2017 Phoenix Veterans Day Parade Grand Marshals
Actress, Singer, Dancer
Celebrity Grand Marshal
Few actresses can capture the imagination of generations of audiences with the certainty and charm of Loretta Swit. As quick-witted, impassioned Major Margaret Houlihan of television’s most honored series, “M*A*S*H,” Ms. Swit became an American icon and, with its popularity now in worldwide syndication, new fans continue to enjoy her lavish portrayal of the sensuous, sensitive, comedic Major Houlihan. She was so moved by the military and veterans she encountered she supports them to this day and recently narrated the film “Never the Same: The Prisoner of War Experience.”
Ms. Swit has been honored with such recognition as the People’s Choice Award, The Genie Award, The Silver Satellite Award, The Jean Golden Halo Award, the Pacific Broadcasters Award, two Emmy Awards, 10 Emmy nominations and eight nominations for the Golden Globe Award.
She made her Broadway debut in “Same Time, Next Year,” and in “The Mystery of Edwin Drood.” She has appeared in over 1,500 performances of “Shirley Valentine” – a role for which she won Chicago’s most prestigious theatrical honor, the Sarah Siddons Award. Tours include “Song of Singapore,” “Love Letters,” “Love, Loss/What I Wore,” and the “Vagina Monologues” in New York, Chicago and London’s West End.
Her television career boasts over 25 movies, including the original “Cagney and Lacey,” in which she created the role of Chris Cagney, with contractual obligations to “M*A *S*H” preventing her from shooting the series. Other memorable TV films are “Games Mother Never Taught You,” “Hell Hath No Fury,” “The Kid from Nowhere,” “Mirror, Mirror,” “The Execution,” “Dreams of Gold,” “Valentine” and “A Killer Among Friends.”
Ms. Swit has sung and danced her way through most of television’s musical specials, most notably “The Muppet Show” with Kermit and Miss Piggy and a Broadway television special of “It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman.” She can be seen annually in “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” “Miracle at Moreaux,” and “A Christmas Calendar,” aired worldwide.
In the cinema, Ms. Swit has starred in “Stand Up and Be Counted,” “Freebie and the Bean,” “Race with the Devil,” “Beer,” Blake Edwards’ “S.O.B.” with Julie Andrews and William Holden, “Whoops Apocalypse,” “Forest Warrior,” “Boardheads” and “Play the Flute.”
Most recently she was “Eleanor Roosevelt” in sellout runs in Los Angeles and Chicago. A highlight was meeting Eleanor’s granddaughter at a Meet and Greet. This show and “Me and Jezebel” continue to appear on her calendar.
Her wildlife series, “Those Incredible Animals,” was shown twice weekly on the Discovery Channel for an amazing five-year run, and later viewed on Animal Planet airing in over 30 countries. Ms. Swit is as impassioned about animals as she is the theatre and is regarded as a leader in the Humane Environment. The proceeds from her recent book, “SWITHEART” (www.switheart.com) support the Animal Alliance Foundation, ending cruelty for all animals and she has a second book in the works. She has been named Woman of the Year by both the Animal Protection Institute and the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
Next up for this “force of nature energizer bunny” in 2018 is a company of “Six Dance Lessons” in New Zealand/Australia and for the big screen a romantic comedy, “White Lilies,” to film in Spain.
(*) Member of Actors’ Equity Association
World War II Grand Marshal
Chief Master Sergeant, U.S. Air Force
Harold Bergbower knows too well the price of freedom is not free. He is a 97-year-old World War II veteran. He joined the Army Air Corps in May 1939. His unit arrived in the Philippines in July 1940. On December 8, 1941, he was injured by bomb shrapnel, taken to the hospital at Clark Field, and declared dead. He woke up in the morgue and walked back to his unit. During the early months of WWII, he made three missions in a Martin B-10, fought on horseback with the Filipinos on Bataan, and escaped from Bataan by boat with some Filipino scouts. They made it down into Mindanao, where he fought with the infantry until his capture in May 1942. Bergbower was a Prisoner of War for 39 months.
He said one way he survived the internment was to create another world in his mind, so he dreamed of being on a farm. It took his mind off the reality of his life, which was disease and starvation. He was down to 78 pounds when he was at Davao and was about 107 pounds when he got liberated. He would also keep the memory of his childhood and the food he had enjoyed at home, especially his mother’s cherry and rhubarb pies.
Bergbower learned of the end of the war from a Red Cross worker. After that, food was dropped to the prisoners in 50-gallon drums. He recalled it was the best food he had tasted in “years and years.” He was in the Tokyo Harbor when the surrender with the Japanese was signed. He said he was a hundred yards from the battleship.
Upon returning to the States in 1945, he remained in the military, retiring in August 1969. He has contributed much to his community. He has made numerous talks to students around Phoenix. He volunteered for many years with the Peoria Unified School District. He remains an active supporter of the Phoenix Zoo. He also shares his military career experiences with the service members at Luke Air Force Base.
Bergbower says lessons learned from his life are numerous, including:
- Help others – The motto of the American Ex-Prisoners of War is to help those who cannot help themselves. The Agua Fria Chapter of the American Ex-POW supported servicemen who are at Crossroads. He is an active member of his church, where he also helps families in need.
- Forgiveness – In 1954, the Air Force sent him back to Japan to help them set up a training command. His family lived among the Japanese people. Then in 2011, he participated in the Friendship and Reconciliation program.
- Patriotism – There is no place like home. He still wears his uniform with pride. No matter which political group is in charge, he says, “That is my Commander and Chief.”
We are honored to have World War II Air Force Veteran Harold Bergbower as a Veteran Grand Marshal for the 2017 Phoenix Veterans Day Parade.
Korean War Grand Marshal
Electrician’s Mate Second Class, U.S. Navy
Mel Brody enlisted in the United States Navy in 1951 when he was 18 years old, hoping to be stationed with his big brother, who had been recalled to active duty in support of the Korean conflict. His brother Aaron also served in the Navy during World War II, spending weeks in a life raft in the Pacific. Their family received a telegram saying he was Missing in Action, but 40 days later, the Navy found him – alive!
Brody says, “I was raised with a sense of patriotism. You owe this country.” His father was in the Army Rainbow Division during World War I, and all his male cousins served. “We should do like Israel,” he believes. “Men and women have mandatory service for two years. When you’re born into a Jewish family, ‘tzedakah’ is instilled in you. Simply put, you’re lucky to be alive, and so you give back [in money as well as actions].”
Brody arrived the only Jewish sailor on the USS Anderson. “Another sailor said he didn’t want me there, claiming Jews don’t fight,” Brody recalls. “I told him, ‘Let’s take it to the fantail [back part of the ship].’ I didn’t have any problems after that!” He also created allies, offering to stand watches for the Catholic sailors on Christmas.
Brody spent some time ashore, using mapping skills he learned as a Boy Scout. When there was a shortage of spotters, he helped the Marines plot targets for the USS Missouri and air strikes.
He was an Electrician’s Mate Second Class when his tour ended. “There was no parade when we returned from Korea. We just melted back into society,” he says. A few months ago, however, his service was remembered: He was at a local restaurant wearing his Korean War Veteran hat, and the manager – originally from South Korea – covered his bill, telling Brody, “I can never do enough for you.”
He was also selected to take an Honor Flight in May. “At the airports, people cheer you. When we were near the Korea and Vietnam Memorials [in D.C], thousands of school children hugged us. Korean visitors hugged us. They’re the most grateful people.”
Brody said he gained direction and purpose serving in the Navy. He used his G.I. Bill to finish a business degree in 1957 from San Francisco State. He retired in 1992, and after moving to Arizona, offered to help a friend with an event for Medal of Honor Recipients. “You meet these people who are real heroes … and they keep doing!” he says.
Brody also keeps doing. In 2005, he was presented with A&E’s $5,000 Lives That Make a Difference Award, but he gave it to the Arizona Veterans Home, saying, “I didn’t need it. They did.” He was elected to the Arizona Veterans Hall of Fame and co-founded an alumni society. In 2007, he helped raise thousands of dollars for Victory Place and AZ Stand-down (and he continues to help Stand-down). In 2008, he raised money to erect a carillon at the National Cemetery in Cave Creek, and served as project manager. His also has been involved with the National Executive Committee for Jewish War Veterans, Former Lodge President for B’nai Brith, Former Commander American Legion 246, Bosom Buddies, and raises money by selling Legion Poppies.
Brody and his late wife Maxine raised three children, Rochelle, Alan and Paula. He has two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Vietnam War Grand Marshal
Colonel, U.S. Army
Larry Leighton grew up in Lexington, Nebraska, and after high school he enrolled at the University of Nebraska. At the height of the Vietnam War in 1968 he cut short his academic career and joined the U.S. Army as an enlisted man. He applied for and was accepted to Officer Candidate School at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. where he received a Reserve Officer’s commission as a Second Lieutenant of Field Artillery on February 20, 1970.
During his tour in Vietnam he was assigned as a Forward Observer (173rd Airborne Battalion) where, during a night assault on December 12, 1970, he suffered wounds for which he was awarded the Purple Heart.
Leighton continued to serve his country in the U.S. Army for over 28 years. During his career, he was selected for the Army Bootstrap program, receiving a BS in Business Administration and eventually earning an MBA from the Florida Institute of Technology. He attended the Army Command and General Staff College and National Defense University at Fort McNair, Washington, D.C. He served in several staff and command positions throughout his distinguished career. His accomplishments were recognized by both awards and ever-more challenging positions throughout the United States and abroad, including as Executive Officer for the Director of Financial Management Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff for Logistics in the Pentagon. Leighton also served as the commander of the 20th Area Support Group Headquarters in Taegu, South Korea. He retired as a Colonel, U.S. Army on June 30,1996.
He forged a successful career in business and, after finally retiring for good, he embarked on another career – serving our community. A member of the American Legion Post 94 Leighton was elected Senior Vice Commander in charge of membership. He is a member and leader of Post 691, Military Order of Purple Heart and Adjutant of the Arizona Chapter. He founded Corte Bella Vets, a 501(c)(3) organization with over 200 members. The Corte Bella Vets has contributed over $110,000 to both Arizona Veteran Charities and individual veterans.
Leighton’s life has been described by those who know him as one of “silent sacrifice.” He is a quiet servant leader.
Recently, when asked about receiving the Purple Heart, he was typically modest. “It happened. It was a night patrol and I fell on a grenade.”
And when asked about his service in Vietnam, Leighton did not hesitate. “I was one of the lucky ones,” he says. “I came home intact. A lot of others who were there did not.”
When speaking with his fellow veterans he urges them to “… get out. Talk to other veterans. Work with other veterans. We have to take care of our own.”
This year’s Vietnam War Grand Marshal, Larry Leighton, is an effective but quiet force who is still in service to his country, to his community, and to his fellow veterans.
Cold War Grand Marshal
Command Chief Master Sergeant, U.S. Air Force
Bernie O’Keefe was in his first semester in college and “wasn’t crazy about it,” as he puts it. He wanted to start his life and wanted direction, particularly because things were getting pretty serious with his girlfriend, Pat (with whom O’Keefe just celebrated 45 years of marriage). “I am the oldest of 10 kids,” he says, “and I didn’t want to be a goof.” That – combined with the draft, the fact that a couple of his friends joined the military, and his father having served in the Air Force – led him to enlist in the USAF in 1972.
O’Keefe turned out far from a “goof.” His nearly 27 years in the Air Force included four overseas tours (England, Turkey and twice in Germany), as well as many “temporary duty” (TDY) assignments around the globe.
He found serving during the Cold War had some unique aspects. “I was always working with security of nuclear weapon systems and just realizing their power – rather not understanding their power was a big deal,” he recalls. “In my first tour in Germany I went through Checkpoint Charlie into East Berlin. I was required to wear my uniform there. The Berlin Wall was something that brought the whole idea of the Cold War into focus. The Soviet threat was real.”
O’Keefe, who retired from military service as the Senior Enlisted Advisor (now called the Command Chief Master Sergeant) at Luke Air Force Base in 1998, is particularly proud of being on the team that put the Ground Launched Cruise Missile program into action. “That included working through the testing phase of deployment and security, opening the formal Cruise Missile School at Davis-Monthan, and the initial operation of the 38th Tactical Missile Wing in Germany,” he says. “It was five years of hard work with great people.” O’Keefe is quick to point out, however, that his job at Luke AFB was the greatest position and hardest job he had, saying, “Working directly for the General was awesome.”
The most challenging aspects of his service? “Being away,” he says without hesitation. “It just doesn’t get easier. From a job standpoint, supervising airmen, finding the balance between the operational tempo and taking care of the airmen is tough.”
O’Keefe feels that no one can go wrong by entering the military. “In that first enlistment, you mature so much and grow in life skills,” he says. “You learn the importance of teamwork and responsibility. You really grow up.”
It is clear that the Air Force knew they had a leader in their ranks, honoring O’Keefe with both the AF Achievement and AF Commendation awards. Impressively, he is also an EIGHT-TIME recipient of the Meritorious Service Medal.
After his retirement from the Air Force, O’Keefe worked in the corporate world, and taught and coached at Desert Vista High School for 11 years before completely retiring in May 2017. He earned multiple awards in his civilian life as well, including the Tempe Diablos Excellence in Education for Going Above and Beyond and Junior Achievement Teacher of the Year.
O’Keefe and his wife Pat live in Mesa. They have two children, Paul and Kacie, and three granddaughters.
Desert Storm Grand Marshal
Major General, U.S. Army
“You’d be surprised what an impact you can make, helping one veteran at a time.” Retired Major General John Scott assists disabled warriors in adaptive sports programs, and is active with Crosiers youth and veteran outreach missions. “Sometimes they just need a hand around their shoulder, and being told they’re loved.”
Scott gave nearly four decades to the United States Army and Reserve. It started with ROTC at Florida State University, where he earned a Bachelor’s in History, and a commission in 1968. He served in Vietnam, the Cold War, Desert Storm, and wrapped up his final tour at the Pentagon in 2003 after being recalled to active duty for two years, just days after the 9/11 attacks. His decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal, Bronze Star, Legion of Merit, Air Medal, Combat Infantryman’s Badge, Parachute Badges, and Ranger Tab.
After retirement, Scott used his G.I. Bill to earn a Master’s Degree from FSU, and completed his studies for the Diaconate in the Roman Catholic Church. His first encounter with a Catholic Chaplain wasn’t what you’d expect. “He dropped into the foxhole, and asked how we were doing. I asked how the [heck] do you think I’m doing? I’m in a foxhole in Vietnam!”
Scott noted, though, chaplains were always there to lend a caring ear, or a hand, as well as to help each other out. “Military Chaplains – of all faiths – are precious to me.” He himself is now Chaplain for the Arizona Veterans Hall of Fame.
Scott’s love for God and Country increased though world travel. “There are cemeteries with Americans everywhere, and the flag is flown near those graves because U.S service members responded when others were in need.”
While stationed in Hungary, a man expressed gratitude when he saw Scott’s American flag flying, telling him, “We love America. During our revolution in 1956, Americans tried to support it.” Scott added, “To me, the flag symbolizes what’s best about our country. I am always proud to be an American.”
In Germany, his appreciation for self-giving grew even more. “Every man from 18 years gives two years’ service to their country, whether it’s in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Red Cross, or by working in a hospital. The whole idea is service. I think the word ‘citizen’ means more when you serve.”
Scott’s father was an Army infantry soldier during WWII, and his son Robert was an Army paratrooper. His daughter Katie is in social work, getting needs met for our seniors – challenging, but necessary work. “She’s as much a soldier as I am.”
Jon Altmann nominated his good friend: “He is a dedicated Deacon, and you would never guess he served as a general officer. He’s a patriot with deep faith and great humility, who continues to give back to others.” Scott believes, “Jesus told us to be servant leaders. I’m going to try to do that to my last breath.”
In addition to their three children – Katie, Robert and Sang – Scott and his wife of 49 years, Mary Alice, have seven grandchildren.
Operation Enduring Freedom Grand Marshal
Specialist, U.S. Army Reserve National Guard
Born and raised in Arizona, Raul Sanchez joined the Arizona National Guard at 17. He found himself, like many young people, needing a sense of discipline and direction.
His mother had raised him to believe in himself and knew that he could create his own story. Based on the trust that she had in her son, she gave him her blessing and Sanchez began a 10-year journey. He was attracted to the military because of the opportunities, and the National Guard was no exception.
Sanchez has deployed many times in his decade of service, including Kosovo, Afghanistan (twice). While deployed in Afghanistan, Sanchez worked as a Financial Management Technician and was also in charge of Outserve: Afghan, serving more than 400 active military members.
“I organized groups and brought together soldiers that have had no support in their life during the military,” says Sanchez. “It was in Afghan that I found who I was as a man and a human being. I spent every waking moment creating culture and positive leadership, which is a pivotal and important moment in my life.”
As our Grand Marshal representing OEF veterans, Sanchez remembers Afghanistan as the origin of his own leadership development. It was during his service in OEF that he learned to trust himself, as his mother had, and found the strength inside of him to inspire others to have courage.
Sanchez later changed his specialty to Media Engagement Specialist and deployed to Guantanamo Bay (GTMO), Cuba, where he worked with every media outlet assigned to GTMO. During his tour, Sanchez was chosen for a secret mission as a Combat Cameraman on the island and received a Letter of Commendation from the Naval Commander of Guantanamo Bay.
As a leader, Sanchez brought his positive culture to others serving with him. In civilian life, he continues to follow the same convictions he developed in service. In life, Sanchez takes every opportunity to make an impact on others, encouraging them to be strong and stand by their own convictions.
He currently lives in Phoenix and works diligently in the LBGT community to spread his belief in the power of one’s own self-worth. He also assists with St. Jude’s in his off-time. Sanchez, who has a culinary degree, is pursuing his Bachelors in Business while working as a general manager for a well-known restaurant in the Valley.
In all endeavors, Sanchez believes, “Dream of what you want to do and then do it!”
Operation Iraqi Freedom Grand Marshal
Chief Warrant Officer 5, U.S. Army
Rick Arnold has had a long military career as a helicopter pilot. When he joined the military, he was looking for educational opportunities. He knew the military would offer great training and would be an excellent job recommendation on his resume. Arnold originally joined the Air Force and trained as a Nuclear Weapons Specialist. He flew Blackhawk helicopters for most of his military career, and then cross-trained on the Chinook.
Arnold was deployed several times in Somalia, and then most recently served three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. While serving in Iraq, Arnold was engaged in Operation Wolf Pursuits, an important mission that took him and his pilots into high-risk areas to destroy enemy supplies. It was a very high operational tempo. During that mission, Arnold learned that in the military, the teamwork, professionalism and dedication of those you serve with are also a source of motivation.
In Afghanistan, Arnold served as standardization instruction pilot for Task Force Knighthawk, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade (CAB), developing 94 aviators and 68 non-rated crew members in four flight companies – totaling more than 20,000 combat hours during his 2010-2011 deployment.
In 2011, he earned the Order of Daedalians U.S. Army Exceptional Pilot award for flying a rescue mission for emergency personnel extraction, which Arnold considers the biggest honor of his life. He took fire en route to the destination, but managed to land near the exhausted crew of a downed helicopter. “I noticed they were dragging one of their comrades, a hero who had been killed,” Arnold recalls. When an American flag was requested to cover the fallen hero, Arnold volunteered one he carried. “I remembered I had a flag underneath my body armor that had been with me during my previous Iraq deployment,” he said. “I had originally flown the flag for myself, but realized that the flag had a different destiny.”
“Arnold’s impact on Army aviation goes far beyond this award,” 10th CAB Commander Col. David J. Francis said at the time. “He has trained generations of Army aviators for combat operations. The impact of his training will be felt in the Army for years to come.”
According to Arnold, it was easy to stay inspired while deployed, because he knew the importance of the mission. While it was difficult to be away from family, Arnold understood the opportunity he had as a service member to help the people in the countries in which he served. The impact he was able to have on the lives of so many gave him the power to focus on the mission. According to Arnold, the military has given him the opportunity to help others have a better life.
As our Grand Marshal representing OIF veterans, Arnold – a resident of El Mirage – is both proud and grateful for his time serving, and has great appreciation for the support of the American people. He also has important words to those serving now: “Regardless of branch, you are part of the most elite team in the world. You are untouchable, you cannot be replaced. Embrace this opportunity and use it to make your life and the lives of others better.”
Veteran Community Grand Marshal
Captain, U.S. Navy
A native of Honolulu, Hawaii, Captain Culbertson – attracted by the challenge of serving in the military, something none of her female relatives had ever done – was recruited by the U.S. Navy in 1963 into a communications unit while a student at the University of Hawaii. By graduation time, she was promoted to Petty Officer Third Class. On Graduation Day in 1967, she was commissioned Ensign along with graduating Army and Air Force ROTC cadets. She graduated Officer Candidate School in 1967 and reported for duty to Patrol Squadron Thirty-One at Naval Air Station North Island, San Diego, California, where she served as Classified Materials Control Officer, Assistant Administrative Officer, and Public Affairs Officer. After honorable discharge, she traveled to work at Fleet Activities, Yokosuka, Japan for seven years. While in Japan, she re-affiliated with the Navy Reserve. Returning stateside to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, in 1975, her last civilian assignment was Director, Morale, Welfare, and Recreation for Commander U.S. Naval Forces, Japan; her Navy Reserve rank was Lieutenant.
Her civilian career took her to the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, Directorate of Education; U.S. Dept of Agriculture; U.S Forest Service in California and Arizona for 11 years; and her last assignment was Personnel Chief, Coconino National Forest, Flagstaff.
In 1988 Culbertson transferred to the Internal Revenue Service in Phoenix, and later to IRS Denver. She had 16 years of service in Human Capital Management and Equal Employment Opportunity, retiring in 2004 with 33 years total of Federal civil service. During this time, she served in the Navy Reserve in a number of intelligence commands; served as an Intelligence Unit Executive Officer and Commanding Officer; worked at the Naval Intelligence Command, the Pentagon, and the Defense Intelligence Agency; served as Battle Watch Officer or Senior Controller on four warfighting exercises in Pearl Harbor, Japan, and Korea, and retired as Captain (O-6), U.S. Navy, in 2003.
Captain Culbertson’s patriotism and service to country was kindled in the last four years of high school by serving in the Girl Scouts as a Senior Scout, and as a Brownie leader while a college student. She has been a volunteer community leader during all of her adult life. Now in her 13th year of retirement from the Navy and the Federal civil service, her volunteer work continues to the present time.
She was inducted into the Arizona Veterans Hall of Fame Society as a member of the Class of 2007, for outstanding community service after honorable discharge, and remains an active member of a number of military and veterans organizations in Arizona.
Culbertson and her husband Claude live in Phoenix, and are blessed with four children, two grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
Alan Powell “AP”
Herozona Grand Marshal
Chairman/CEO, AP & Associates
Alan Powell is an entrepreneur, consultant and philanthropist. He graduated from Suda E. Butler Traditional High School in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1986, attended College of Coastal Georgia for Physical Education, and transferred to Missouri Valley College on a basketball scholarship in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in sports administration. He enlisted for three years in the U.S. Army and served in the Gulf War under Operation Desert Storm.
After the Army, Powell started a career in the sports and entertainment industry as the Director of Player Personnel for Worldwide Sports and Entertainment in Newark, New Jersey, was President of International Sports Entertainment Management in Louisville, Kentucky, and served as Vice President of Marketing at Management One in Cincinnati, Ohio. In 2000, Powell became Vice President of Development at The Firm, Inc., an entertainment management company in Beverly Hills, California.
While at The Firm, Powell started a career in the independent film and music industry as the co-executive producer for the movie soundtracks of “Bullethead” and “Jacked Up,” was the associate producer of “Jacked Up The Movie,” and created major music collaborations, including Reginald Arvizu (Fieldy) of Korn featuring E-40 and Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit featuring 8 Ball.
Powell inked a $7-million-dollar deal for Dallas hip-hop group Dirty South Rydaz to record for Universal Music Group, and then in 2005 became Co-CEO of T-Town Music/Universal Republic and served as executive producer of rap artist Big Tuck’s album “Tha Absolute Truth” and Tum Tum – “Eat Or Get Ate.”
Powell is chairman and CEO of AP & Associates, LLC, which he founded in 2004 in Louisville, Kentucky, and relocated to Phoenix, Arizona, in 2008. Powell’s consulting firm specializes in strategic alliances and channel development for a number of Fortune 500 companies. He also served on University of Phoenix College of Security and Criminal Justice Advisory Board in Phoenix, Arizona.
In 2011, Powell founded the Checkered Flag Run, a multi-cultural motorcycle rally, in conjunction with Phoenix International Raceway in Phoenix, Arizona, to advance the quality of life and education for those living in under-served communities. Programs created by the Checkered Flag Run Foundation include My Brother’s Keeper Community Challenge in Phoenix, Phoenix Tools 4 Schools, The Bridge Forum, Veteran’s Reach to Teach and Voting for Veterans.
Powell has been recognized for his community leadership and in giving back to the Phoenix community with the 2016 Corporate Choice Award from Black Chamber of Arizona, and in 2017 earned the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Living the Dream Award, Whitney M. Young Jr. Award from Greater Phoenix Urban League, and Edward M. Kennedy Community Service Award from American Association for Access, Equity and Diversity.
Powell serves as an advisory board member for the City of Phoenix Aviation Advisory Board, Phoenix Military Veterans Commission, District 8 African-American Advisory Council, 7th District Congressman Ruben Gallego’s Veteran Advisory Council, Phoenix Theatre, and is an Executive Board Member of American Legion Travis L. Williams Post 65.
Business Community Grand Marshal
Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps
Senior Leader at APS
Lieutenant Colonel Craig Opel (USMC ret.), served 24 years in the United States Marine Corps, from 1976 to 2000. He entered the Naval Academy in 1972 as a midshipman and was commissioned a 2/LT USMC in June 1976.
During his career he served in all three Marine Expeditionary Forces, Headquarters Marine Corps, Marine Barracks 8th & I, Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, the Naval Post Graduate School, Marine Corps Base Camp Butler Japan, Marine Corps Command & Staff College, and Marine Corps Systems Command.
Key assignments included Parade Commander at Marine Barracks 8th & I, being selected as the first “Data Processor” to command a Marine Communications Battalion, and serving as the Director of the Marine Corps Network Operations & Security Center.
Opel considers his greatest accomplishment being selected and serving as the Commander of 8th Communications Battalion, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. When asked about his biggest challenge, Opel jokingly says there were none: “In the Marine Corps, every day is a holiday, and every meal a feast.”
Since retirement, Opel has worked in a number of commercial capacities, including startups in Boston, Massachusetts, and Amsterdam, Netherlands. He also served as the Director of Communications for Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and Secretary of Defense Gates.
Prior to joining APS in early 2015, Opel served as the Deputy CIO for NATO in Afghanistan and as the CIO for the USO.
He jokes that serving in the military is the “family business” – his father was a Navy Commander in World War II, his grandfather was a soldier in World War I, two uncles were in the Navy, and his two sons are both active-duty Marine officers.
Opel lives in Phoenix with his wife of 41 years, Peggy. In addition to their two USMC sons, Kyle and Ben, they have a daughter, Stacey.
Arizona Pageant Queen Grand Marshal
Miss High School America 2017
Katie Schaaf of Glendale, Arizona, is the daughter of Lt Col Brian Schaaf, USAF (ret.) and Lisa Schaaf (also a USAF veteran). She was crowned Miss High School America 2017 this summer in Little Rock, Arkansas. Over 150 young ladies from around the United States competed for the titles Miss High School America, Miss Jr. High America and Miss Collegiate America.
The Miss High School America Scholarship Pageant Organization was started in 2009 to provide personal and professional opportunities for young women. Schaaf will also be traveling throughout the year making appearances and promoting the national platform B.R.A.V.E. – Building Respect And Values for Everyone. In addition, she will be doing fundraisers throughout the year and, with the help of the Sandals Foundation, will be shipping school supplies to the Boscobel Primary School in Jamaica.
As Miss High School America, Katie was awarded a $10,000 college scholarship through the Livingston Foundation, a full-tuition scholarship to Western State Colorado University, a modeling contract with MMG and more. Part of her prize package also includes an all-expenses paid trip to Jamaica to volunteer at the Boscobel School.
Active in the local community, Katie is a regular volunteer at St. Vincent de Paul’s Phoenix Dining Room. She has also volunteered at the Arizona Veteran’s State Home, escorting veterans so they could watch the Phoenix Veteran’s Day Parade, and is honored to have it come full circle as one of the 2017 Grand Marshals.