Westwood High School Marching Band

Westwood High School Marching Band was one of the winners in the 2019 East Valley Veterans Parade.

Two long-time Valley traditions are returning this Veterans Day after missing a year due to COVID restrictions.

The annual Phoenix Veterans Day Parade is scheduled to step off from Montebello and Central avenues at 11 a.m. Nov. 11 before an expected 45,000 spectators. And the East Valley Veterans Parade will be doing the same in Mesa.

Although it’s a popular way to recognize and appreciate veterans, there’s more to the parade than spotlighting those who have served. 

The event has a therapeutic effect on participants suffering from PTSD and other service-related trauma, said Paula Pedene, director of the nonprofit group that produces the Phoenix parade.

“There is something about going down that route with the community out there cheering that changes lives,” said Pedene, a Scottsdale resident and Navy veteran. “We’ve had grand marshals tell us that the love they experience during the parade chases away their demons; It’s a healing experience.”

Seven grand marshals will be selected this year for the Phoenix parade, representing American conflicts going back to World War II. 

The Phoenix parade began in 1997 as an outreach project of the Veterans Administration. Pedene worked for the VA at the time and was instrumental in putting together that first parade.

She continued her involvement and in 2011 helped establish Honoring America’s Veterans, the nonprofit that today funds and produces the parade. The focus of the group has expanded beyond a one-day recognition event.

HAV also conducts a high school essay competition that asks students to honor a veteran in their lives and is preparing to host an inaugural Veterans Leadership Forum on Aug. 19 at Scottsdale’s McCormick Ranch Golf Club.

The aim of the forum, said Pedene, is to spotlight the achievements of veterans in the civilian world – be it business, academics, the arts, or other fields.

“We want to hear from veterans who have contributed to our community and have them describe how military service has helped them achieve their life goals,” she said. “We hope this forum inspires others whether they’ve worn a uniform or not.”

For information on the Veterans Day Parade, the leadership forum or the other HAV initiatives, visit HonoringAmericasVeterans.org.

Rather than cancel a parade entirely, East Valley Veterans Parade organizers held a “parade in reverse.”

They stationed entries along the traditional route and spectators became the parade by driving past them.

Participants also were encouraged to decorate their own vehicles with patriotic themes as a sign of appreciation for the men and women who served in the military.

The parade theme, “Celebrating Lives of Service,” recognized both military service as well as the many ways veterans continue to serve their communities through first responder and medical careers and other ongoing volunteer service.

When the annual Mesa Veterans Parade fell victim to necessary budget cuts in 2006, local residents Gerry Walker and Frank “Gunny” Alger spoke out on behalf of the 40-year-old Mesa tradition.

Walker remarked at one point, “There will be a Veterans Day parade if it is only me marching down the street with Frank watching.”

The Marine Corps League Saguaro Chapter in Mesa took the lead and the Mesa Veterans Parade Association was formed. In 2013, the all-volunteer organization changed its name to the East Valley Veterans Parade Association to reflect the participation of parade entrants and sponsors from most East Valley communities. Donations to this 501c3 nonprofit organization are tax-deductible.


 Locals in uniform

Mesa resident David Gates recently competed in the Army Reserve Medical Command’s Best Warrior Competition at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin.

 Gates, a sergeant and an Army Reserve physical therapist, went through a series of physical and practical proficiency challenges during the contest. The Best Warrior Competition tests individual soldier skills, promotes morale and cohesion, and reinforces the importance of individual excellence.

Gilbert resident and Marine Corps Cpl. Spencer Sargent recently participated in a field training exercise at Quantico, Viginia.

Sargent is an intelligence analyst with headquarters and service battalion, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Command.  During the field training exercise, Marines

conducted land navigation and close, long, and unknown distance shooting while building squad level operational cohesion. 

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