Parade lets veteran groups shine together

[Victor Moreno]

The COVID-19 pandemic that has plagued the nation since early 2020 has changed the way we do a lot of things. Put the staging of the Maricopa Veterans Day Parade on that list.

Since the first parade in 2017, the annual event was planned and run by American Legion Auxiliary Unit 133. But in 2020, with the virus shutting down large gatherings everywhere, the city was not inclined to issue a permit for a parade for public health reasons. Nor was the Auxiliary anxious to hold one.

Another group, Maricopa Veterans, still wanted a parade, however, and its members were ready to make it happen. They worked with the city to plan a safe march down Porter Road that gave residents a chance to honor their veterans. The Auxiliary had its own separate, safe event— a car caravan through Province.

This year, the two groups are working together on a bigger, better event to honor veterans and their families, with Gabby Potter of the Auxiliary and Joseph Harvey of Maricopa Veterans co-chairing the event.

This year’s parade is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 6 at 9 a.m., with Major Gen. Kerry L. Muehlenbeck, commander of the Arizona National Guard, serving as grand marshal. It will start at the Central Arizona College main parking lot, head west on Bowlin Road to Porter Road, then turn north on Porter to end at Leading Edge Academy.

A post-parade luncheon at Leading Edge will honor veterans, their families and first responders at 11:30 a.m. to cap the day’s events. According to Harvey, that is the focus of the day.

“The whole event is just to honor veterans,” he said. “This parade is a way to honor different veterans and every aspect of what being a veteran means.” A distinguished veteran from every conflict from World War II to the war in Afghanistan will be recognized.

The parade is resilient. It was one of just two in the state— Casa Grande being the other — to be held live last year. All other live events were canceled, or held virtually or in cars.

Potter said that last year notwithstanding, the parade continues to grow.

“Our first year, in 2017, we had about 800 participants, and last year there were a little over 1,200 participants,” she said. “Every year we see growth. It’s a tradition now for the city.”

With that growth, and with two organizations now involved, there are inevitably differences about how things should run, but both Potter and Harvey said they are working through those.

“With different people involved, like anything else, people have different opinions and different solutions,” Potter said. “We focus on the mission and why we’re doing it.”

In the past, some veterans had not been permitted to promote their businesses in the parade, according to Harvey, an eight-year veteran of the Air Force.

A float in last years Veterans Day Parade [Victor Moreno]
According to Harvey, one disagreement centered on who can participate in the parade. In 2020, Harvey, Scott Dillman, Jason Martin and others from Maricopa Veterans opened the parade to a broader range of participants, including veteran-owned businesses.

“Maricopa is special, and we want this event to show that,” Harvey said. “There are about 7,000 veterans in Pinal County, and we want to be able to reach all of them.”

About 300 veterans participated in last year’s event, and Harvey hopes to increase that number this year by inviting veterans from the Ak-Chin and Gila River Indian communities.

“We are including groups from other parts of the state this year,” he said. “We don’t want to have the same parade very year. We want to grow each year and make it bigger and better.

“This is a great chance for vets to get out and meet other vets, and talk to other vets they can relate to, who have had the same experiences,” he added. “I did tours in Iraq and Afghanistan— it never occurred to me to be scared of COVID for an outdoor parade.”

That same goal led Martin to create the Maricopa Veterans group in 2018 to provide veterans with a place to find and offer support to other veterans. After a local veteran died from suicide in 2019, the group began holding “SIX” meetings to give veterans an opportunity to connect with other veterans who may have a better understanding of what they experienced. The name comes from the military term “watch your six o’clock, or one’s back). More than 450 veterans share their camaraderie in the group, which has the motto “Family, Honor, Community: Semper Simul” (Always Family).

“When we started organizing the participants, we reached out to groups that weren’t involved in the past,” he said. “Groups like Gold Star Mothers and veteran-owned businesses. The veteran-owned business part was contentious in 2019; it was a huge part of why I got involved. We have people who have served their country in the service and now they are serving the community now that they are out of the service, and we felt like they had to be involved.”

Harvey said his group wants to highlight the active role of veterans in the Maricopa community. He said they are much more than just former military— they own and operate businesses and provide other vital functions in the community.

Despite differences in approach, Potter said the two groups share a common vision.

“In the end, we both believe in the same thing,” she said. “We want to honor the veterans who have served our country and show them how much we appreciate all they have given.”

This story was first published in the November edition of InMaricopa magazine.