Day of Heroes

Day of Heroes

The Daisy Mountain Veterans Parade returns for its 14th year

By Niki D’Andrea

 

When board members for the Daisy Mountain Veterans Parade met at Amped Coffee Company in Anthem the first Saturday in September, the java wasn’t the only thing creating a buzz. The parade and post-parade picnic, taking place on Saturday, November 3, created a lively discussion: How many golf carts can we get? Has the military flyover been confirmed? Can we fit all the sponsor logos on the T-shirts? Where will the tethered hot air balloon rides take place?

The process of planning the November parade started in June, and the board members met with increasing frequency over the last few months leading up to the event. Some members of the board are veterans themselves, from all branches of the U.S. military. They include Army veteran Frankie Ruiz; Sam Crump, also an Army veteran and president of Daisy Mountain Veterans; and Marine Josh Miller.

Despite the expected good-natured ribbing between the Army, Marine and Navy guys, the sense of camaraderie was palpable. Anthem is a community with hundreds of veterans, and the Daisy Mountain Veterans Parade is a big deal for the town and surrounding areas.

“It’s not just Anthem. There’s Tramonto, there’s Desert Hills, there’s New River – we’re a big space so we’ve got a lot of vets that are in this area,” says Marine Corps veteran Chuck Hale, who is grand marshal for this year’s event. “We’ve got a rich history of our military in our own backyard and we just need to draw it out.”

Established in 2005, the Daisy Mountain Veterans Parade raises funds for the nonprofit organization Daisy Mountain Veterans, which provides aid to at-risk groups in the community and supportive services for veterans. The Daisy Mountain Veterans’ many projects include the Daisy Mountain Veterans Toy Store, which solicits toy donations from the community to disburse to struggling families; Plastic Sleeping Mats for the Homeless; and the Veteran Vehicle Campaign, which presents vehicles to veterans and their families.

“We’ve given away 11 cars now,” Hale says. “These cars have been donated to us. We refurbish them. They’re nice. One of the last cars we got was a 1996 Saturn, with I think 30,000 miles on it. It was someone whose mother passed away. He spent maybe a thousand dollars getting new tires, making sure everything was working.”

Such philanthropic efforts are supported by the local posts of Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the American Legion and groups like Phoenix North Valley Women Veterans, Anthem Community Council, the Anthem Area Chamber of Commerce, Youth for Troops, and Anthem Young Professionals (AYP).

The latter group, which has a mission to “provide an avenue for young, aspiring community leaders to collaborate and help inspire and improve Anthem and its surrounding area,” according to AYP’s listing on the Anthem Area Chamber of Commerce website, had multiple members on the parade planning board and will host the popular cornhole tournament at the post-parade picnic at Anthem Community Park.

“(Supporting veterans) is just what people should do. It’s important,” says Sawana Grimmett, owner of The Salt Spa in Anthem and AYP committee chair. “It’s your civic duty, and it’s just a passion of mine.”

Grimmett says attending the annual parade and picnic is a highlight of the year for her family. “It’s just hanging out with your neighbors and your friends all day and celebrating Veterans Day and remembering why that’s an important day in our history, but also knowing that you’re contributing and giving back to charity while you’re doing it,” she says. “And it’s a nice time of year.”

A parade’s journey

Jennifer Uhlwig, past fundraising chair for the parade and picnic, says the event has evolved over the past five years she’s been involved. Originally, the Daisy Mountain Veterans Parade and the charity picnic were held on different days. This is only the second year in which the two events have been combined. “When we had the partnership merge, we said, ‘We can have two events that we can put them on the same day and make it a full, community-wide event,” she says. “And then people can plan for, look forward to and kind of get as many people involved (as possible). Last year was our first year of a joint event where people could go to the parade, and then come to the picnic and play games and kind of have that family.”

The parade will feature around 88 decorated floats. It starts at Gavilan Peak Parkway and Memorial Drive, and ends at the Anthem Community Center. Attendant activities include tethered hot air balloon rides and a military jet flyover.

“One thing that is great about the parade every year is the Shriners are in the parade. They have motorcycles or little cars and pickup trucks and what have you – and camels,” Hale says. “Probably the highlight this year that we haven’t done in the past is we’re allowing people to throw candies and treat bags. So that will be a different spin on how we interact with the crowd.”

This year’s parade honors veterans who served in Somalia. October marked the 25th anniversary of the Battle of Magadishu and Black Hawk Down. Hale served in Somalia. “This will be my first (time as grand marshal). I had a few opportunities with Desert Storm, but that wasn’t my place,” Hale says. “Somalia is definitely the place that stands out in my service that has meant the most to me.”

Hale says the guest of honor speaker will be Jimmy Cortez, who also served in Somalia. “We’ve got some great stories,” Hale says. “We’ve had some good times.”

The work Hale does with Daisy Mountain Veterans is incredibly important to him; assisting fellow veterans in need is a nonstop job. “I’ve had phone calls where somebody needs to talk now and I’ve had that from my Marine brothers,” he says. “I’ve had that from somebody and I just said, ‘Hey, can you meet me in 15 minutes at Starbucks?’ That’s truly the big push that we have, for a veteran community.”

Hale cites a Veterans Administration report that stated 22 veterans commit suicide every day. “So every 65 minutes, someone takes their life,” he says. “We have this hope and this push for decreasing that number and ensuring that number can be decreased by giving our number out to anybody.”

Gratitude for service and sponsorships

The Daisy Mountain Veterans Parade and Charity Picnic couldn’t happen without the help of many volunteers and sponsors. “Local businesses have been very supportive, especially in the parade,” Hale says. “We’ve got tons of sponsorships from local businesses.”

One of those many sponsors (see sidebar for a full list) is Country Financial insurance company. Co-owner Matthew Word says his business partner, Todd Kessler, was in the Army for 11 years, which is just one reason Country Financial has sponsored the parade for the last three years. “One of the things that corporately as well as personally we like to do is to reach out and support our veterans,” Word says. “We thought this was a good way to do that.”

Sponsoring the parade is important to Country Financial, Word says, because “Obviously, the sacrifice has been made by the people who’ve been in the military to defend us and our way of life for many, many years,” he says. “A lot of people here locally get a lot of support from the veterans, through the work that the Daisy Mountain Veterans do and their outreach.”

Anthem Rotary Club is the primary sponsor of the event. This year, they doubled the amount of their check and will also have a presence in the parade. Anthem Rotary Club president Hunter Merrill says the organization supports numerous veterans’ groups in addition to the Daisy Mountain Veterans, and adds that as a relatively new resident to Anthem (he moved there three years ago), he’s impressed by the deep patriotism and respect for tradition in a town that was developed a little less than 20 years ago.

“The patriotism – I’ve never seen anything like it. I come from a smaller town in New England… our old club would march in such a parade every year for 70 years,” Merrill says. “And to see this rotary club and a young town doing this, it’s very special.”

“We have many veterans within our club,” Merrill adds. “We have such a  deep respect for those who have served and are serving.”

At the community picnic after the parade, Merrill himself will be serving – beer. Anthem Rotary Club is also the beer garden sponsor. “That’s one of my favorite things to do as club president – even before I was president – was to serve beer or soda or hot dogs,” he says. “People are so happy. It’s a good time. Those are the best parts for me as Rotarian – directly saying hi to people.”

For Word, the Daisy Mountain Veterans Parade embodies a lost era and charm. “I’ve lived in Boston, in New York, and you don’t get that same feeling that you get from the old Main Street-type of parade,” Word says. “Here, you see your friend’s kids with the Cub Scouts or with their cheerleading groups or any number of groups that are helping out. It just brings back an old school-feel of the way America used to be.”

For more information on the Daisy Mountain Veterans Parade and Picnic, visit daisymtnvets.org or facebook.com/events/426505384506048.

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