Spirit of Freedom 2020

This year, 22 Idahoans are recipients of the Spirit of Freedom: Idaho Veterans Service Award.  The award recognizes the outstanding service to our nation by veterans and Idahoans who dedicate considerable time to supporting veterans.  As of 2020, 334 Spirit of Freedom Awards will have been presented since the award’s creation in 2002.  The awardees represent some of the many deserving individuals in our communities.  The following biographies for the 2020 award recipients highlight their significant contributions to our country and its veterans.

Veterans:

  • Charles Abrahamson, Idaho Falls: When nominating Charles (Abe) Abrahamson, Darrel R. Homer, Commander of American Legion Idaho Falls Post 56, wrote that Abe, “served with honor and distinction in both the United States Marine Corps and the Idaho National Guard.  While his time in uniform may have ended, his service to others continues to this day.”  Abe is recognized as being quick to lend assistance to those in need, without exception.  He is also known for his promotion of camaraderie and teamwork.  He served as the Department Commander of the Idaho American Legion, and is credited for his efforts in chartering two prison posts.  He has grown the Idaho American Legion’s “One More Day” program, aimed at ending veteran suicide and educating separating service members on available services.  Abe has also assisted the community’s youth among his significant service efforts.
  • Kendrick C. Anderson, Coeur d’Alene: The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW)Post 889 of Coeur d’Alene nominated Kendrick Anderson, who served on active duty in the U.S. Navy.  He earned the rank of Explosive Ordnance Disposal Senior Chief and numerous honors for his exemplary service.  He served in the Persian Gulf and in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom before his 2008 retirement from the active military.  Then, through his employment as a government contractor, he deployed in support of the Global War on Terrorism.  Kendrick has served in various leadership positions within the VFW and in support of the broader veteran community.  He works as HVAC Service Technician for Border Sheet Metal and Heating in Hayden and is the proud father of Kendra Lynn Addison.  When nominating Kendrick, Steven A. Guzauskis of VFW Post 889 wrote, “Mr. Anderson is a dynamic, knowledgeable, and proven leader consistently seeking the orderly flow and improvement for local area veterans and his community.” 
  • Alan Wade Baumgardner, Mountain Home: Alan Wade Baumgardner, who served in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War, has contributed so significantly in service to our country, fellow veterans and the community that American Legion Mountain Home Post 26 nominated him as both a veteran and volunteer recipient of this award.  Wade was trained in aircraft rescue and firefighting and served at several Air Force bases worldwide.  After his military service, Wade had a 34-year career in civilian Fire Service, with the last 14 years as Fire Chief at Mountain Home Air Force Base before retiring in 1994.  He then was the Elmore County Veteran’s Service Officer.  He has served in American Legion leadership positions and earned many recognitions for his service to our country and veterans.  This includes the 2010 Department of Idaho “Legionnaire of the Year” Award.  Wade and his wife of 58 years, Sue, have one son, Christopher, and two grandsons.  Post 26 Commander Mark Russell wrote, “Wade sets the bar for serving veterans.” 
  • Neal Biggs, Jerome: The Little Wood River Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 3001 of Jerome nominated Neal Biggs, who served in the U.S. Navy as a gunner’s mate and later in charge of the ship’s armory on the USS White River during the Vietnam War.  Neal earned a number of recognitions for his honorable service.  His career after his military service included 27 years as a traveling salesman and 16 years working for the Sportsman’s Warehouse in Twin Falls before his retirement.  Noting that Neal also gives selflessly beyond the veterans community, Eric Bolich, with the Post 3001, wrote, “Neal can be counted on to participate in almost every event we put on. . . . Neal does everything he can to remove any obstacles other veterans might face.”  Efforts Neal has assisted with include participating in flag etiquette classes in schools, serving in the Honor Guard and providing dress coats for interviews and winter coats to those in need.     
  • John H. Burns, Meridian: The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 4000 of Meridian nominated John Burns, who served in the Pacific Theater in World War II and earned the rank of Seaman First Class in the U.S. Navy.  He served aboard the USS Medrick AMC-203, tasked with minesweeping.  John carried live bombs from the ship into the waters from Okinawa to Japan.  After his military service, John was a backup singer for the group Four Jacks and Jill, and he was a contract negotiator for IBM for more than 30 years.  In 2004, John moved to Meridian with his son and family to be near his grandchildren.  He has led area efforts in support of veterans, including his service as Post Commander for VFW Post 4000.  He also assisted, with fellow VFW members, the American Legion and the City of Meridian, with the unveiling of the Rock of Honor Memorial in Julius M. Kleiner Memorial Park.      
  • Harold Eshelman, Boise: The Idaho Division of Veterans Services—Office of Veterans Advocacy nominated Harold Eshelman, who served from 1956-1962 in the Idaho Air National Guard and serves his fellow veterans and community.  This includes his service as Commander of Boise John Regan American Legion Post #2 for 10 years and District 3 Commander last year.  Harold volunteers at the Boise VA Medical Center alongside his wife of 59 years, Jacquie.  Harold and Jacquie raised three children, sons Thomas Harold and Terry Alan, both deceased; and a daughter, Teresa Barnes; and they have one granddaughter.  Following his service in the National Guard, Harold taught math and science in Meridian before working for three chemical companies designing chemical feed systems for food processing plants and teaching workplace safety classes.  Arthur L. Gimpel, Idaho State Veterans Commissioner wrote about how despite battling cancer, Harold faces each day with a positive outlook and, “he daily serves to give back to what he considers his heroes and the heroes of tomorrow.” 
  • Christina Fletcher, Meridian: Team River Runner (TRR) nominated Christina Fletcher, a U.S. Navy Veteran, who began assisting with TRR five years ago.  Robert Tracy, with TRR, wrote that she began as a participant learning to kayak, and “has since become a dedicated and effective leader within TRR.”  She has also been helping Joining Forces and Courageous Survival.  Jacki Briggs, with Courageous Survival, highlighted Christina’s “passion, dedication, generosity of time, care, authenticity, humbleness and genuineness.”  Jacki wrote, “She has dedicated her life to serving our nation in the armed forces, and despite a devastating disability, has gone on to continue giving herself wholeheartedly by serving within the veteran and civilian communities.”  Mitzi Cheldelin, of Joining Forces, shared, “She doesn’t just stop with a phone call-she will follow up with that veteran and their family even after the crisis is over.”  Christina, who has four children, also volunteers with community-wide efforts, including multiple animal rescues and many school volunteer positions.   
  • Kevin Fowler, Boise: Team River Runner nominated Kevin Fowler, a U.S. Army Veteran, who has been an active member of the Boise Chapter Team River Runner organization valued for his wide range of talents enabling him to help others.  Kevin’s military service included serving in a combat engineer battalion located in Germany, and his duties included truck and heavy equipment operation.  After the military, Kevin pursued a mechanical and structural design career and later a secondary degree in website development.  Kevin retired due to ongoing medical challenges, and now spends his time enjoying the outdoors and creating new adventures.  Kevin shared that service to others helps him get through difficult days.  He said, “In turn I hope to set a good example so others can see that by ‘showing up’, good things can happen and they are not alone in their struggle.”  Kevin has two children and three grandchildren. 
  • Robert L. Jones, Rexburg: The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Department of Idaho nominated Robert Jones, who has had an extensive, extraordinary career of service to our country and his fellow veterans.  Bob Jones served in the U.S. Air Force for 20 years, retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel.  His service included commanding logistics squadrons supporting combat units in the Vietnam War, serving as Chief of Supply for the Presidential Wing at Andrews Air Force Base, and serving at the Pentagon as a Senior Staff Officer with the U.S. Air Force.  His civilian career included 15 years as Vice President of a defense firm in the Middle East.  Bob has also served in many VFW leadership positions, and he travels to Washington, D.C., to advocate for veterans issues for the organization.  Bob has earned 24 medals for his distinguished service to our nation and numerous honors for his local and statewide service.  Bob and his wife, Carmelita, have four children, five grandchildren and one great-grandson.             
  • Paul E. Sherman, Boise: The Vietnam Veterans of America, Idaho State Council nominated Paul E. Sherman, who served in the U.S. Army in the Vietnam War.  He served in a relay station on a mountaintop providing communication support for field units operating along the Ho Chi Minh Trail and earned the Purple Heart and National Defense Service Medal among his recognitions for his honorable service to our nation.  Paul, whose non-military career included 27 years in retail management, has given extensively of his time and talents leading and serving fellow veterans.  This includes serving on the Governor’s Planning Committee for the Vietnam Veterans Recognition Day Ceremony, building a ramp for a fellow Vietnam Veteran, jumping in to assist with pandemic response efforts despite his own high-risk health situation and so much more.  His nomination for this honor states that Paul’s efforts provide testimony to his principles of “leadership, dedication, and Brotherhood to ALL Veterans.”
  • Charles Richard Taylor, Boise: The Idaho State Veterans Cemetery nominated Charles (Chuck) Taylor, who served in the U.S. Navy for nearly 22 years, earning the rank of Lieutenant Commander before his retirement in 1991.  He served in the Vietnam War and Operation Desert Storm.  Throughout his remarkable career, he flew in evacuations of Saigon, witnessed American prisoner of war repatriation at Clark Air Force Base and survived a helicopter crash in the Red Sea.  Chuck earned many honors for his service.  His career following his military service included working for the U.S. Forest Service, as a National Helicopter Inspector Pilot and National Helicopter Program Manager.  Chuck has volunteered at the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery for the past four years.  James A. Earp, State Veterans Cemetery Bureau Chief, wrote of Chuck’s selfless service as he continues to give back to veterans and their families “by being the steward of military professionalism in honoring their lifetime of contributions and service.”  Chuck and his wife of 52 years, Ann, have four children.      
  • Joe E. Willis, Lewiston: The Idaho State Veterans Home—Lewiston nominated Joe Willis, who served as a Major in the U.S. Marine Corps.  His more than 22 years of military service spanned World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.  When nominating Joe, Terri Brockman, with the Idaho State Veterans Home—Lewiston, noted “his dedication and love for our great nation” and wrote, “Joe is ingrained with the ability to work hard for what is needed,” a work ethic he practiced from a very young age.  Joe served as a pilot in the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and he was stationed and travelled throughout many parts of the world earning a very long list of recognitions for his remarkable service to our country.  After his retirement, he enjoyed building homes, fishing and hunting and was a small business owner.  He enjoys writing and spending time outdoors.  He and his late wife, Ileen Willis, spent 30 happy years together.  He has a daughter, Daleen Adkison, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren.     
  • Connie D. Workman, Grangeville: The Crea-D’Haven Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3520 of Grangeville nominated Connie D. Workman, who served in the U.S. Air Force Nurse Corps.  Connie is a Grangeville native.  She went to Nursing School from 1961-1964.  She noted being sworn in on television was one of her memorable experiences.  After graduation, she served in Vietnam from 1966-1967.  She served in the military for 20 years before retiring as Lieutenant Colonel.    

Volunteers:

  • Wendy Jo Ackley, Boise: Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7019 nominated Wendy Jo Ackley, founder of Operation Grateful Hearts, citing her selfless service to military families in the Treasure Valley.  Tina Bailey, with Post 7019, wrote about Wendy Jo’s selfless service through Operation Grateful Hearts that  has clothed, fed, heated homes, repaired vehicles, given gift cards and essential items to veterans and active duty military personnel and their families.  She is part of a family deeply rooted in military service.  The outpouring of support from the military community during the search for and heartbreaking loss of her service member brother inspired Wendy Jo’s family to sponsor a family annually for Christmas in honor of her brother.  Wendy Jo works as an Executive Human Resources Officer for a Boise business and enjoys spending time with her family and friends.  Tina Bailey wrote, “She grew up understanding the importance and sacrifices of military service.  From those experiences, she developed a desire and passion for serving in her own way.” 
  • Ray Alduenda, Meridian:  The Idaho State Veterans Cemetery nominated Ray Alduenda.  The kindness and compassion shown to his family by cemetery volunteers after the death of his son, who served in the U.S. Navy, inspired Ray to volunteer at the cemetery.  When nominating Ray, James A. Earp, State Veterans Cemetery Bureau Chief, wrote, “He truly understands these sensitive final moments for the family and speaks with care and devotion to preserve the dignity and honor of military service and family commitment during these precious moments.”  Ray had a more than 28-year career with the Los Angeles Police Department, rising through the ranks to become Detective Coordinator, before his retirement in 2002.  He later spent five years in Iraq and Afghanistan training high-ranking officers of Iraq and Afghanistan in law enforcement procedures and criminal investigations.  This year, Ray received the “President’s Volunteer Bronze Service Award” for his many hours of service at the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery.       
  • Richard M. Brockman, Jr., Lewiston: The Idaho State Veterans Home—Lewiston nominated Rick Brockman, who has been an active volunteer at the home for more than 26 years.  He has assisted with many activities and efforts at the home that include Veterans Day ceremonies, holiday dinners, outings for fishing, parades, sightseeing, set building, shopping for the canteen and residents during the pandemic, games and so much more.  Most importantly, he is recognized as “a friend to the residents.”  He worked for the Lewiston #1 school district for more than 30 years before retiring last year.  He has two daughters, Kristine Brockman and Melisa Pecoff, four grandchildren and three great-grandsons.  Rick has been happily married to Terri Brockman of the Idaho State Veterans Home—Lewiston for 33 years and counting.  Terri noted that in addition to dedicating thousands of hours to serving veterans, Rick also mentored and coached their grandchildren. 
  • Mitzi Cheldelin, Boise: The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 4000 of Meridian nominated Mitzi Cheldelin, who is considered to be a vital asset to the veteran community, with her dedication, valuable resources and guidance for veterans and families.  Tammy Clement, of VFW Post 4000, wrote, “Mitzi is a true inspiration and her continued dedication to helping and serving veterans is phenomenal.”  Her career has included employment as an elementary school secretary, owner and operator of a family business, and newspaper reporter.  She worked at the Ada County Sheriff’s Office and the Boise Police Department before further pursuing her passion to serve veterans by taking a position with the Idaho Division of Veterans Services in 2018.  Mitzi has also been involved with broader community efforts.  She served as a City Council Member for the City of Kimberly from 2010-2012.  Mitzi conveyed that she feels enjoyment when she is making a difference and is able to connect individuals with contacts and resources.
  • Miles Elletson, Garden City: The Vietnam Veterans of America, Idaho State Council nominated Miles Elletson for his dedicated service to his fellow veterans.  Miles is a U.S. Army veteran who served with his brother in Desert Storm and whose family is deeply rooted in military service.  His nomination notes his affinity for veterans began at a young age when he accompanied his grandfather to the veterans home where he would play cribbage and listen to veterans’ stories.  He has since served veterans for more than 24 years and supported many other local efforts beyond the veterans community.  Miles and his wife have been married for 28 years and have four children.  He is owner of Alloway Electric, and he has maintained, repaired and replaced the flags flying over the Veterans Memorial Bridge for the past 10 years, as one of the many ways he supports the community.  His nomination for the recognition reads, “When asked what inspired him to serve Veterans, he unhesitatingly answered ‘The sacrifice of so many before me—What more inspiration could exist?’” 
  • Robert Joseph Johnson, Grangeville: The Crea-D’Haven Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3520 of Grangeville nominated Bobby Johnson for his many years of taking care of veterans’ needs within his community.  He offers yardwork, rides to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center, counseling, visiting with homebound veterans and more.  The need to assist those in need who came before him is the inspiration for Bobby’s service.  When asked what he enjoys about volunteering, Bobby shared, “’Purpose:’ To have something to do that makes a difference within the community; ‘Morals:’ It’s the right thing to do!”  He served four years in the U.S. Air Force, served several years as a law enforcement officer, firefighter and fire chief for a few years.  Bobby has a son in the military.  Lucky Gallego, VFW Post 3520 Service Officer, wrote about Bobby’s unique persona that either through his talk, calm demeanor or background offer him a natural outlook on life to help people, and shared that Bobby’s wife, Vickie, would agree he is a very special guy.
  • David Lyon, Nampa: Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 7019 nominated David Lyon, who has volunteered with the VFW since 1994 and served in the U.S. Air Force.  His desire to give back to the veteran community and help veterans wherever needed inspired his volunteer work.  David graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1962 and served in Vietnam, earning four Air Medals.  After serving our country for seven years, David was honorably discharged and spent the next 26 years flying airplanes in many capacities.  In 1991, David and his wife, Jackie, moved to Kuna.  Not long after, he received another Air Medal as a civilian pilot flying supplies into Saudi Arabia and Kuwait following Operations Desert Storm.  After his retirement from the airline industry in 1995, David started a new career as a real estate agent and discovered his passion of being part of his community.  Michael White with VFW Post 7019 wrote, “It cannot be stressed enough the impact he has had on his community and Veteran organizations.”   
  • Lana J. Tout, Moscow: The Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3913 of Kendrick nominated Lana Tout.  Lana serves as the Local Coordinator for the Quilts of Valor program.  She makes, sends and awards quilts in the Latah, Whitman and Nez Perce County areas.  Early in Lana’s career, she was a substitute teacher.  She raised her two children, David and Leslie, and she had a 30-year career with GTE/Verizon in Moscow.  She became involved in making quilts for veterans following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but her understanding of the sacrifice of military service was shaped many years earlier when watching her grandmother mourn the loss of her uncle killed while serving in the Army Air Corps.  Lana helps people however she can.  In her words, “Sometimes it’s a phone call, sometimes it’s a quilt!  We owe a lot to our veterans, and they can’t be thanked enough.”
  • Hiedi Young, Pocatello: In reading what inspired Hiedi Young to serve veterans for the past 22 years, it is clear why the Disabled American Veterans Department of Idaho nominated her.  Hiedi shared, “I am so blessed to live where I do in a time of unprecedented freedom.  I can never repay the debt that is owed to those who have served our country in the Armed Forces and preserved the way of life that I enjoy with my family and friends.  It is an honor to call so many who currently wear the uniform and have worn it in the past friends.  I get to rub elbows with true heroes every day!”  Since 2005, Hiedi has been a Soldier & Family Readiness Specialist with the Idaho State Military Division.  She also volunteers with many organizations to help those who serve our country, and she has received numerous awards for her service.  Hiedi was married to her husband who served in the Idaho National Guard and Army Reserves for 25 years, and they have four children: Donald, Samantha, Kiersten and Allisa.  Hiedi was 2011 Idaho State Young Mother of the Year, and her son is a combat medic with the Idaho Army National Guard while her daughters often help alongside her at various functions.