Veterans Day: Honoring Our Colleagues and All Who Have Served

Jeff Kirkwood took his skills as Freese and Nichols Safety Director overseas this year when he was sent to Afghanistan and Qatar as a Senior Master Sergeant with the U.S. Air Force Reserves.

Coronavirus pandemic restrictions kept him in San Antonio, where he lives, at the beginning of his deployment, but then he spent three months abroad as occupational safety manager for Air Force troops in Afghanistan.

Jeff has served almost 21 years in the reserves. For several years, he even got to serve in the same unit with his father, a reservist for 28 years. “That meant we had an appointment to meet once a month,” Jeff said.

He’s among more than 50 Freese and Nichols employees who have served our country in a branch of the U.S. military. Some of our colleagues also have spouses, children and other family members who have served or currently are military members.

On this Nov. 11, Veterans Day, we want to salute all of them for their dedication.

Our veterans’ experiences cover a wide range of roles. Some have deployed while working at Freese and Nichols, and some continue to serve in active reserves. For some, military service is a family tradition with unique twists.

For example, the day that Adam Payne (Construction Manager, Dallas) returned home from a 15-month U.S. Army deployment to Iraq, his brother, Jeff Payne, (Assistant Division Manager, Fort Worth), left on a U.S. Air Force deployment to Iraq.

Jeff Payne said: “Our dad used to tell us that serving our country is ‘just what our family does.’ Military service is an important aspect of who I am, and I’m sure Adam would agree.”

We asked a sampling of our veterans to share details about their service and how their military experience has helped them. Here’s what they told us.

Eric Potts
Account Director, Pearland

U.S. Army, 1973-2000 (includes Regular Army and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

Colonel. Key assignments prior to retirement: Executive Director, USACE, Aug. 1998-2000; Commander, USACE District, Galveston, Texas; Commander, 23rd Engineer Battalion, Friedberg, Germany; U.S. Naval War College (MS, Military Science and Strategic Studies); U.S. Command and General Staff Officers Course. Other key assignments in the Pentagon (four years) and more than 14 years’ service in Germany.

“I would start by saying how proud I was to service this nation and blessed to be given the opportunity to serve with and lead on several occasions the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces. Grounded in family values of faith, family and integrity, from my school day to the Army, I found there is not much difference between the military and private sector overall because most organizations have a structure, and it’s mostly about people and having the appropriate vision, guidance and qualifications to get the job done. You learn quickly that there is no ‘I’ in ‘team.’

“Freese and Nichols’ LEADS values is a common sense approach to life and business from my perspective and overlaps my life pre-FNI. We all need and should have teachers, mentors and coaches in both life and career. And, lastly, from the military to the private sector, you learn that to be a good leader, you must first learn to be a good follower.”

Cody Pechacek, PE
Electrical, San Antonio

U.S. Navy, Sept. 2005-Sept. 2011, Norfolk, Virginia, and San Diego, California

E-6, Interior Communications Electrician and Construction Electrician with the Seabees. I have been to over 30 countries, through both canals and around the world.

“I have been in some bad third-world countries, and not a day goes by even still that I am not thankful to be here in the U.S., thankful to have actual food on my plate and thankful for a hot shower. My service has shaped my career by allowing me to know how things are actually built in the real world and not just on paper. It has also taught me that I am not that smart, I have just been around electrical things long enough to have picked up an understanding of how they work.”

Lori Reza
Marketing, Austin

U.S. Navy, 2005-2010, stationed in Norfolk, Virginia, for four years and Iraq for most of my last year. I did one deployment out to sea on the carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, and I did a tour in Taji, Iraq.

I joined as a Machinist’s Mate (MM) and left as an E-4, Gas Turbine Mechanic (GSM) or GSM3. While onboard the ship, I was a mechanic and worked on the ship’s main engines, generators and distilling units. During our tour, we visited Italy, Greece, Portugal and Dubai several times. In Iraq, I worked in a detainee facility doing work similar to a corrections officer. We monitored the detainee visiting center, escorted detainees to and from medical exams and procedures (sometimes to other bases) and manned the detainee housing units.

“Two important lessons I took away from my service are, you have to be able to adapt, and you are capable of more than you think. I use these lessons all the time. If I don’t know something, I’m going to try to learn it. If something is intimidating, I’ve dealt with and survived worse. You also work with all sorts of personalities in the service, and that has helped me with seeing different perspectives and being able to see the ‘other side.’”

Dustin Pope, PE, MSc
Transmission and Utilities, Houston

U.S. Army, eight years active duty, stationed at Fort Stewart, Georgia, Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and Fort Hood, Texas; Army Reserves for over two years, based out of Ellington Joint Air Base, Texas

I’m currently a Major and serve as a combat engineer/staff officer. I’ve been deployed overseas primarily in the Middle East in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Great leadership and discipline can be exerted at any level. Remain humble and respectful, continue learning and sharpening your skills, and take care of your subordinates. Everything else will follow.”   

Bill Keaton, PE, MA
Water and Wastewater, Charlotte

U.S. Air Force 1989-93, U.S. Army National Guard 1993-96

E-4 Senior Airman, deployed in Germany, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq 1990-91, Combat Weather Specialist

“I learned to be super-organized and listen more than I spoke. I grew up in a Navy family, so I was used to it. My service has made me aware of the chain of command and the ability to respect those who are charged with implementing a plan. Also, I know how to make dung beetles run really fast. We in the ground forces use ‘Embrace the Suck’ as a mantra. That means it is never as bad as you think.”

Jose Torres Vazquez, EIT
Electrical, San Antonio

U.S. Army, Jan. 2011-Jan. 2017, stationed at Fort Sam Houston, Texas; Miesau Ammo Depot, Germany; Shindand, Afghanistan; and Fort Bragg, North Carolina

Sergeant in the MOS 68A – Biomedical Equipment Technician. I was in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom, 2013.

“I would say my service gave me perspective. Some things that perhaps seemed hard or inconvenient before, now seem normal. For instance, waking up at 0500.”

Adam Payne, PE, CCM
PMCM, Dallas

U.S. Army, 2004-11 (last three years in the National Guard), stationed primarily in Fort Lewis, Washington, with time also in Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

I left the Army as a Captain and served as a Field Artillery Officer. My last active duty job was a Fire Support Officer for 4th Battalion 9th Infantry Regiment. Deployed in Spring of 2007 as part of the “surge” of forces to Iraq, returned home after 15 months, in June 2008.

“I think mission focus is something the military does well. There were always hurdles, issues, constraints, etc., that can get in the way of your mission, but as a group/team, we had to get together and find a way to get things done. Leaders needed to push this down to everyone on the team and make sure they all worked together toward the common goal. I see a lot of the same at FNI, with our mission, vision and values being key in everything we do. Looking at all projects/challenges through this prism helps to fine-tune our approaches to solutions. The team I work with and the folks I observe in the company demonstrate this focus daily, and it shows to our clients.”

Jeff Payne, PE
Assistant Division Manager, Fort Worth

I graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy and spent the next seven years on active duty. My last duty station was Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson. I then transitioned to the reserves and was assigned to a unit under 10th Air Force at JRB/NAS Fort Worth.

I retired in 2017 as a Lieutenant Colonel. I was an Air Force Civil Engineer. I did three tours in the middle east: 2001, Operation Southern Watch in Saudi Arabia; 2003, Operation Iraqi Freedom (I was part of the invasion operation supporting the special operations efforts in the western part of the country.); 2008, Operation Iraqi Freedom, FOB Delta, Al Kut, Iraq. I also did some work in Peru while in the reserves.

“The first key lesson: There is no such thing as a perfect country, but the United States is by far a shining light on a hill amongst the rest of the world. Second key lesson: It is amazing what teams can accomplish when they have clear objectives and are empowered to execute a plan. The military taught me too many things to list for this exercise. I would say the first thing is, it taught me to really appreciate people from all walks of life. I loved my troops and all they brought to the table. It also taught me to remain calm but thrive under pressure. I would do my service all over again.”

Brad Endres, PE
Federal Program Manager, Fort Worth

U.S. Army, July 1991-Nov. 2015; U.S. Military Academy graduate, and postings that included Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri; Fort Stewart, Georgia; Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras; Fort Benning, Georgia; Camp Edwards, Korea; Texas A&M University; San Francisco, Baton Rouge, Phoenix and Baltimore with USACE; Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; Camp Red Cloud, Korea; Schofield Barracks, Hawaii; and Fort Meade, Maryland.

Retired as Lt. Colonel, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Deployment 1: Camp Victory, Baghdad, Iraq, Sept. 03-Feb 04, secured USACE civilians at various bases/project sites in central Iraq. Deployment 2: Patrol Base Gaines-Mills, Kirkuk, Iraq, June 10-June 11, combat advisor to 47th Iraqi Army Infantry Brigade. Also almost four years with 2nd Infantry Division, Republic of Korea.

“Key lessons learned: Be flexible and adapt to conditions to overcome obstacles/adversity. This same principle applies in design projects I’m working on at Freese and Nichols — being quick to adapt to various project changes/challenges to meet client needs.”

How We Support Veterans

At Freese and Nichols, we have employees who have served in just about every branch of the military, and we greatly value their service, dedication, sacrifice and the experience it has given them. We take that background into account, and our policies support staff members who have continuing obligations in the military reserves. For instance, employees serving in the reserves can take up to two weeks off annually for military training duties, with half that time off paid at full salary.

We also offer a Veteran Support Line and Mindfulness Program, which is available for all employees. It helps find a range of services, including for dealing with pain management, substance abuse, financial issues, housing, legal assistance and more.