The Military Veterans Still Serving Our City
Of the United States population, around 19 million Americans are veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces. That’s nearly 7 percent of the population. The Amarillo/Canyon area boasts a similar number of current and former military personnel.
And while the share of Americans with military experience has been declining over the past 50 years, veterans still play a major role in the life of our city. With the approach of Veterans Day on November 11, Brick & Elm is highlighting a few local executives, educators, business owners and other community leaders who served our country—and who continue to draw on the skills and lessons they learned during their military careers.
As always, we are incredibly grateful for their service.
Amarillo City Manager
- U.S. Navy and Navy Reserve, Lieutenant/Intelligence Officer (2004-2015)
- Worked for USN Pacific Command (PACOM), deployed to Iraq
A naval intelligence officer, Jared Miller worked in a variety of counter-terrorism capacities, including more than a year working with the interagency, National Security Council-directed Iraq Threat Finance Cell (ITFC). “I believe that my service in the Navy has affected how I lead and do my job more than anything other than possibly the Bible,” Miller says from his office at City Hall. He adds that the Navy core values (Honor, Courage and Commitment) continue to influence his perspective as Amarillo’s City Manager. “We are taught to have a relentlessly positive mental attitude, to be mentally tough, to lean into challenges, to facilitate leadership and initiative at all levels and ranks. All of those … have contributed significantly to who I am today and how I serve my community and team.”
President and CEO, FirstBank Southwest
- U.S. Air Force, USAF Security Forces (1979-1985)
- Permanent duty stations in Florida, Washington, and England. Deployments to the Greater Caribbean Basin, Central and South America, Middle East, Africa, Europe, and East Asia.
- U.S. Army, Squadron Border Officer (1985-1990)
- Stationed in Amberg, Germany.
While serving in the Air Force, Andy Marshall oversaw air base ground defense and ground combat operations, which led to deployments all over the world. Later, as a Germany-based border officer for the U.S. Army in the waning years of the Cold War, he managed day-to-day operations and intelligence along more than 100 miles of the Iron Curtain. Marshall says learning to lead diverse groups of professionals is a strength that continues to inform his work at the helm of FirstBank Southwest. He also draws regularly from the decision-making process he learned in the military. “While decisions can be hard, the process is simple and repeatable, regardless of the weight of the decision to be made,” Marshall says.
Environment, Safety & Health Professional, Sandia National Laboratories
- U.S. Air Force, Senior Airman/Sergeant (1988-1992)
- Stationed at Brooks Air Force Base (San Antonio, Texas) and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base
In addition to helping him grow and mature after leaving the safety of Amarillo, Greg Welch says his Air Force experience introduced him to his career path in environment, safety and health—work he’s still doing 34 years later. It was also instrumental in his coming out. Welch, who is gay, says the military helped him come to terms with his sexuality when he was encouraged to enter an officer’s program toward the end of his enlistment. This would have required a multi-year commitment during a period marked by the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy regarding same-sex orientation. “In 1990, a military career and being openly gay were not two things that could go together—especially with the political climate that lead to the passing of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Welch says. “So I got out of the Air Force and came out to my family and friends, and I have never regretted either decision. I am extremely thankful that times have changed and LGBTQ service members can now serve our country openly as their true selves.”
Owner, Amarillo Land Services
- U.S. Navy, Aviation Structural Mechanic Safety Equipment Petty Officer, 2nd Class (2002-2007)
- Stationed at Naval Station Rota in Spain, with detachments to Italy, Greece, Bahrain, Qatar and Curacao.
As an aircraft mechanic, Remmington Holt accompanied naval aircraft all over the world with VQ-2, a U.S. Navy air reconnaissance squadron, until the squadron’s home port changed in 2005 to the air station on Whidbey Island, Washington. “The military instilled structure in my life,” Holt says today. Among other things, that structure includes his personal insistence on being on time. (“It drives my wife crazy,” he says, “but if you arrive right on time, you’re late.”) His experiences also taught him the importance of teamwork and integrity in the workplace. “In this current market, I have had to learn a new trait that wasn’t needed with leadership in the military, and that’s empathy,” he says. “The best trait from the military that drives me today is attention to detail.”
Dr. Richard Jordan
Regional Dean of The School of Medicine, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center
- U.S. Air Force, Major (1976-1980)
- Stationed at Wilford Hall Medical Center, San Antonio, Texas.
- Chief, James H. Quillen VA Medical Center (1987-2007), Johnson City, Tennessee
After serving as a physician at the Air Force’s flagship medical facility, Dr. Jordan accepted a position as Chief of the VA Medical Service at the enormous James H. Quillen VA Medical Center in Johnson City, Tennessee, where he served veterans for the next two decades. In 2007, he became the Regional Dean of the School of Medicine at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center at Amarillo and is also a physician staff member of the Thomas E. Creek VA Health Center. “My military experience and my time in the VA helped me to develop resilience and discipline in all aspects of my life,” Dr. Jordan says. He was inspired by his uncle, Corporal William H. Jordan, a B17 tail gunner who died in World War II after parachuting from his plane over the English Channel. “My Uncle Billy’s courage and his sense of duty is representative of so many American soldiers who gave their lives protecting our freedom,” he says.
Commercial Loan Officer, Amarillo National Bank
- U.S. Air Force, Information Specialist (1989-1993)
- Stationed in Ramstein, Germany, and Tampa, Florida.
In more than two decades with Amarillo National Bank, Amy Henderson has supported local businesses as a loan officer. In her Air Force career, she supported American forces during Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm. She was part of the 86th Communications Squadron at Ramstein Air Force Base and also spent time at Riyadh Air Force Base in Saudi Arabia. “As an Information Specialist, I worked directly with directors and leaders. I was mentored on how to be a leader,” she says. Through the example of others, she learned how to persevere during setbacks, how to retain focus on long-term goals and how to be flexible in new environments. “I learned that service to others helps the whole organization towards the mission,” she says. “I valued my time in the military and learned life lessons and skills that help shape me into the person I am today.”
Nutritionist, Health Coach and Yoga Teacher, Enlightened Health Center
- U.S. Army, E-4 Specialist Parachute Rigger (2001-2003)
- Stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
As a trauma-informed yoga and meditation instructor, Jennifer Landram has used those practices to manage high-functioning anxiety and depression for the past decade. “My experience has helped me to have a deeper understanding as to why so many veterans are homeless or have alcohol or substance use disorders,” she says. The military also instilled in her a discipline of daily exercise, which led her down the path of becoming a fitness instructor and getting a master’s degree in clinical nutrition. Landram is the founder of the annual Amarillo Yoga Festival, a yearly fundraiser for Amarillo Housing First (AHF). “Through the miracle of my own healing journey, I have made a career out of practicing what has helped me find health and happiness,” she says.
Project Controls Supervisor, Pantex Plant
- U.S. Navy, Chief Petty Officer (1999-2019)
- Stationed in Virginia, Oklahoma, Washington, San Diego and El Paso, with deployments in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“I served in a myriad of locations and positions throughout my 20 years in the Navy,” says Jason Tillery, from clerking on the USS Elrod in Norfolk, Virginia, to serving as the Personnel Officer and Ship’s Secretary on the USS Harpers Ferry, homeported in San Diego. He retired in 2019 as the senior Navy Liaison Officer at the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) at Fort Bliss in El Paso. “One of the greatest things I learned in the Navy was how to work with and lead people from a diverse background,” Tillery says. “I served with men and women from every state in the Union, foreign nationals from dozens of countries who emigrated to the United States and now serve their adopted home with zeal, determination, and love for their new country. I served with women in a predominantly male-driven industry that were every bit as qualified as their male counterparts—and, in many cases, some of the very best and hard-working sailors that I served with.”
Amarillo City Councilmember, Place 4
Owner, Howard Smith Co., Realtors
- U.S. Navy, Ensign (1966-1969)
- Stationed aboard the USS Guadalcanal, based in Norfolk, Virginia. Deployed throughout the Caribbean.
After earning an undergraduate degree and MBA from Baylor, Howard Smith enrolled in Officer Candidate School for the Navy, achieving the first officer rank (Ensign). He then held critical positions on the USS Guadalcanal, including oversight of multiple supply divisions. Smith was onboard in 1966 when the Guadalcanal recovered the Apollo 9 astronauts and capsule after its ocean splashdown near the Bahamas. He says his years in the Navy were extremely valuable as the first real-world experience he received after his college education. “The most important in the list of things that I learned was how to work with people,” he says. He learned to listen, delegate, prioritize and respect the chain of command—skills which have been critical during his current service to the city, as well as past stints on the Wayland Baptist University Board of Trustees and the Amarillo ISD School Board.
President, The Old Tascosa Brewing Company
Owner, Amarillo Brewing Supply
- U.S. Air Force, Captain (2001-2006)
- Stationed in San Diego and Colorado Springs. Deployments to Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
A graduate of the Air Force Academy, Matt Welch served as a weather officer during his career, supporting B-1 bombers and helicopters in a variety of settings. “My military experience taught me how critical it is to act with integrity. Not because of honor or morality—although these things are definitely important—but because it’s the only way to succeed,” Welch says. “Without a culture that values integrity, we cannot rely on one another to share a true common goal, be it military, civilian or corporate in nature.” It also helped him learn how to plan and problem-solve under intense pressure, whether making weather forecasts during a rescue mission in Iraq or brewing beer in Amarillo. “You have to take your time, work through your progressions, make an informed decision, then follow through without hesitation or doubt,” he says.
Associate Band Director, Canyon High School
- U.S. Army and Army Reserve, Major (1982-2005)
- Deployed in Operation Desert Shield/Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom, as well as to Central and South America.
After receiving his commission from Texas Tech ROTC, Luis Hernandez spent 22 years in the Army Reserve as a member of the 413th Civil Affairs Battalion stationed in Lubbock. Hernandez says his experiences serving all over the world continue to influence his job as a high school band director, whether he’s showing a student how to play a particular musical passage on clarinet or saxophone, or showing them positive examples of leadership. “When mentoring our student Leadership Team, we emphasize the value of being part of something bigger than oneself and the concept of delayed gratification through hard work,” he says. Hernandez’s students are all aware he’s a United States veteran. “They know that I’m very proud of my service,” he says.
Head of School, Ascension Academy
- U.S. Army, Sergeant (2000-2004)
- Deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, stationed in
Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
An infantryman in one of the Army’s most recognized divisions, the 101st Airborne Division, Tim Oditt saw combat in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, he’s the Head of School at Ascension Academy, a private college-prep academy, and says lessons learned in the Army impact his leadership every day. “Perhaps the most important lesson is to always take care of your people. That applies to my staff and students now,” he says. “Attention to detail in planning was also drummed into my head and I use that daily and when planning strategically for the school.” Oditt’s time in war zones also has given him valuable perspective. “What may look like a bad day [today] really isn’t,” especially compared to life-or-death situations on the battlefield. “I try to keep that perspective and remain optimistic no matter what the circumstances.”
Lieutenant, West Texas A&M University Police Department
- U.S. Air Force, Law Enforcement Specialist (1991-1993)
- Stationed in Bitburg, Germany.
As a law enforcement specialist (A1C) during Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm, Barbara Ferrara patrolled the Bitburg Air Base, home to the Air Force’s 36th Fighter Wing and a deployment base for F-15s. In that capacity, she responded to service calls and performed basic investigations. Ferrara says those experiences propelled her directly toward her work today at WT, where she has served for more than 12 years. “The structure and discipline within the military absolutely helped prepare me for law enforcement service, which is structured very similarly,” she says. “I never really learned how to study properly when I was in high school, [but that] is something I absolutely learned in the military. That has followed me throughout my career and has helped me excel in law enforcement.”
The Oldest Northside Veteran
On Saturday, Nov. 12, at the United Citizen’s Forum at 901 N. Hayden St., Amarillo residents will gather for the Veterans Honor Banquet. Organized by Hobert “Gunny” Brown—a Dalhart native who served more than two decades in the Marine Corps—the event celebrates veterans from the North Heights neighborhood, including the late Charles E. Warford, the late Rev. Nathaniel Cantly, and Edward Owens.
Owens, 96, is believed to be the oldest surviving Black veteran in Amarillo.
“It’s important to me that we give back to these veterans,” says Brown, who was wounded during Operation Desert Storm in the early 1990s. “As younger veterans, we realize we wouldn’t be at this point in our careers if not for the sacrifices they made.”
Edward Owens was drafted into active service in early 1945, during what would be the final year of World War II. He left his family in East Texas for Japan, where he served the U.S. Army as a truck driver, hauling supplies back and forth from the port in Tokyo to Yokohama. He later served in the kitchen staff on an Army base, managing a cook team of Japanese nationals.
“Uncle Sam took good care of me,” says Owens of his year in the military. “It was one of the best things that ever happened. I didn’t have to worry about what I had to eat or where I would stay. It made a man out of me.”
After an honorable discharge, Owens returned to Texas and went on to marry and raise a family in Amarillo. He spent decades working for Gunn Brothers Stamps and, later, began serving as a deacon at Greater Mount Olive Baptist Church. Church members know him today as Deacon Owens, and he still drives himself to church every Sunday. Twice a widower, he credits his longevity and health to “living that clean life” and obedience to God.
“I’ve done what the Man Upstairs told me to do and I’m still doing it. When you follow in His footsteps your life will be sweet,” he says.
Brown says Owens is a well-respected mentor in the community. “You wouldn’t believe he’s 96,” he says. “He’s still active in church and sits down with young people and talks to them. A lot of these older vets don’t want to talk about their military experience, but he has opened my eyes to what he went through versus what I went through.”
While Owens was hesitant to reveal too many details about World War II, Brown understands his friend’s service positions were limited because of race. “For me, I could choose any job I wanted, but Mr. Owens couldn’t even eat with fellow white soldiers,” Brown says.
Veterans like Owen are often silent heroes, says Melodie Graves, board president of the Amarillo United Citizens Forum. “They aren’t always recognized for their accomplishments. We want to honor and celebrate them,” she says. “They’ve served our country and they serve our community.”
The Veterans Honor Banquet will be catered by Delvin’s with KGNC’s David Lovejoy, another local veteran, as the speaker. The evening banquet is open to the community at $35 a person.
Last month, members of the Molly Goodnight Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) delivered several hundred “dignity bibs” to the 80 or so residents of the Ussery-Roan Texas State Veterans Home. This skilled nursing facility is available for veterans and their spouses, along with Gold Star parents who need long-term care.
A dignity bib is a used, collared dress shirt with the back and arms removed. The bib is then fastened around the neck. “You’ve got these veterans, like any man or woman in a nursing home, who sometimes have to wear a bib to eat,” says Shari Morris, chapter regent of the volunteer women’s service organization. “That would be kind of demeaning to me. But when you put these on, it looks just like the front of a shirt. It adds dignity.”
With more than 80 residents eating three meals a day, the DAR group assumed the facility would need at least 240 bibs and delivered well above that number.
“I’m overwhelmed,” says Lee Persefield, on-site representative of the Veterans Land Board at Ussery-Roan. “What a wonderful opportunity for our guys to be spoiled just a little bit more.”
The bibs were just one of several service projects the chapter takes on throughout the year. Morris says the DAR group will likely continue making dignity bibs for veterans and is accepting donations of clean, button-up shirts for men and women. The chapter is also participating this holiday season in the Wreaths Across America program, gathering sponsorships ($15 per wreath) to place Christmas wreaths on the headstones of the 6,000-plus veterans laid to rest in Llano Cemetery. Sponsor a wreath at wreathsacrossamerica.org/TX1033.