Kilgore College paid respects to veterans with its Veterans Day Appreciation Celebration in Devall Student Center Ballroom Monday.
Included in the event were a presentation of the colors by the Honor Guard of Second Force Support Squadron from Barksdale Air Force Base, patriotic piano music from Dr. Mary Heiden of the Music and Dance department, recognition of artwork from students and speeches from two veterans.
Co-Director of Marketing Manny Almanza welcomed guests to the event and Dr. Reggie Brazzle, director of financial aid, led a prayer for veterans.
Local students had been invited to submit patriotic artwork honoring veterans for the event and the first three art contest winners were announced: Levi Mulanax in the K-1st grade category, Jillian Russell for 2nd and 3rd grade and Olivia Deslatte for the 4th-6th category.
Door prizes were also awarded.
Sgt. Daniel P. Mendez of the Texas National Guard took the podium as the event’s first speaker.
“I joined because of 9/11,” Mendez said after telling the audience he grew up in Kilgore. “At that time, I took off from work and went over and joined the United States Army.”
Mendez said he had been deployed repeatedly to Iraq and now serves in the military by training armies of other nations. He has worked with the Canadian army, the British army, the Ugandan army, the Iraqi army and the Somali army. He is currently a member of the Texas Army National Guard and also works as a recruiter and college guidance counselor for high school students who want to join the Army for college benefits.
“To be a veteran is very hard,” Mendez said, describing the challenges veterans face, including high rates of divorce, unemployment and suicide.
“If you do know a veteran, make sure they know that they’re not alone,” he said, urging everyone to thank veterans for their service, not just on Veterans Day, but throughout the year.
Following Mendez’s speech, awards were presented to Ashlynn Davis in the junior high student art category, Jaydn Davis in the high school category and Rylan Perkins for art submitted from KC students.
The next speaker was Dina Anderson, 20-year Air Force veteran and employee of NextOp Veterans, an organization focusing on connecting veterans to civilian employment opportunities after they leave military service.
“I joined the Air Force at a very young age. It just felt like my calling. I absolutely loved spending 20 years there,” Anderson said.
While still in the Air Force, Anderson worked as a recruiter. Helping young people find a new career in the military led her to a similar position after her retirement. She found her new calling at NextOp Veterans, helping fellow veterans transition to new careers.
“It’s the perfect next chapter. It brings me the same satisfaction as what I did in the Air Force,” Anderson said.
She described meeting the director of NextOp only six months after her retirement and learning the company had a position available for an employment coordinator.
The organization is a 501(c) non-profit employing primarily veterans.
“I’m Air Force. My team is mostly Marines. We have Navy, we have Army as well. We have a team of veterans because we can understand what these service members go through. We understand their experiences and their skill sets so we can translate that to civilian employers,” Anderson said.
The company is based in Houston and was founded in 2015. Since their founding, NextOp has helped nearly 1500 veterans transition into industry careers.
Following Anderson’s speech, a moment of silence was held for fallen veterans and the honor guard was dismissed.
To learn more about NextOp Veterans, visit NextOpVets.org. To learn more about veterans benefits at Kilgore College, contact Angie Rice, KC Veterans Coordinator, at 903-988-7420.