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VFW

Freshman Cadet Emily Trast won the local Voice of Democracy contest. Submitted photo

Jan. 16, Charles Kemp and Mike Kemery of the Maricopa Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post presented the VFW Voice of Democracy (VOD) Essay Award and $100 prize to Emily Trast, a first-year Air Force JROTC cadet at Maricopa High School in front of her parents, Kati and Peter Trast, counselor, Rebecca Collins, and fellow cadets.

Kemery said, “personally, I enjoy seeing young people succeed, whether it be Cadet of the Year, VOD Winner, or being nominated to a service academy. They are the future.”

The Maricopa VFW Post has been presenting the award since 2005, and the program has evolved over time. MHS AFJROTC cadets have been participated since 2013.

The 2017-18 theme is “American History: Our Hope for the Future.” Essays are submitted to the local VFW Post. Once a winner has been selected, it automatically is submitted to the VFW District. If the essay is chosen at that level then it is submitted to the state level, and then that state winner is submitted to the National Level. A first-place winner is awarded a $30,000 scholarship, second place receives a $16,000 scholarship, and third place receives one of $10,000.

Emily is a freshman originally from Barstow, California. She loves to write and is considering a career in both creative writing and as a playwright. She would love to explore a career in theater. She also loves drawing, writing, painting and singing. Emily is also considering studying political science with a possible goal of working for the State Department and becoming an ambassador.

Her other hobbies include hiking, acting (television and stage) and musicals. Her high school goal is to maintain a 3.75 GPA. Upon her high school graduation, she would like to join the U.S. Navy or attend a Performing Arts School.

VFW Service Officer Richard Hall and Past Post Commander Denis Sommerfield show off their new sign for community service. Photo by Michelle Chance

Three signs near the entrance of the local Veterans Center recognize the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 12043 and its efforts to serve the community.

In July, the post accepted a plaque for its third “National Outstanding Community Service Post” award since 2013 at the VFW National Convention in Louisiana.

“There is not another post in the state that has three (of these awards),” said past Post Commander Mike Kemery, who led the post during its second go-round winning the award the previous year.

The award measures the post’s community service during the year. Past Post Commander Denis Sommerfield accepted a sign for the award in October during a district meeting in Casa Grande.

The post achieved the accolades thanks to “help from the comrades in the post doing their community service like our service officer helping our vets, participating with the City of Maricopa, JROTC at Maricopa High, Boy Scouts” and other volunteer work with student and youth groups, Sommerfield said.

The Maricopa VFW post is small relative to others, Kemery said, with a membership of just over 150 veterans. About 20 percent of its membership attends meetings.

“We’ve been doing very good because we don’t have a bar and we don’t have anything to distract us to where we are primarily a service post and it’s starting to show,” Kemery said.

Although a lot of the work is done behind the scenes, post leaders said the real reward is the feedback from the community members and veterans they help.

“Until you do it the first time, and see those looks, and see that reaction, it changes you real quick,” Kemery said.


This story appears in the November issue of InMaricopa.

Veterans of Foreign Wars members visit with eighth graders at DWMS. Submitted photo

Four gentlemen from the Maricopa chapter of the VFW Post 12043 visited Desert Wind Middle School in Shannon Hull’s and Jennifer Szoltysik’s classrooms on May 10.

Army veteran Mike Kemery, Navy veteran Clarence ‘Golde’ Golden, Navy vet Charlie Kemp and Army vet Richard Hall spent two hours with the students telling about their time serving during the Vietnam War, their personal stories, a bit of history and how they are doing today.

The students asked a lot of questions, mostly concerning their personal lives and how they were treated in Vietnam as well as when they got home. 

“My students care the most about the treatment of these brave men upon their arrival back in the states, Blended Learning instructor Shannon Hull said. “My kids can’t comprehend how they could be treated any way other than with love and respect…this solidifies for my students how important it is to honor our armed forces, the flag and the country as a whole.”

When asked any final thoughts, Golden reiterated to the students, “You wouldn’t have the freedoms today without the men and women who fought it.” And Hall ended with this thought: “Cherish what you have right here in this classroom; it is a privilege that you all (students) get this type of education. Many children around the world have nothing.”

The eighth-grade students have had other visitors sharing their experiences with war. Air Force vet Steve Hull talked about his time serving during the Cold War, guarding the Titan Missile and the SR-71. 

Response from DWMS students Erin and Brian P.: “It is important that we learned about the history, and listening to them talking about it is a good way to learn about it. Not just reading from books, but getting behind the scenes and knowing what actually happened is important for us. They kind of gave us their perspective of war, not someone telling us when they weren’t really there. They told us what they saw and heard because they went through it and know it…it’s not like the stuff we find on the Internet.”

This is the third year members of the Maricopa VFW have visited Hull’s classroom, and the students are invested in these men, asking about them throughout the school year wondering when they will come back for another talk. 

“I am grateful that these guys take time out of their day to visit with my students, and I am most grateful that my students care so much about them and their stories,” Hull said. “The respect and love that my students show to these men makes me a very proud teacher.” 

Submitted photo

Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 12043 hosted a Memorial Day ceremony at the Maricopa Veterans Center on Monday. Speakers included Sheriff Paul Babeu and Lt. Col. Allen Kirksey, the new leader of the Air Force Jr. ROTC program at Maricopa High School.

It was the last post event to be conducted by Mike Kemery, who is stepping down as commander. Denis Sommerfield was elected to lead the post. Also at the program, retired Col. Charles Millar brought in military vehicles, and the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office brought in a Vietnam War-era helicopter.

The Leading Edge Chorus performed patriotic songs, and the Maricopa High School Air Force JrROTC Color Guard raised the American and POW/MIA flags.

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Maricopa VFW Commander Mike Kemery

By Mike Kemery

Who and what is a veteran? Simply said, a veteran is a person that has experience. At least that is what the dictionary says. So a veteran could be a teacher, a law enforcement officer, a firefighter, a store manager or just about anyone who has been on the job long enough to be experienced.

The week of Nov. 8-14 is Veteran Awareness Week and it deals with the military veteran. The highlight will be on Nov. 11 – Veterans Day. All through the week many tributes will be conducted by our schools, businesses and veterans groups, and they will be in the form of flag-raisings, free breakfasts or dinners, patriotic speeches and parades.

It is a special time for those who served. It is an honor. But where are all the military veterans in Maricopa? In actuality, they are everywhere in the community but, for the most part, nowhere in the community.

Pinal County has over 38,000 veterans. Of those, Maricopa has over 4,500. There are only three Congressionally Chartered Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs) within our city, and they are the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), the American Legion (Am Legion) and the Blue Star Mothers of America. Combined they can only account for a few hundred of these veterans.

There are new groups forming in Maricopa such as VETIT. There are other groups in the area but not located in Maricopa such as the Marine Corps League, Disabled American Veterans and the Vietnam Veterans of America, to name a few. But again, and even with all the groups numbers, still only a few hundred can be accounted for. The new citywide census expects the veterans’ numbers to grow.

But who and where are these missing thousands?

It would be great to see large crowds of veterans at all the events this year. It would also be great to have these veterans as members to give strength in number to combat many of the problems that plague the veteran community.

It would strengthen the local veteran-supported programs such as the Voice of Democracy and Patriot Pen Essay contests in the Middle Schools and High School, the Boy’s and Girl’s State programs, the Public Servant Recognition programs for Law Enforcement, Firefighters, and Emergency Medical Technicians, and the Teacher of the Year.

The citizens of Maricopa, City Hall headed by Mayor Christian Price, and the Police Department led by Chief Steve Stahl have always supported the veterans and would like to do more. This is great, but veterans need to take care of our veteran community as well. I challenge all veterans, and all citizens, to be at the flag-raising on Nov. 11 at 8 a.m. at the Maricopa Veterans Center. It would be great to have a parking problem and, as Chief Stahl would say, “that would be a good thing.”

Mike Kemery is commander of VFW Post 12043.