Logos for the Branches of the US Military to highlight the branches the veterans featured in this blog post served in.
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Honoring All Who Served

, | November 13, 2023

They walk among us, those who have served and returned. They are forever changed by their experiences, and we are forever grateful for their commitments. We all recognize the sacrifices of those who serve, but often overlooked are the families who stay behind. Thank you to all who have served, and to your family members who hold down the fort while you’re away – your sacrifices are recognized and never forgotten.

Thank You to Our Active and Retired Military Service Members and Families.

This week, we’re offering military members aย $30 gift card for every $100 gift card purchasedย as our way of saying thanks.

Service members stand guard and welcome the guests of honor at the Home Front Heroes Gala, an event celebrating our military spouses and awarding scholarships.

Marie Kistner | Marine Wife, Mom of 2

Marie’s husband has been in the service for over a decade and will be in for at least another 10 years. He is currently deployed in Iraq, and tensions have risen since the conflict between Israel and Palestine has inflamed. US bases throughout the region are seeing more action, and this deployment has become the most stressful the family has experienced.

The family has moved around from base to base, some more enjoyable (Hawaii station for example) than others. For the past three years, the family has been home in Prior Lake while serving in the reserves. Several months ago, they got the call to once again return to active duty. It felt like the right thing to do, to head back overseas and provide support to our military brothers and sisters. This meant leaving Marie behind with their 7-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son.

Staying Connected

Staying connected is much easier now than it was for past generations. The family can connect on Facetime, usually daily. The kids send care packages to Dad – even providing him a little garden oasis in the desert with flowers from the dollar store to add to his rock garden on base. Marie states, “My kids are amazing! They are strong, and resilient, and have adapted well to Dad being gone.” They do miss having him home, but the daily connection via Facetime really helps.

Now 7, their daughter is more aware of what it means to serve, and that Dad may be in danger. Military service is discussed at school. Marie has taken the time to sit down with her and talk about what service means for her Dad, and they’ve shown her that his job is on base, not on the front lines. At 3, their son is still young enough to not have that awareness. Marie noted that she tries hard not to project her worries and emotions, so the kids have a sense of security.

Managing at Home

On a personal level, Marie has found her inner calm with trips to the gym. When she is feeling overwhelmed or worried, she takes a moment to pause. “Zooming out my perspective on the bigger picture, remembering my kids are a blessing and how much love I get from them,” Marie mentioned, helps her reset and remain strong.

While she is managing the household on her own during the deployment, Marie was quick to note how grateful she is to have a spouse and the emotional and financial support he is able to provide even while away. She was quick to think of the single parents out there who have to do everything for their families on a permanent basis. Spouses of active duty service members do enjoy the support of fellow military spouses. Usually housed on or near base, they form their own community and support each other with babysitting, social gatherings and a mutual understanding. Now a spouse of a reservist and living away from that support network, Marie notes that is definitely a missing component. These days, she finds support from nearby family, and her church community. One particular church friend has really taken the reigns and provides tangible support by planning girls’ nights out with her older daughter babysitting. Marie notes that the best way you can support a military spouse during deployment is to offer tangible and specific help. Rather than asking, “What can I do?”, offer specific assistance like babysitting, help cleaning, clearing the snow or even a gift card for a meal out – so they can take a break from cooking.

Giving Back

When asked about education and work as a military spouse, Marie noted there are many misconceptions. Many believe that military spouses get free tuition. While spouses of specific ranks may receive a couple thousand dollars in support, that is a far cry from enough to complete a full degree. Those of lower ranks have less pay coming in from military service, and no continuing education support at all. For the past year, Marie has been volunteering with the Think Great Foundation. The group raises funds to provide scholarships to military spouses so that their family has additional financial stability beyond service. Not only has this been a way to give back to the military community, but it has been a source of personal growth and purpose for Marie.

If you are looking for a way to support military families, and don’t have a direct connection to anyone currently in active duty, consider volunteering or donating to the Think Great Foundation. Their annual gala takes place next Friday, November 17th, where they will celebrate military spouses and award scholarships called Home Front Heroes. You can learn more at Think GREAT Foundation – Scholarships for Military Spouses.

Rick Hackney | Retired Marine

Rick is a former Executive Transportation employee, and friend to owner Gus Ortis. He grew up in New York and after graduating college with a degree in economics, joined the Army in ’77 as a way to make it through the recession facing the country at the time. After bootcamp, Rick started service as a communications specialist – which required carrying around 150 pounds of gear for the daily 10 to 20 miles of walking his unit was tasked with. Through the years he saw a lot of Japan and the surrounding countries, and worked his way up the ranks, eventually leading a unit of 170 Marines into and safely back out of Saudi Arabia.

The Marines are proud of their branch, and Rick is no different, joking with us about branch superiority. When asked about a rivalry with the Navy, Rick laughed and commented that they like the Navy – they provide the rides. He received advice from a fellow marine on his first boat ride, “Don’t mess with the Navy – they’ll throw you over in the night!”

When asked what he’d like those of us who haven’t served to know, he offered sage advice, “You definitely need to be prepared to give your life for your country. If you’re not, you shouldn’t go into service.” Rick went on to describe the feeling of commitment, and the importance to recognize that it is OK to make it through and move on. It is a tough thing to do, knowing so many close friends and fellow service members do not get the chance. Rick commented, “I think very dearly about the people I know that didn’t make it through.” No matter how long out of the service our veterans are, their comrades are always on their minds.

Rick always remembers that his actions had an impact. “When there is war, and you have to project the power of war, some other mother in some other place is losing a son or daughter every time we do that. All of our actions eventually cause somebody else to not make it, and that is a hard thing to carry with you as a survivor.” He served our nation, but always sought to keep that in mind, and train his subordinates to exercise restraint and thought for others as they served too.

Rick returned to civilian life following the first Gulf War to his wife and two children. In the prime of retirementย  now, he notes the direction of the country is now in the hands of younger generations. He is focused on doing what he can to make the world a better place for his grandchildren, spending as much time as he can with them and excited to welcome twins this coming April.

We thank you for your service and your continued dedication to improving the future Rick!

Veteran's Day Thank You Card featuring an Airforce Veteran

Gary T | Retired Airforce

Gary is a current chauffeur with Executive Transportation in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He joined the Airforce straight out of high-school and served as a flight engineer in C5A’s, the largest military cargo transport planes in the fleet for over 30 years. His years of service took him around the world twice, and into all of the hot zones that have existed through that span of time, never stopping at any one place for more than a week at a time.

Many who served don’t like talking about their service, and Gary’s time in the military is not something he likes to remember. Seeing the people in poor countries suffer because of the wars surrounding them had a big impact on him, as have the losses of many close friends who didn’t return home. It took a long time after leaving the service to reset to civilian ways. Movies and news of current war zones still brings up too many painful memories. After serving, and seeing so much, Gary wants us all to know, “There is no reason for a war.”

These days, service is limited to 25 years for most enlisted individuals, but back when Gary served, they couldn’t train in replacements for flight engineers fast enough. He missed his kids growing up, but warmly laughed that the long bouts away have contributed to his long marriage, which reaches 52 years this year. These days, he enjoys his family and makes the most of his time with them. They’re spread throughout the country, with his two grandchildren currently living in Texas where is grandson plays hockey for a top tier youth team and his granddaughter pursues her passion for art. He and his wife live in the Minneapolis area and live in the present – taking one day at a time.

When he isn’t spending time with his family, Gary can be found behind the wheel for Executive Transportation, where his many years of precision and discipline make him a top-notch service provider. We thank you for your service then and now Gary.

Veteran's Day Card Featuring an Army Veteran

Laura H | Retired Army

Laura didn’t follow the typical path when entering military service – she was already 31 when she joined. She wanted to serve her country, and all these years later says she would do it again. The Airforce would have been her first choice for service, but age restrictions excluded her from service there, so off to the Army she went. The other recruits called her Mom or even Grandma due to the age difference, but with affection. She ran circles around the other troops and built life-long friendships with several fellow service members.

Laura was assigned to the 76 Yankees, helping with a number of supply logistics positions throughout her time in the Army. After her father suffered a heart attack, she was able to be reassigned to duties at Fort Leavenworth which was closer to home so she could help care for him. There she recalls the interesting stories and people coming through the Brig, and driving Generals around base. Always willing to step up and give it her all, Laura earned several merits and awards in service. She remembers feeling embarrassed when receiving them, as she was happy to be there and serving a larger mission.

While she is proud of her service, and remembers her time in the military fondly, she feels the same as many of her fellow veterans when she says, “Why can’t we all just get along.” There are better ways to resolve our differences than resorting to war. On a personal level, service was good for Laura. She recalls, “I learned things I never would have learned in regular life, and challenged myself in ways I wouldn’t have been challenged. I left the Army with so much more confidence than I had before.” Her time in the Army prepared her to live life to the fullest, rise to the challenge, and go with the flow – an attitude that has made her not only successful, but an extremely likable person.

After serving for four years, Laura returned to civilian life and settled down. She has two young-adult children who have gone to college and are starting their own paths as adults. Both have selected specialties in the medical field. Laura fills some of her time as a chauffeur with us here at Executive Transportation, and loves that she gets to meet so many people. We asked Laura about her hopes for the future and she laughed and commented, “I’ll be glad when the elections are over. I can’t stand the negativity of the ads!” Laura is a glass half-full kind of person, finding humor in life. Her advice to us all is to find ways to like where you’re at and make the most of each and every day.

Thank you Laura, for your service then and now!

Veteran's Day Card Featuring Retired Army Captain Kris Halvorson

Kris Halvorson | Retired Army

Kris is one of our younger veterans, though he served through three tours. He served in Iraq, Afghanistan and Europe before retiring just this year. He was stationed for a time at Fort Drum NY where Laura H was also stationed, and the two became acquainted.

Kris served as an Apache helicopter pilot in the 10th Mountain Division. His service did take him into combat several times. He received a combat action badge, Bronze Star, meritorious service medals and Army commendation medals for his efforts. He retired as an Army Captain.

Back home, he has used the work ethic and leadership skills from service to step into a successful career. His civilian job keeps him very busy, but he also makes time for family. He and his wife Jessica will be welcoming a new baby to the crew in just a few months.

Kris stays connected to the service, and is set to keynote speak at a Veteran’s Day Service tomorrow to help fellow veterans recognize the impact of their service and continue the camaraderie that only fellow service members can provide.

We thank you for your service and congratulate you on the new baby Kris!

Veteran's Day Card featuring active duty Army National Guard member

Katie Blackwell | Active Duty Army National Guard

Serving in one capacity is more than many do in a lifetime, but Katie Blackwell is drawn to serve and currently serves within the Minneapolis Police Department and the Army National Guard. She joined both with a desire to help people. Her intent was to help fellow Minnesotans during time of need, but her service has given her the opportunity to help people around the world.

Katie’s local service includes assistance to communities facing natural disasters like the tornado aftermath in Granite Falls. It also includes responding to civil unrest, as Minneapolis has seen in recent years. Her mindset is always to help people and do the right thing, and she works to lead both her precinct and her guard command to do the same.

She and her husband both joined the Army National Guard, and were engaged when they were deployed to Bosnia. They were there on a peace-keeping mission toward the end of the war. One of the strongest memories of her service continues to be standing watch overnight at a mass grave site, and watching people from both sides of the conflict come together to provide proper burials for the fallen. “Most survivors were women,” Katie recalled, “They came and laid down photos of their loved ones at my feet, rubbed the US Flag patch on my uniform, and thanked me for being a liberator. I still get emotional.”

Katie’s service in the National Guard has taken her to more countries than she can remember. They’ve included several European nations, and a 2-year deployment to Iraq. She remembers feeling concerned for the teenage children she and her husband left at home during their Iraq deployment. “It’s funny, you always worry about them, but don’t realize how much they worry about you.” There would be long stretches between being able to communicate with each other and with those back home. Both came home safely, but earned Purple Hearts before returning.

These days, Katie serves as Inspector at the 5th Precinct in Minneapolis, and as a Command Sergeant Major in the Army National Guard. Her husband has retired from service and supports her in her ongoing career. They have 2 grandchildren, and 34 nieces and nephews within their very diverse immediate family. Her family diversity has given her a unique ability to understand and respect the many cultures and backgrounds of the people she encounters in service.

“I feel very fortunate to be an American.” Katie commented. She went on to thank the community for the overwhelming support she has felt through the years. As she looks to the future, Katie hopes more young people will look at military service with a sense of pride and consider joining. “It’s been an honor to serve. We are here for you. We serve you. That’s what keeps me going.”

Simple Ways You Can Give Back to Our Veterans

  • Volunteer with the Disabled American Veterans organization – focused on providing free transportation to medical appointments for our disabled veterans.
  • Help out with Veterans Affairs – helping veterans with a wide variety of services and locations.
  • Work with the Hire Heroes USA program – dedicated to helping veterans, active military and their families secure jobs.
  • Send a Thank You Note through Operation Gratitude – a program dedicated to making a difference in our veterans’ lives.