Sharing perspectives on Veterans’ Day

OYA staff who are veterans talk about what the holiday means to them.

By Dr. Nakeia Daniels
Oregon Youth Authority deputy director

US Army veteran

Tomorrow is Veterans’ Day. I want to take a moment to recognize the incredible service of many OYA staff who are veterans, active-duty/deployed military, Reserves, National Guard, or are family of service members. We know that nearly 8% of our team members are veterans, and many more have family members who are in the armed forces.

For me, this is personal. I am a proud veteran of the US Army (HOOOAH!). Our family served in the Army for 20 years, and my eldest son, Jerry, completed Army Basic Training on Fort Sill, and Advanced Individual Training (AIT) on Fort Lee this summer. Serving in the armed forces is a tradition and value that goes back many generations in my family.

When I was 19 years old, I followed my elder sisters’ footsteps and swore to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Many years later, I continue to reap the personal and professional benefits of having served. As a Black woman who proudly served, it brings me joy to meet veterans from all walks of life and thank them for their service.

I try not to miss opportunities to personally say thank you to service members and their families because I know what it costs to serve our nation, and to serve alongside our brave military members as a civilian.

This year we are highlighting a few of the veterans in our midst here at OYA. We asked for their perspective about the holiday and what they will be doing to celebrate. Please read their stories, thank them and others for their service, and think of those who are currently serving our nation overseas and closer to home.

Joe Christensen, Army
Juvenile Parole & Probation Officer – Coos County

“What this day means to me is a recognition of the sacrifice made by young soldiers and their families. Like most young people, I didn’t realize the ripple effect that my choices had on my family and close friends.

I was reminded of this a few Veterans’ Days ago (before COVID-19 hit) when at a football game. The announcer asked all the veterans to stand up and then did something a little bit different and asked all the people that had family members that were veterans to stand up as well. Almost the entire stadium that was at the game stood up. That visual had a profound impact on me.

On Veterans’ Day I will be making it a point to thank my individual family members that served in the Army (7 of us), 2 in the Navy, 1 in the Marines, 1 in the Air Force, and 4 in the Coast Guard — and the rest of our family for supporting us.”

Jennifer Thurlow, Air Force
Executive Assistant – Director’s Office

“My time as an Airman in the United States Air Force seems like a lifetime ago, but I still feel the pride, strength, discipline, and sense of service I had then.

For several years, I wore combat boots and camouflage called BDUs (Battle Dress Uniform) to work each day. I even had a set of maternity BDUs which I always thought was kind of funny. I learned how to shoot machine guns and lead my flight of airmen. During this time, I learned the meaning — the true meaning — of service.

When I was younger, I didn’t really understand the meaning of veteran. My thoughts went to the old soldiers that wore WWII ball caps with all of the pins attached, the older generation, our grandparents. Not until many years after returning to the States and to civilian life did it mean something different. I was at church one Sunday on Veterans’ Day and pastor Randy Butler asked the veterans to come to the front. We had several WWII veterans attending, even the oldest living one in Oregon at the time. They made their way down to the front of the church, some with walkers, some with canes. Then there were some middle-aged men, then some in their 20’s and 30’s. Then a woman in her 50’s got up and went to the front. My husband turned to me and said, ‘Aren’t you going to go down there?’ I guess it was then that I realized I was a vet. I went down to the front of the church and stood amongst men from the greatest generation and sang God Bless America with the words barely coming out and tears streaming down my face.

I get very emotional during this week. I watch all of the specials on TV talking about the courage and the sacrifice that many of my fellow veterans have made for the freedoms we all get to enjoy. I am proud to be a veteran of the United States Air Force.”

Kim “Mack” McKandes, Air Force
GLC 2, OIIR Liaison – Rogue Valley YCF

“I entered the US Air Force at the end of the Desert Storm campaign.  I wasn’t sure if I should sign up or not, because I was… well… young and afraid. I was teetering on if I wanted to fight for the country that I called home while a war was happening, or if I should wait until it ended. The deciding factor was my memory of history class and sociology class in high school, both taught by a very proud African American woman named Linda Murray. She drilled into us how fear never stopped renowned Black military units from standing up for their country, nor from standing up for what they believed in. Units like the Buffalo Soldiers, the Montford Point Marines, the Tuskegee Airmen, and the Harlem Hellfighters.

To this day, I make it a point to thank veterans for the sacrifices they have made.  Not just laying their lives on the line, but their families, careers, and for some, their aspirations.

On this Veterans’ Day, I’ll be working hard at Rogue Valley YCF.”

Dan Berger, Army
Superintendent, MacLaren YCF

“My service experiences are very personal to me. On Veterans’ Day, I usually spend time with some other veterans I served with, as a time to reflect on our shared experiences in the Army and especially our times (but not exclusively) forward deployed to the Middle East and elsewhere, time stationed in Germany, and associated adventures. COVID has halted this tradition over the past two years, but I hope to return to it, as it’s something I look forward to annually.

I truly value my time spent serving in the US Army. There were many lived experiences that significantly impacted my life to this day and many positive lessons, training, and experiences I have applied to my post-military professional life.”

Noel Hoback, Army, Army Reserve, and Oregon National GuardProgram Director – Rogue Valley YCF

“For me, Veterans’ Day is a celebration/remembrance of a unique group of people who were willing to commit to selfless service in defense of the United States of America. Our veterans learned and experienced what it means to be committed to something more important than themselves.

I also take time to remember the many veterans from other nations who I served and fought with. This Veterans Day I will make a concentrated effort to remember the Afghan National Army soldiers who I served with and extend an extra prayer for their safety and well-being.

This year I am fortunate enough to have Veterans’ Day off, so I will take time to attend a ceremony at a local park dedicated to veterans. My grandfather’s name is listed on a plaque in the park for his service during World War II.”

Ron Sandler, Army
Assistant Parole and Probation Officer, Josephine County

“Growing up in Wyoming I never really considered the military as a career. Then one day in winter, 17 years old, snow up to my hiney, no work to be found as I walked by the recruiter’s office I looked and said ‘What the heck!’ went inside and decided to join the U.S. Army. My mother had to sign for me as I wasn’t quite old enough.

I look back and think that it was one of the best choices I’ve ever made in my life. I’ve met people from all around the world, been places that most people don’t get to go to, and made an impact in other’s lives not to mention my own.

It also gave me the skills to be employed after retirement with the Oregon Youth Challenge Program run by the Oregon National Guard for at-risk which ultimately led me to employment with the Oregon Youth Authority.

Final word … HOOOOOOAH!”

Zach Snyder, Army National Guard
Case Coordinator, Rogue Valley YCF

“It means a day to recognize those who have served this country. Everybody’s experience is different. But few make the decision to join the military and for those few it is important to recognize them. I like to focus my day on those who have served with me and be thankful for the relationships I have built through my service. I feel OYA has always done a good job recognizing its veterans and has allowed me to be able to share my experience with youth who have shown interest in the military. I have had the privilege of organizing and running boot camp days here at Rogue for youth.”

Read more about the boot camp here: Boot Camp for a Day – Inside OYA

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