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Hidden heroes: The many faces of Snohomish County’s veterans

SNOHOMISH COUNTY, November 11, 2022—Snohomish County is a region that is immensely proud of its veteran community. With over 50,000 veterans living in our area, according to census data, it is a community that is rich, diverse, and incredibly proud of defending the many freedoms our nation provides. Many of our veterans have continued their public service, after their military careers, through positions in law enforcement, government, or starting their own businesses, utilizing the intense training, education opportunities, and myriad life skills the military taught them considered invaluable.

Oftentimes these faces blend in with the crowd, their service fading into the past while they begin their next life’s chapter. Oftentimes, to them, undertaking roles in the public sector is just as much their duty as serving our country. As we celebrate this year’s Veterans Day, it’s important to remember that sometimes the man or woman standing next to us is the reason our country continues to be so great and has so many liberties often taken for granted.

In this special Veterans Day feature, The Lynnwood Times reached out to a handful of our Snohomish County veterans to share their stories, their experiences, and what their time served meant to them.

U.S. Navy Veteran Mukilteo Police Chief Cheol Kang

snohomish veterans
Cheol Kang. Photo courtesy of Mukilteo Police Chief Cheol Kang.

Mukilteo Police Chief Cheol Kang, is known for his people skills – a trait he widely attributes to picking up while serving in the United States Navy from 1999 until 2020. Kang spent his career with five years in Active Duty, straight out of college, and the remaining 16 years as a Drilling Reservist. Throughout this time, he was deployed in support of Iraqi Freedom in 2003, and in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2009. He retired in 2020 as a Commander working as a Public Affairs Officer where he learned many of the people skills he brings to his role as Police Chief.

“The military is a huge melting pot of people, ideas, cultures, all into one organization for a common cause,” Chief Kang told the Lynnwood Times. “Your ability to work with, and engage, and manage, and lead people in a people-driven organization is what [ultimately] leads to the success of your mission.

Just a few of Kang’s awards include a Meritorious Service Medal in Naval Special Warfare for setting up the Reserve Public Affairs unit for all of Special Warfare, three Navy Accommodation Medals, and three Navy Achievement Medals. Kang decided to join the Navy, over other branches, based on his adoration for the ocean where he’s lived by all of his life, immigrating from South Korea, growing up in Tacoma, and eventually settling in the Oceanside community of Mukilteo.

To Kang, being a Korean immigrant granted him a unique perspective of patriotism and the American Dream at large. Through witnessing his parent’s acclimation to American life he developed a rich sense of what it means to be an American and the importance of defending one’s rights that come with the title.

“Having the opportunity of coming from nothing, to come to this country with nothing…To be in the position to serve and rise up in the ranks, to me it’s the stereotypical American Dream,” Chief Kang told the Lynnwood Times. “It shows that with determination, with the right work ethic, with the right purpose in mind others can do the same thing as well.”

Looking back Chief Kang said he would, no doubt, serve again adding that the choices he made, his experiences, both in and out of the military, shaped him into the man he is today.

“It was an amazing ride that’s continuing. We’ll keep enjoying it while we got it,” Kang said.

U.S. Army Veteran Mark James, Marysville Councilman

snohomish veterans

Mark James. Photo courtesy of Marysville Councilman Mark James.

Before Marysville Councilman Mark James entered the world of politics, he served in the United States Army from 1982 until 1990. Being raised in a military family, moving from base to base, his years of civilian life has actually just recently surpassed his years of service life.

Mark James

“The military never leaves you. You always have it in your blood. The discipline, the integrity, the honor, those things you need to be able to progress and be the best you can be. Those are the things you retain,” James told the Lynnwood Times.

James entered the Army as a Medic straight out of High School. Although he underwent basic training in Missouri, he returned to Washington on his first duty assignment at Fort Lewis. From there he was sent to Germany, where he finished his Active-Duty status before returning to Spokane as Active Reserves. Upon being honorably discharged in 1990 James began his civilian career in Marysville as a certified Ophthalmic Medical Technologist, utilizing many of the skills he acquired through his time served.

In addition to growing up in a military family, James also met his current wife while they were both serving in the Army, in Germany, where she was working as a Lab Technician. The two have now been married 34 years, have three sons, and their own publication business, Hometown Values Savings Magazine, which they have been printing for the last 18 years.

James has continued his public service after his military careers through being President of the Sunrise Rotary club from 2018 to 2019, as well as volunteering, on a weekly basis, with his wife at the food bank, Salvation Army, and various local service groups.

“The heart of service is just who I am. I’m not sure if that’s something the military instilled in me or it’s just who I was and that’s why I gravitated to the military, a chicken and egg sort of question I suppose but it was just natural to get into politics,” James said.

U.S. Air Force Veteran Will Stuflick, Marysville Safety and Risk Manager

Will Stuflick
Will Stuflick

Transitioning into civilian life for Will Stuflick, Safety and Risk Manager for the City of Marysville was seamless from all of the training he received in the military, including his master’s degree which he completed while serving.

“I walked out doing the same thing I was doing while I was in the service,” Stuflick told the Lynnwood Times. “I started working with the Department of Transportation designing roads and culverts and things like that. It was really smooth.”

Stuflick served in the United States Air Force, as an engineering assistant, from 1992 until 2006, through two wars including Operation Provide Comfort.

Right out of the service Stuflick began working at the Department of Transportation before transitioning to education, working at a Community College in the Midwest teaching Mechanical Design and AutoCAD before becoming Dean. He eventually transferred to Everett Community College and began working for the city of Marysville early 2021. His position, as Safety and Risk Manager, will be the last job he works before retiring in a couple years just shy of 55.

While serving in the Air Force, safety was always a big part of Stuflick’s work as a Squadron Trainer. He was referred to the position of Safety and Risk Manager by another combat veteran he met in a group.

“I was always in civil engineering, around tradespeople, so it was really nice to come back to a group that was similar to my military days where we have street crew, Wastewater Treatment plant groups. It’s kind of come full circle which is nice,” Stuflick said.

Stuflick told the Lynnwood Times his military training has helped in his professional, civilian, life in many ways including bringing punctuality, integrity, and hard work ethic to his job every day.

“The military taught me to be punctual and respectful and to work hard. Service before self is what the Air Force always said so being in the public sector, being able to serve the citizens of Marysville, I take a lot of proud in that,” Stuflick said. “It was just a natural fit with the skillset the military instilled in me to continue to serve the public.”

In addition to the list of skills he picked up from his service, Stuflick noted that being in combat, really puts life into perspective realizing that “life really isn’t that bad in the United States.” Stuflick continued that when you’re not sure if you’ll be coming home at the end of the day it makes the time you share with your loved ones that much more cherished.

“Nobody’s shooting at you when you’re doing your normal job,” Stuflick said.

Stuflick decided to join the military after high school, feeling “rudderless”, as he put it, not knowing which direction to take. His guidance counselor, a Marine Corps Vet, steered him on the path of joining the service. He told the Lynnwood Times he doesn’t regret it at all and to have the ability to serve the country that had been so good to him was an absolute pleasure.

“If you’re looking for a sense of purpose, if you’re looking to give back to the greatest country in the world and you feel blessed enough to be able to do that, I’d say join the military – whatever branch that might be,” Stuflick said. “It’s just an amazing group, the sense of family that it gives you and the sense of purpose and belonging is second to none. It’s gonna be hard, it’s gonna be dangerous, but you’re going to be looking to your left and your right and know that those people are going to be doing whatever they can to have your back and you’re going to be doing the same or them.”

U.S. Army Reserves Veteran Michael Dixon, President/Owner of Dixon Insurance Agency and Mukilteo DEI Commissioner

Mike Dixon

Although Mike Dixon, President of Dixon Insurance, Mukilteo Water and Wastewater District Commissioner, and a Mukilteo DEI Commissioner, grew up in a military family his decision to join the Army Reserves as an infantryman stemmed from a desire to challenge himself. He maxed out on the ASVAB, he said, so he could have gone anywhere but infantry was always his prerogative. The way he saw it is if he could be successful as an infantryman, he could be successful with anything.

“Infantry was hard. But by doing that, achieving a very tough physical challenge it gave me a stronger sense of confidence,” Dixon said.

Dixon served in the Army Reserves for six years, enlisted in Infantry School at Fort Benning in September of 1987, and served as a Reservist while he was in college at MIT.  He was commissioned as a Quarter Master Officer during his Junior year, in 1989, and drilled through his Senior Year continuing in his native Virgin Islands until 1993. After leaving St. Thomas he entered Individual Ready Reserves expecting, and willing, to be called to action but was never called for combat.

“That was the extent of my service, it was brief, I didn’t conquer the world, but it was a good formative experience. I have a lot of military family, so it was meaningful to me,” Dixon told the Lynnwood times.

snohomish veterans
Mike Dixon is standing in the front row, first person to
the left. Photo courtesy of Mukilteo Water and Wastewater Commissioner Mike Dixon.

Following Dixon’s time in the military he continued his public service as Utility Commissioner, served as President of the Alderwood Wastewater District Board, worked in city government as Associate Director for Policy of the Office of Management and Budget in the Virgin Islands, was President of the African American Forum at General Electric Company, serves on the Board of Advisors at the Mukilteo YMCA, and most recently was appointed as a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Commissioner for the City of Mukilteo.

“The military has always been helpful for me as an indicator of my character,” Dixon said. “It’s sort of like a fraternity, you mention it to other people and people respect it and admire it. They call your demeanor your military bearing, so the ability to dress properly, conduct yourself properly, the decorum is something that you learn in the military. Just as an enlisted person in infantry school I learned to conduct myself in a different way particularly in difficult situations.”

U.S. Air Force Veteran Stephen Doherty, Information Services Director, City of Marysville

snohomish veterans
Stephen Doherty is seated in the middle-left. Photo courtesy of Stephan Doherty.

Stephen Doherty, Information Services Director for the City of Marysville, served in the U.S. Air Force from 2002 to 2004 and was honorably discharged as an E-4 working as a Radio Communications Specialist. He was deployed in the middle East controlling airspace for Navy Aircraft Carriers during Operation Iraqi Freedom and was awarded an Air Force Achievement medal for Meritorious Service among others.

Following his military career, Doherty spent 17 years working with the Tulalip Tribes in their IT Department working as a fiber-optics technician, which is what he was trained and certified in while serving in the military. His training in the military, and the invaluable skills he learned, made his transition to civilian life seamless, he said. In June of 2022, he joined the City of Marysville as its Information Services Director where he also utilizes many of the communication skills he developed while serving.

“A lot of the skills I built up in the military transferred over and really helped ground myself, and built my work ethics,” Doherty told the Lynnwood Times.

Out of all of the skills discipline the military brought him, attention to detail is perhaps the biggest takeaway Doherty gained from the military in regard to his work life he told the Lynnwood Times.

“Traveling around the world really allowed me to see what I took for granted back home. It really builds your core values. In just my short time I really picked up a lot of life lessons and saw a bigger picture I never did growing up,” Doherty said.

During Doherty’s service he fought in two wars, convoyed into Kuwait from Iraq, did airport surveillance for the President in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, volunteered at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, among many other unforgettable memories he wouldn’t trade in for the world.

Although Doherty told the Lynnwood Times he would do it all over again in a heartbeat he added that if there were one thing he would do differently, it would have been to join an ROTC program and enter the military commissioned.

U.S. Air Force Reserves Veteran Will Cena, Director of IT for the City of Lynnwood

snohomish veterans
Will Cena. Photo courtesy of Director Will Cena of the City of Lynnwood.

Will Cena, Director of Information Technology for the City of Lynnwood, retired from the Air Force Reserves as an E-7 Master Sergeant in 2020, after 22 years. Throughout his career he was deployed twice in the middle east during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation New Dawn working as Air Transportation loading and unloading cargo from passenger flights.

Cena came from a military family, his dad and two uncles having served in the United States Navy for over 20 years, and another uncle serving in the United States Air Force before being medically discharged. In many ways his family’s involvement in the military steered Cena’s decision to join himself.

“I always had a want to serve,” Cena told the Lynnwood Times.

Since joining the city of Lynnwood in 2005 Cena has brought many of the skillsets he attributes to learning in the military, particularly adapting to change, regularly being thrown into a situation where he may not have all of the information, and leadership.

“I am where I’m at professionally because the military helped pay for college,” Cena said.

When Cena looks back on his time with the Air Force what really sticks with him is the brotherhood, the friendships, that he built, especially in his deployments. After being deployed to Iraqi, one year after 911, he met three friends in particular that he is still close with today. One of them was even his best man at his wedding. As a young adult entering the military, Cena told the Lynnwood Times the growth one experiences and the lessons they learn about themselves and life he thinks everyone should experience in one way or another.

“I had a lot of good mentors in the military with a lot of good examples of how to lead people, how to talk to people, how to coach,” Cena said. “I’ve taken that in my role as IT director for the city in terms of making sure the folks I work for are both taking care of professionally and personally.”

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