Polished military boots kept cadence along a crowded Central Avenue on Monday, Nov. 11, as a white-gloved color guard, carrying Old Glory, brought thousands to their feet to usher in one of the nation’s largest Veterans Day parades.Children fluttered American flags along the parade route. Drummers beat a military snare. And olive drab jeeps from decades past rumbled in remembrance from North Phoenix Baptist Church through Central Phoenix, carrying generations of America’s brave.
This was the 23rd annual Phoenix Veterans Day Parade, a celebration of America’s heroes that has become part of the culture of University of Phoenix. The University was recognized this year as a Medal of Honor sponsor — the highest-level contribution — for donating to the event. The University’s support of the parade goes beyond charitable giving. It comes from its people, who volunteer their time to carry out the annual tribute to veterans in all branches of the U.S. military.
Brian Ishmael, senior director of the Office of Military and Veteran Affairs (OMVA) and a U.S. Army veteran, has volunteered for the past five years and said that anyone who has been involved in the parade — spectator, volunteer, or entry — “catch a bug” that makes them want to do more.
“We have a large population of veterans and active-duty service members,” Ishmael said. “Many of us are veterans ourselves. This is just one of the many ways that we show them that we care, we support them, and we respect their sacrifices and their families in service to our country.”
Veterans that walk away from the parade, walk away thinking that people truly value what they did in the military, especially in Arizona.
– Brian Ishmael
Senior director of the Office of Military and Veteran Affairs (OMVA) and a U.S. Army veteran
This year, 25 volunteers from the University unveiled the new UOPX balloon in the parade, with President Peter Cohen in attendance. The balloon was followed by a historic five-ton military truck, a steel tribute to the servicemen and servicewomen whose sacrifices have made America what it is today. The patriotic procession attracted nearly 45,000 spectators, 2,500 marchers and 10 floats.
University of Phoenix has supported the parade for many years and increased its efforts in that support over the last five years. This including joining a non-profit organization called Honoring America’s Veterans that oversees, plans and executes the parade. Ishmael serves as president and several other University employees hold governing offices.
The importance of the parade looks like this, Ishmael said.
“The veterans that we talk to that participate — who have maybe experienced some traumatic injury or stress — they tell us that it gives them a sense of pride receiving gratitude,” he said. “Veterans that walk away from the parade, walk away thinking that people truly value what they did in the military, especially in Arizona.”
The University now stands as a Medal of Honor sponsor of the parade, which denotes donors that have contributed cash, goods or in-kind services. In addition to helping organize the event and participating in the parade, the University also hosted a meet-and-greet with this year’s Celebrity Grand Marshal M*A*S*H star Loretta Swit on Nov. 10 at its Phoenix Campus.
The parade was also powered by a contingent of volunteers who arrived early Monday with a desire to serve. They arrive year after year, Ishmael said, to help orchestrate an event that now ranks as the nation’s third-largest Veterans Day parade.
Sammi Showalter has been a University of Phoenix employee for 12 years and regularly participates in volunteer opportunities with the University throughout the year. Showalter, a BI analyst – Classroom Operations for the Registrar’s Office, was part of the volunteer team Monday morning and said that she loves representing the University in the community.
“I think it is really good that University of Phoenix shows we’re not just a school, but also a member of the community and shows veterans we care about them and appreciate their sacrifice,” Showalter said. “I have family and friends that are veterans and, to me, it’s important that we show veterans we support them.”