Chris Sedillo
USN Veteran
by Sue Wolinsky, Family Member, Army IL National Guard

The Navy Vet Who Didn’t Follow His Own Advice

He spent 26 years in the US Navy and didn’t follow his own advice: “Never Again Volunteer Yourself!” This is US Navy Senior Chief (ret.) Chris Sedillo’s description for NAVY, if you read it as an acronym. 

“I volunteered for everything,” the native of Albuquerque reflected, “for schools, for getting sent to Iraq, for transporting chemical retrograde from Germany to Johnson Atoll.  While I was stationed at Joint Communication Support Element and assigned to the Quick Reaction Company (a joint duty assignment) some Navy jump billets opened up, I quickly volunteered for jump school and off to Ft. Benning, GA, I went. It was an elite thing to do — to be a paratrooper.

RMCS Sedillo in his khaki uniform

“While stationed in London I again volunteered to deploy aboard the SS Gopher State (T-ACS 4) as part of Operation “Steel Box” to transport chemical munitions from the Federal Republic of Germany to Johnston Atoll in the South Pacific. It was a chance to do something different and to travel. When I was Officer-in-Charge of the Military Detachment (MILDET) onboard the USNS Sioux (T-ATF 171), we received a faint, almost inaudible, call of Mayday!  Mayday!

“As OIC, I reported the distress signal to the ship’s Master, and the USNS Sioux rescued a stranded couple from a sinking vessel. Once again, the USNS Sioux was summoned for a no-notice call for the search, rescue, and recovery of Alaskan Airlines Flight 261 after it crashed. I volunteered and was selected to augment JTF-67 on a real-world mission to Vietnam for 60 days for the search and recovery of POW/MIA remains. Because of all this volunteering, I’ve been to almost every port in every country. I learned different cultures, different philosophies, and a host of different religions. I learned that there are great people everywhere.” 

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Navy Senior Chief (ret.) Chris Sedillo Honored for
Performing in 50 Honor Guard Functions

Sedillo leads the Color Guard on 18 September 2022

With a quiet reverence for those who served and an unwavering dedication to honoring our country during public gatherings, US Navy Senior Chief (ret.) Chris Sedillo has participated in hundreds of military honor guard functions.  This includes 150 performed while he was on active duty (in 3-1/2 years) and 50 more in civilian life since he took over as Honor Guard Commander in June 2021, for American Legion Post 13 in Albuquerque.

He joined the Blue Warrior Honor Guard at Tinker AFB, where he was part of an elite team of Navy and Air Force personnel providing military honors in the highest traditions at funerals, presentation of the flag to next of kin, forming a saber arch for dignitaries, and community events such as Fourth of July parades.

Claudia Risner presents a VMFC plaque to RMCS Sedillo (ret.) in recognition of his service. Post Commander Paul Espinosa, right, and 1st Vice Commander Darlene Herrera, left, observe.

Sedillo was honored on September 19 for these 50 Honor Guard functions since he became a civilian. Claudia Risner, Chair, presented him with the commemorative plaque from the VMFC. It was the caucus’ first Honor Guard commemoration.

Why, you might ask, has he performed so many Honor Guard functions and why does he continue? “I try to put myself in the position of losing someone, and I do it with empathy. I do it to honor their loved one after they passed,” he said.

RMCS Chris Sedillo (ret.) presents Mayor Tim Keller, Albuquerque, with a challenge coin and explains its significance during the American Legion Post 13 Awards Ceremony.

In the past two years, Sedillo doubled the number of American Legion Post 13 Honor Guard volunteers from 10 to 20, with a hard-sell recruitment effort he tirelessly shared with the many civic and military-service related organizations he supports. He is the Honor Guard Commander and Chaplain for American Legion Post 13, as well as a member of American Legion Riders. “Now that I’m in charge, I get calls from every funeral home, I have to do everything. Some months, we do three to four Honor Guard functions; some months, we do 12-15,” he said.  His American Legion Post 13 Honor Guard team recently took first place for both medium and large Honor Guard groups at NM Department of Veterans Services (DVS) 13th annual fall training conference and competition (sponsored by AARP).

“I will never forget the first Honor Guard function I did when I was on active duty,” he said.  “I presented the American flag to the eight-year-old daughter of one of the 168 persons killed in the Oklahoma City bombing,” Sedillo recalled. “She had tears running down her cheeks. That was the hardest time I ever presented the flag. I’ll never forget her. I was part of the Color Guard that participated in the Fourth of July parade and the raising of the national flag, which officially ended the mourning period of the Oklahoma City bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah building.”

Sedillo also participates in The Forgotten Heroes program, which is for veterans who have served with honor, but do not have a family member to claim their body. So every September these veterans are escorted from Strong-Thorne Funeral Home in Albuquerque to the Santa Fe National Cemetery. There is a police escort that also includes American Legion Riders, Patriot Guard and other motorcyclists who escort our veterans’ remains.  A special ceremony is held at Santa Fe National Cemetery including a eulogy and full military honors for these veterans. He has participated for 5 years including this year, on 29 September, during which the cremated remains of 29 military veterans (3 women, 26 men) were buried.

The Forgotten Heroes Program
is a unique collaboration between the NMDVS, Bernalillo County, Santa Fe National Cemetery, and the Director's Choice Mortuary Services of Albuquerque. This joint effort ensures that no veteran is alone at the end, and that he or she receives a funeral with the military honors available to honorably discharged veterans.

To view the 8-min video of the 2021 burial of the unclaimed
cremated remains of 22 veterans – Click HERE

Sharonlee Cummins

USMC Veteran and HD 51 Candidate
by Sue Wolinsky, Family Member, Army IL National Guard

Don’t tell me I can’t do it!

“Don’t tell me I can’t do it!” is Sharonlee Cummins’s mantra.  “It’s guided me all my life,” the former Marine said. “I’m the only one who can say I can’t do it. No one else.” She’s proven that her entire life, from the time she enlisted in the Marine Corps right after high school when her parents didn’t want to sign her papers; to the time she paved the way for women in many technical fields over her career; to the times she’s run for political office.

Sharonlee Cummins, USMC

GRIT IN HER MILITARY CAREER. She has grit; grit that gives her the gumption to know she can do anything she tries. The California native lived through a difficult family life, experienced the Watts Riots in 1965, and was the first female to take some shop classes in high school. She was in the Civil Air Patrol in high school and joined the Marine Corps right after she graduated. She had an ongoing battle with the Marines about several issues:

  • A rights issue for women in the military. After showing she could do more than sit in a steno pool in the USMC, she purposely failed the 10th test in basic training – an aptitude for programming. She did not want to be a programmer. That resulted in getting the assignment she wanted – avionics. She took her Tactical Avionics Training in Millington, TN.

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Valerie Barkley, Navy Veteran and Activist

by Sue Wolinsky, Family Member, Army IL National Guard

Upholding the Tradition of Navy Nurses -
Caretakers and Fighters

She is part of the centuries-old tradition of women caring for wounded soldiers and sailors; from just after the founding of this country, through the Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Middle East conflicts that the United States military has supported. (See related article on history of the US Navy Nurse Corps, in our June newsletter.  June 12 is Women Veterans Day.)

Ensign Valerie Barkley, Nurse Corps

Yet, when she enlisted to become a US Navy nurse in the mid-1960’s, it didn’t seem like part of a long-standing tradition.  It was an opportunity for her to finish nursing school with less debt and to avoid returning home after graduation. “Like many then and now, I came from a dysfunctional family. The military gave me an opportunity to avoid going back to that life in New Jersey,” she said.

The year she enlisted, 1965, was the same year that the US sent active combat units to Vietnam. “The Navy contacted me at the start of my final year in nursing school at the University of Maryland. They were short of nurses. They offered to pay for my tuition in my final year, so I took their offer. I enlisted as an E-3 while in school. After I graduated, my girlfriend (who enlisted with me) and I took the summer off.  We went on active duty in October, attending Officers Candidate School at Naval Station Newport, RI. Then we were commissioned as Ensigns and assigned to Great Lakes Naval Base north of Chicago on Lake Michigan,” she explained. “That’s where I served during my time in the Navy.”

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Mark Praught, Army Veteran and Activist

by Sue Wolinsky, Family Member, Army IL National Guard

No Stranger to the Danger of Serving in the Military

A practical kind of guy; thoughtful too… takes things in stride… and seems to always try to do the right thing: from his first day in boot camp, to his heroic last day in Cambodia, and on to today, as he fights to improve access to VA medical care for veterans in southern New Mexico (NM). That’s Master Sgt. Mark Praught (US Army, Ret.).

SGT Mark A. Praught, Bravo Co, 1/72 Armor 2nd Infantry Division. Camp Rose, Sonja-Ri, So. Korea, Nov. 1969

“I was planning to go to college in the fall of 1968, right after high school, but my parents couldn’t afford to send me away to college. I got my Draft Notice in May, after I’d already been accepted to the local junior college. But the Draft Board didn’t care. So, I enlisted rather than being drafted,” he said.  “I was disappointed but I went in with the attitude to ‘give it all I got’! That’s what I did, for 37-1/2 years,” he reminisced. 

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Sally-Alice Thompson
WWII U.S. Navy veteran and activist

98-year-old WWII Sailor still going Strong
and Singing Cadence Songs!

by Raquel Roybal,  (LCDR., Ret., US Navy)

Albuquerquean Sally-Alice Thompson likes history, and as a 98-year-old former World War II (WWII) Seaman, I’d say she has made history. Some details have grown dim, but she does remember being a nineteen-year-old from Davenport, Iowa, excited about going to boot camp at Hunter College in Seneca County, New York. The camaraderie she had with her fellow WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) is one of the things she has carried forward through the rest of her life. She and her classmates had a lot of fun singing and joking with one another, but what she liked most was singing the cadence songs as they marched together.

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Barbara Jordan, USAF veteran

You have to BE the Change!

by Raquel Roybal,  (LCDR., Ret., US Navy)

Barbara Jordan is focused on our future

“You have to be the change,” said Barbara Jordan, a former US Air Force (USAF) Master Sergeant (E-7), who is the only Democratic candidate running for mayor in the nonpartisan municipal election in Rio Rancho. This is in New Mexico’s third Congressional District (CD3).

Her lifetime experience has prepared her well for this, her first foray into running for public office. One would hardly believe that this ever-smiling woman and mother of a teenager in Rio Rancho has the grit to throw her hat into the political ring of a city council that is Super Majority Republican, owning six out of six seats.  “It’s hard to break into the ‘inner circle’ of Rio Rancho politics,” she said.

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Josh Jones, USAF veteran

USAF Vet Runs for Rio Rancho City Council Seat

by Sue Wolinsky, Family Member (IL Army National Guard)

Coming from a family of five generations who served in the Air Force (USAF) and the Army, former E-5 Joshua Jones (USAF) initially was unsure of what he wanted to do. “I kept telling myself that I didn’t want to go into the military, yet what did I take for an elective class? ROTC,” he recalled. He was 18 years old when he enlisted for a six-year stint in the USAF.

Josh Jones is a veteran and former law enforcement officer who knows that Public Safety – keeping our streets safe – is a top priority.

Jones, a member of the Veterans and Military Families (VFM) Caucus of the Democratic Party of New Mexico, also didn’t see himself going into the political arena back then. However, now he is the only Democrat running against two Republicans in the nonpartisan Rio Rancho City Council race for District 3.

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Debbie Sariñana, USAF Veteran, NM Rep. HD-21

by Sue Wolinsky, Family Member (IL Army National Guard)

“The US Air Force (USAF) taught me how to be organized, confident and always on time.  I learned to get out in the world and participate.  I found I loved helping people,” reflects Debra (Debbie) Sariñana, a USAF veteran.
Helping people and serving has been the hallmark of her military and civilian careers. She was a teacher, is a three-term NM state legislator (D-HD 21) and was a medical services specialist in the USAF Reserve.
Her father set the standard. “When I was growing up, my dad would often tell us that the greatest honor he had was serving his country. He served in the Army and the Army National Guard for 38 years. Neither of my brothers had an ambition to join the military, and my dad was my hero, so I joined partly to make him proud and partly for the honor and adventure of serving my country,” she said.

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Rep. Sariñana encourages VMF Caucus members to contact her if they are interested in working with her on any of her priorities. Her email is: and her phone is (505) 974-9408.

Raquel Roybal, Veteran U.S. Navy

by Sue Wolinsky, Family Member (IL National Guard)

A Pioneering Woman In The Navy:
Raquel Roybal

She stood proud and tall in her US Navy uniform at the end of the tiny pier in a desolate part of Okinawa. Still, it provided the only hope she had of letting him know that she was here to surprise him – halfway around the world – on his 7-month deployment in the Far East. She originally told her new husband of two months that she couldn’t come, that her own Navy duties prevented her from leaving.  But when she changed her mind, she realized there was no way to let him know she would be coming to meet him in Okinawa after all.  She rushed from the military base to the port in her civilian clothes, but when she got there, she learned his ship would not be docking.  Rather, it would be moored in the bay.  There was no way to contact him, so she had to think fast and be creative. And that’s how she came to be standing in her “light blues” at the end of the tiny pier.  Her only hope was that he’d see her standing there when he’d scan the shore from the bridge of the USS Point Defiance. 

Staff of Submarine Group FIVE, including Ensign Arnold, after dining aboard the USS Dixon (AS-37) ca. 1975

Almost immediately he saw her standing there as he scanned the shoreline.  At first, he saw a woman in a Navy uniform, but when he looked closer, he realized it was his bride, LTJG Raquel Roybal. The adrenaline of her surprise drove him to request permission from his Executive Officer (XO) to meet her ashore.  During their brief time together ashore, they made plans to meet in the Philippines, his next port of call. There they had a much longer and much needed reunion; that is, after she found her own temporary housing on base because the base personnel assumed she’d be a man, and they’d had her booked in a room with three other military men.  

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Shannon Reynolds, Veteran U.S. Air Force

Learning from Failure:
From Collin Powell to Shannon Reynolds

by Sue Wolinsky, Family Member (IL National Guard)

Shannon Reynolds dreamed of serving in the military from early on.  A military academy appointment loomed, but that hope was dashed because of poor eyesight.  He didn’t find out until years later that an appointment to a different military academy would have been possible.  He’d drifted in and out of college after high school, married and suffered the loss of an infant child.  He knew he needed a focus, a direction.  So, he enlisted in the US Air Force.  He’d earned an open enlistment, meaning that he could start his service when a position he’d qualified for and was interested in became available.  He chose “accounting open” to enlist quickly.  He finally made it to the military – his dream was beginning to become a reality.

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Earl James, Spec-5, Veteran U.S. Army

Vet Advocates for First Bill to include Panama Canal Vets  in Service-related Diagnoses 

by Sue Wolinsky, Family Member (IL National Guard)

Chemical Agents Believed to have Caused 50 Years of Pain and Suffering

Earl James (shown), former Spec-5 in the Army 10th Infantry, and a DPNM Veterans and Military Family Members Caucus member, has spent most of his life advocating for people and causes the world over.  Now his advocacy has taken on a highly personal focus.  It has been over 50 years since he served in the U.S. Army in the Panama Canal Zone (CZ), when he was exposed to chemical agents that he believes are related to his decades of pain and suffering.

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Greg Seeley, Tech. Sgt., USAF (ret.)

Suicide is More than a Statistic when it Takes Your Buddies

We are honoring U.S. Air Force  Veteran Greg Seeley, Technical Sergeant (ret), for his service to our nation in uniform and for his continuing service since, including with our Caucus as Strategic Director, Committee for Veterans Advocacy
by Sue Wolinsky, Family Member 

Suicide is no stranger to Greg Seeley (USAF ret) — the Albuquerque native, veteran’s advocate, mentor, former Congressional staffer, small business owner, active member of our caucus, loving father of three boys and an “extra” in the 2016 movie, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.”  He’s had many types of experiences, but there’s one area that has left its mark — suicide.

  • He lost a friend to suicide when he was only in the seventh grade, which left him confused and angry.  A few years later, he quit high school, hoping he’d find his path in life.  After he earned his GED, he tried UNM but quit after a few semesters.  Two more friends died by suicide.  He lost a total of five friends that way.  Still searching for his path in life, he moved out of state, but that didn’t work out, so he returned to Albuquerque and enlisted in the USAF.
  • An Army friend killed himself when Seeley was in Afghanistan.  The GI was well liked; everyone at Camp Phoenix near Kabul felt his loss.
  • Serving on the Honor Guard at Kirkland AFB (KAFB) reminded him of the loss that suicide leaves on loved ones.  His first Honor Guard was for a deployed USAF airman who died by suicide.   “I’ll never forget the pain suffered by those left behind.  Being there was the powerful moment in my life that motivated me to work on veteran’s issues when I got out.  I saw a lot of hurt in the community and that inspires me to work hard to help vets,” he said.
  • Not much later, when the chronic depression that festered since his Afghanistan deployment had finally raged out of control, he tried to take his own life.  He failed; and in his failure, he began building the successful life he’s still living today. 

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Claudia Risner, Capt., USN (ret.)

Veterans Caucus is Key

by Jake Stern Powell   

The military tends to hold an odd place in both major American political parties. Republicans, who often speak in glowing terms about America’s might tend, not to support legislation that helps actual active duty and veteran military members. Democrats, on the other hand, are often viewed as doves roosting in a nest made of olive branches. Yet, the more liberal party is the one that enacts legislation needed to help keep veterans off the streets and out of jails.   
This eternal contradiction is where Claudia Risner, Chair of the Veterans and Military Families Caucus of the Democratic Party of New Mexico and a former candidate for the New Mexico State Senate, finds herself. 

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Pat Gaston, LTC (Ret) U.S. Army

by Sue Wolinsky, Family Member

US Army LTC (Ret) Pat Gaston in civilian life

US Army LTC (Ret) Pat Gaston was in a unique position when she served as a Logistics officer for 22 years.  She paved the way for future female and black officers. She was: 

  1. the only female in her class at Command General Staff College in the early 1990s;
  2. one of a very few black, female officers in Logistics in the US Army;
  3. the first female appointed Chief of Individual Readiness at Fort Jackson.

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Michelle Peacock, Capt., US Army (ret.)

A Veteran Who Fights for Veterans:

Interview by Sue Wolinsky

A veteran fighting for veterans and all the people of New Mexico has officially thrown her name into the hat for the New Mexico House District 28 seat soon to be vacated by NM Rep. Melanie Stansbury. The veteran is Michelle (nee Racicot) Peacock, U.S. Army Captain, who grew up here and is ready to give back to this Northeast Heights community. 

This VMF Caucus member has plenty to give back.  Her vitae includes:

  • Nursing, nurse practitioner, and management experience in the private sector and Veterans Administration (VA).
  • A solid network of allies gained during years of service to, and advocacy for, community organizations and professional societies.
  • A strong background in health policy.
  • “Boots on the ground” experience in improving the quality of her patient’s lives and transforming that experience into developing public policy to accomplish that on a larger scale.

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Rudy Martinez, USAF (ret.)

Tribute to a Vietnam Era Veteran and Public Servant

Interview by Sue Wolinsky


MILITARY SERVICE: Rodolpho “Rudy” Martinez joined the USAF on August 28, 1967, so he could learn something new, a new trade or skill. The Vietnam War was in full swing. Three months later, there would be ~500,000 US troops in Vietnam. His mother was against it for her hard-working son.  He had been a paper boy and a gas jockey-turned-mechanic. She knew he had a bright future awaiting him. 

But he persisted. During basic training, Rudy received his US Army draft notice in the mail. His sergeant took care of it by tearing it up.  That act confirmed his decision to enlist in the USAF. Following stints at McChord Air Force Base near Tacoma supporting staff assignments in the 318th Fighter Interceptor Squadron and the 483rd Military Airlift Command, he received his orders to ship out to Vietnam in November 1969.

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Sonya Smith, Secretary of NM DVS

Interview by Sue Wolinsky

New Mexico Department of Veterans Services has a new Secretary

Secretary Sonya Smith

Sonya Smith, a Gulf War USAF veteran, was unanimously confirmed by the NM Senate as the new Secretary of NM Department of Veterans Services. She is the fifth DVS Secretary and the first African-American to lead this agency. We interviewed her to learn about her background, her confirmation, and her priorities for NM DVS because this department provides critical services for vets and our families. We are pleased she took the time to share her thoughts and look forward to collaborating on common goals.

“Every day is Veterans’ Day” is our motto,” declared Secretary Sonya Smith, who was recently confirmed as the fifth secretary of the NM Department of Veterans Services (DVS) and the first African-American to lead this agency. “Everything we do is to make the lives of our veterans and their families better.”

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