They are the people who our military families call when they’re in need. They are the people that take care of service members like they’re family. They are the people who understand the importance of their local installations and work to ensure their resilience.
They are Defense Community Champions—and their actions make a difference in the lives of our military, military families, and veterans. Join ADC in recognizing the individuals who make a difference in our communities through deeds big and small. They are leaders on base, in the community, across the federal government and industry. Defense Community Champions inspire us to support the men and women who protect our nation every day.
Congratulations to the 2022 Defense Community Champions
Dr. Ivan Allen
Warner Robins, Georgia
Dr. Ivan Allen is the driving force behind the Georgia Veterans Education Career Transition Resource (VECTR) Center, which provides wraparound services including training and education for veterans and their families as they transition from military service.
“We’re bringing in those military service men and women in the last six months of their contract with America,”Allen says.
After the center opened in 2016, it partnered with the Georgia Department of Veterans Services to provide benefits counselors to help apply for VA and state veterans benefits, including health care, in addition to advanced career training, job placement, entrepreneurship coaching and other services. “I had no idea it would take off like this,” Allen says now of the center.
Through a memorandum of understanding with Robins Air Force Base, the center has lodging to accommodate service members and veterans from across the country and across the branches. Of the more than 500 graduates who have received credentials at the center, 100% transitioned to four-year institutions or entered the workforce, making an average of more than $25 per hour. Allen has long been active in military-community programs in Central Georgia –which has been designated a Great American Defense Community –and says the initiatives are aligned with the mission of Central Georgia Technical College, which he leads.
“Our mission at our college is workforce development, and at the end of the day, workforce development is about taking care of people,” he says. “The pipeline of workers will be available to keep that base strong, which keeps America strong. It’s that simple.”
Grand Forks, North Dakota
When he was a student in ROTC, Jim Bradshaw had a plan to join the Army. But that dream got sidelined when his father died while Jim was in college, and Jim was called on to run the family business, a construction and construction materials company that had been in the family since it was founded in 1910.
As he helped grow the business in Grand Forks, North Dakota, he got word that two friends were killed in Vietnam, which he says was hard to deal with but inspired him to take up a bigger cause.
“Their names were Gary and Mel,” Bradshaw remembers. “I know what they’d have told me – it wouldn’t have been really good English, either – it would be to get going and do something, don’t sit there like a witness.”
Bradshaw became active supporting service members at Grand Forks Air Force Base, which he has done now for nearly 60 years. He served as an honorary wing commander, honorary squadron commander and honorary chief master sergeant. The base named him one of just a few Community Ambassadors.
“The main focus was on our airmen and our military. What can we do for them? What should the community be aware of? And if there were problems that came up, we wanted to be a part of the solution,” he says of the ambassador program. “It was wonderful. I was just blessed to be a part of that.”
Bradshaw has also served on the Grand Forks Region Base Retention and Investment Committee and represented Grand Forks AFB on the Air Mobility Command Civic Leadership Board.
“I’d be lying if I said the base didn’t have an economic impact. But to me, the most impact it’s ever had on this community is a social impact,” he says. “We’ve gotten to meet great people who have been all over the world on very special missions. They do special things for us. We’re mighty proud of them.”
Clovis, New Mexico
When James Burns was asked to join the Committee of 50, the military affairs arm of the Clovis/Curry County Chamber of Commerce, he figured he had two options.
“You can get involved and be busy with it, or you can just show up at meetings and not do anything,” he says now. “I just chose to get involved. That’s how it started.”
That kicked off Burns’ decades of service to Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico and the community it calls home.
Burns, who owns three hardware stores, quickly took a leadership role and encouraged other business leaders to take pride in their support of the base.
“We put up a website, and I printed stickers that you can put on the front door of your business,” Burns says. “And we got nametags. We walk around with a ‘Proud Member of the Committee of 50’ nametags.”
Like many rural defense communities, Clovis has historically lacked some of the perks near other installations, a problem Burns has set out to solve. He was instrumental in the recent passage of state legislation to recognize many military spouses’ professional licenses from other states, for example.
For years, airmen and military family members who needed certain forms of specialized medical care had to drive an hour to Lubbock, Texas, because they weren’t available at Plains Regional Medical Center, an acute care hospital in Clovis.
When Burns learned of this in 2017, he launched meetings to help PRMC understand the community and business need to expand its services. That led to PRMC hiring a new administrator and tasking him with finding a way to provide the services. Burns, meanwhile, hosted receptions for prospective doctors to meet installation and community leaders. Within two years, the hospital had hired nine new specialists, most of whom said the welcome receptions helped sell them on Clovis.
For Burns, also a city commissioner and the father of an active duty airman, all this work is worth it for one simple reason: “The Air Force is important to Clovis.”
Dr. Brian Henry
When service members with children pick their next duty station, “education is really the number one thing in terms of coming to Fort Leonard Wood,” says Dr. Brian Henry, superintendent of the Waynesville RVI School District in Missouri.
“We need to offer attractive facilities, top-notch education, and advanced coursework where soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines realize you can come to Mid Missouri and take any AP course that you could take in Virginia. To do all that, we just have to work together.”
Henry has made working together with the community and the installation a hallmark of his eight years with the district. He spent three of those years as chair of the Sustainable Ozarks Partnership, the support organization for Fort Leonard Wood.
The school district, with its Tiger mascot, has 11 schools, and 75% of its students are military-connected.
Early into his tenure, Henry teamed up with the community on a tough proposition: convincing the community to pass a 20-cent tax levy increase, the first in about 60 years. The increase was needed to maintain the district’s eligibility for B-2 Heavily Impacted Aid from the Department of Defense Education Activity.
“I knew it was going to be a heavy lift,” Henry says. “I knew it was going to take a great deal of communication. I knew that it was going to take quite a bit of partnership with the community.”
The Sustainable Ozarks Partnership, the business community and local elected leaders came together to educate the public on the investment’s return. Voters approved the increase, which Henry says “has been vital for our community the last several years.”
Henry also successfully competed for a Defense Community Infrastructure Project grant that is helping remodel a local arts center to expand its pre-school offerings, reducing a wait list for military and civilian families.
Henry knows that when he retires in July, the partnership will continue, because it is ingrained in the relationship.
“It’s a kinship we have with the installation and the community, and our schools are part of it.”
Or, as the district’s tagline puts it, the area’s schools are “Where the Orange and Black Unite with the Red, White and Blue.”
RDML John Menoni
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Rear Admiral John Menoni admits he was in “a little bit of shock” in March 2020 when he first heard that sailors from the USS Theodore Roosevelt would be headed to Guam after testing positive for COVID-19, but then he “really just kind of immediately got after the problem” by reaching out to Guam Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero to keep her apprised of the situation.
After dozens of sailors tested positive and were sent to Guam for treatment, the Roosevelt was ordered to dock at the island. Menoni, then commander of Joint Region Marianas Guam, worked closely with Guerrero and other local leaders on how to treat COVID-19 patients, develop quarantine plans, support the aircraft carrier’s mission and protect the people of Guam. At one point, about 1,000 uniformed, civilian and local personnel were working together to help the Roosevelt’s 4,800 sailors.
“I cannot tell you how humbled I was by the support of the people of Guam, the government of Guam and the military community,” Menoni says.
It was Menoni’s fourth tour on Guam, but he had only been in the current role for six months. Fortunately, after taking command, he had wasted no time developing relationships with Guerrero and others to ensure ongoing cooperation between the military and community leaders, which turned out to be critical when the crisis arose.
“You can’t surge trust. You can’t build trust overnight,” he says. “It takes a while.”
Menoni is being recognized as an ADC Defense Community Champion, an honor for which he was nominated by Guerrero.
Menoni and his family are now in Virginia, where he is commander of the Expeditionary Strike Group Two, headquartered in Virginia Beach, but he says he will always feel a connection to the island.
“My first home is wherever my wife and children are, and Guam is my second home,” he says.
Frank Minosky spent about half of his 25-year Army career as a first sergeant or command sergeant major and regularly discharged soldiers for drug and alcohol use.
“I bounced a lot of soldiers out of the military, because I was of the opinion at that point that good soldiers don’t do drugs,” Minosky says. “I was of that opinion that good soldiers don’t do alcohol, drink and drive.”
After he retired, he became active in the community of Killeen, Texas, home to Fort Hood, and worked at a Workforce Solutions of Central Texas center helping transitioning soldiers find jobs. Working directly with them made Minosky think again about the soldiers who had struggled.
“As I go back and look now that I’m out, I wonder who took care of those people,” Minosky says. “I booted them knowing they were on drugs. Who cleaned them up? I booted them knowing they had an alcohol problem. Who cleaned them up?”
He became involved with the Fort Hood Veterans Endeavor for Treatment Support (VETS) Court. The first of its kind on an installation, VETS Court helps veterans with service-connected mental health or substance abuse struggles clear their judicial records by seeking treatment and working with a local veteran mentor. Minosky is the VETS Court mentor coordinator.
“I tear up whenever we go up and the judge tears up somebody’s DWI,” he says. “It is no longer in their records, because now they’re clean.”
Minosky recalls how meth nearly derailed the dreams of an ambitious, well-respected Army medic who wanted to become a physician assistant. Fortunately, the VETS Court gave him a second chance.
“When he graduated the course, the future was wide open for him again, which really emotionally got to me, and I said, ‘Yep, this is why I’m here. This is what I should have been doing a long time ago,’” Minosky says.
Minosky retired from his day job at Workforce Solutions last year but still looks for ways to help soldiers realize they have a future.
“I was an infantry guy, rucksack on my back, and I retired as a center administrator for Workforce Solutions of Central Texas. Who’d’ve thunk it? I never dreamed that in a million years,” he says. “But you give that hope and that dream to other soldiers coming out.”
Dr. David Smith
It was a hot day at Edwards Air Force Base, California when Dr. David Smith visited an on-base high school to help with a science lab experiment and noticed the classroom’s emergency exit was blocked with soaking wet towels. He asked the teacher why.
“She said, ‘Well, the swamp cooler’s outside, and the floor of the classroom is settled there, so if I don’t block up the door with towels, the water floods the classroom, and it starts to stink out here in the desert.’”
Another classroom at the school had tree roots growing through the floor, Smith recalls.
Smith, in collaboration with the Joint Muroc School District school board and Patrick O’Brien, director of the DOD Office of Economic Adjustment – now the Office of Local Defense Community Cooperation – and OEA worked to secure a $150 million grant to update the base’s three schools.
At the time Smith was installation support director at Edwards and collaborated with the greater community to find $30 million needed to match the grant. A few years later, the new elementary school is open, a new intermediate school facility opens this year, and renovations to the high school are ahead of schedule to open after that.
Smith also helped bring STARBASE – a DOD-funded STEM program for fifth and sixth graders in underserved areas – to Edwards.
“We have one week of STEM involvement on a high-tech installation like this. You watch their heads explode. They love it.” Smith, a father of six, says of STARBASE. “It’s tracked, and we find that for those STARBASE attendees, their likelihood of graduating high school and going to college doubles, and their likelihood of being involved in crime is cut in half.”
Smith spends less time at Edwards these days. He’s now director of the Production and Flight Test Facility, 412th Test Wing at Air Force Plant 42, a 5,600-acre campus in Palmdale with more than 12,000 contract and government personnel. Boeing, Northrop Grumman and Lockheed-Martin have operations at the plant.
In that position he continues to focus on collaborating with the greater community to improve quality of life for government and contractor employees, such as housing, health care and transportation.
“Let’s lower the fence line,” Smith says. “Let’s figure out how we can make our base more collaborative, more integral to our community. It should not be us-versus-them. It ought to be one mentality of how we’re going to excel.”
After ADC launched its “One Military, One Community” initiative in 2020, including a national survey to gauge the state of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in military communities, the North Virginia Regional Commission (NVRC) reviewed responses within its region and conducted multiple large-group and small-group discussion and listening sessions to understand the experience of military members and their families. The area is home to Fort Belvoir, Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Marine Corps Base Quantico and other DOD facilities, including, of course, the Pentagon.
“I think it was a little shocking to most of our elected officials and I think to some of the base commanders,” says Peggy Tadej. “I think we all thought that we were very diverse and inclusive. And the results came back, “No, we’re not. We have a ways to go, and that is why we developed the Northern Virginia Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Roadmap, a framework for coordinating our actions in the region to address DEI findings.”
Tadej manages day-to-day military-community relations for NVRC, including forging military-community partnerships through intergovernmental service agreements, memoranda of understanding, regional resilience planning grants, transit agreements and many other venues to support the missions on installations.
Following the region’s activities in support of ADC’s One Military, One Community initiative, the subject of DEI became a regular focus of bi-monthly meetings of the Community, Military & Federal Facility Partnership of Northern Virginia, which Tadej directs.
Victor Angry, a member of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, co-leads the Community, Military, and Federal Facility Partnership of Northern Virginia and has been instrumental in moving these conversations on DEI forward. Many other leaders in the area didn’t know that Angry, a Black Army veteran, had experienced racism growing up in the South.
“His story is really amazing,” Tadej says. “He rose to the highest level of the Army National Guard while experiencing challenges along the way. I think that was a really good eye-opener, and other elected officials were listening and learning.”
Issues identified in the survey data and through listening sessions are captured in the region’s DEI roadmap and address items such as education, health care, public safety, workforce, and housing.
Rapid City, South Dakota
The fence around Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota keeps the bad guys out, Lorie Vega says, “but unfortunately it keeps the good guys in and the good guys out, too. It keeps our airmen in and keeps out people that really want to connect with us. It’s hard to break that barrier, so I try to be the barrier breaker.”
Vega is deputy director of 28th Mission Support Group, 28th Bomb Wing at Ellsworth, tasked as the installation’s communication outreach lead.
“My business card is probably all over western South Dakota, because I get phone calls from random people,” she says. “’Oh, I saw your business card,’ which is great.”
To catch those people’s eyes, Vega designs and buys her own business cards that are “intentionally very colorful and very unique. On the back, it says, ‘Connect with Ellsworth, become a community partner.’ It’s got my contact information, and it says all the stuff I do.”
It’s an innovative approach, and the networking pays off.
She’s able to connect military families looking for jobs. When some airmen needed to move to COVID-19 quarantine dorms, it was Vega who made sure they had internet access by coordinating local partners and other base officials. And when the base opened its new innovation hub, RaiderWerks, Vega went to a local internet provider to bring high-speed internet access to the center at no cost to the base.
Thanks to Vega, the base also has partnerships with more than 15 universities across the country, including the two local universities: South Dakota School of Mines & Technology and Black Hill State University.
Vega typically puts in about 11 hours a day in addition to evening meetings for the long list of local boards she serves on, but she says it’s worth it, because she loves what she does.
“Partnership is key to making sure that not only we take care of our airmen better, we get the airmen involved in the community, but also we say thank you to our community for supporting us,” she says. “Gratitude is a big part of that.”
Jacksonville, North Carolina
There are more than 45,000 service members at Jacksonville, North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune and New River Air Station. When Kimberly Williams became the city’s HR chief 10 years ago, she sought to tap into exiting service members for job placement.
“I thought I would use my knowledge, skills and abilities from a lifelong career in human resources to help our transitioning service members, our Guard and reserve members, our veterans and their military spouses secure meaningful employment – not just a job but meaningful employment,” Williams says.
Then she started to look bigger.
Statewide, more than 25,000 service members leave the military each year looking for their next career and home. Williams wanted them to stay in North Carolina, so she worked with the North Carolina Military Affairs Commission to establish a public-private partnership called North Carolina for Military Employment (NC4ME), which is now in its seventh year as a non-profit initiative reporting regularly to the governor’s office.
NC4ME rethinks traditional job search assistance with more of a matchmaking approach, Williams says, citing a low success rate for job seekers attending large, open job fairs.
“You basically get a frisbee and some candy, and you give your resume out, you probably don’t get a call back, and those events have about a 2% success rate,” she says. “We have hiring events. We get 30 or 40 companies, and we identify the jobs that they’re looking to fill. We look at the knowledge, skills and abilities to drive that job. Then we match them to our 200 to 300 veterans looking for jobs, and we set up interviews.”
NC4ME also educates employers on the value veterans can bring to their workplaces, including the wide range of skills that exists in the military.
“I always tell my employers, ‘Look, you trust them with your country, you can certainly trust them with your company,’” Williams says.
What is the Defense Community Champions Program?
For decades, ADC’s annual awards program, the Defense Community Awards, recognized specific leaders from the around the country for their contributions to defense communities and the military. While acknowledging the role that leaders play is important—ADC’s Champions program expands the focus of this recognition to a broader set of people and stories in our defense communities. Through a competitive nomination process, ADC will select a diverse group of champions that will be honored at a special Washington, D.C. event and through various media channels. Their stories will serve as inspiration and ideas for the military support community.