will be wonderfully evident. It is our sincere hope that all veterans feel loved, supported and appreciated. Our lives are better because of these men and women, and Frisco would not be what it is today without them.