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Community Heroes

Community Heroes

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Published by Magdalena Wegrzyn
The Daily Times takes a look at unsung heroes in the 2013 Community Heroes special section.
The Daily Times takes a look at unsung heroes in the 2013 Community Heroes special section.

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Published by: Magdalena Wegrzyn on Jul 03, 2013
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09/05/2013

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 The Daily Times
 www.daily-times.comSUNDAY, JUNE30, 2013
By Magdalena Wegrzyn
mwegrzyn@daily-times.com @MaggieWegrzyn on Twitter 
FARMINGTON — Theday after the Twin Towerscrumbled, Jason McClellandmet with a U.S. Marine Corpsrecruiter.“On 9/11, I remember see-ing on the news, the TwinTowers going down, and itmade me mad,” McClellandsaid. “I thought, ‘How daresomeone do that to us?’I’myoung. I’m in shape. I mightas well do something about it.”Hedidn’tenlist that day.But Sept. 11, 2001, putMcClelland on a trajectory tomilitary service. Eventually,hewould personally confrontsome of the nation’senemies.“I knew at that point weweregoing to go to war. I did-n’tknow where or how,but Iknew we were going to war. I just felt completed that I need-ed to jump in,” he said.The 30-year-old U.S.Army sergeant is currentlystationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Wash.He has completed two tours inthe Middle East — one in Iraqandthe other in Afghanistan.The 2001 Piedra VistaHigh School graduate says healways talked about joiningthe military. Both of hisgrandfathers served during theKorean War. Photos of bothmen, dressed in their militaryuniforms, hang in the livingroom of his parent’s home inFarmington.After high school, McClel-land attended Western NewMexico University in SilverCity on a football scholarshipbefore transferring to the Uni-versity of New Mexico. Hegraduated in 2006 with abachelor’s degree in physicaleducation and health and start-ed a year-and-a-half teachinggig at Albuquerque Academy.And then he started look-ing “for something different.”Office work didn’t suithim. He longed to be out-doors, operating as part of ateam. So he moved home toFarmington and returned tohis summer job working on anoil rig.But roughnecking wasn’twhat McClelland wanted todo with the rest of his life.He found himself back atthe recruiters’office on Jan. 3,2008. He talked to recruiterswith four military branchesbefore deciding on the Army.After basic training at FortBenning, Ga., he was sta-tioned at Fort Bliss in El Paso,Texas. That’s where he methis wife, Carmen, via anonline dating website.In late 2009, he deployedtoIraq for 10 months. Sta-tioned mostly in the northernpart of the country, McClel-land led three-men sniperteams on missions counteringimprovised explosive devices.Eight months into his tour,while he was home on leave,McClelland watched his newinfant daughter take her firstbreaths. Two days later, hewas on a plane back to Iraq.His second tour startedMay 1, 2012. This one felt dif-ferent, McClelland said. Forone thing, his wife was eightmonths pregnant with the cou-ple’s son. This time, McClel-land knew he wouldn’t bethere for the birth.He was also headed to amore dangerous location —Afghanistan’s Zhari District inKandahar Province, the birth-place of the Taliban.It lived up to its name.“We were getting into firefights every day with the Tal-iban,” McClelland said.His unit worked with vil-lage elders to rebuild parts of the city, much of which wasstill a Taliban stronghold. Theatmosphere, he said, wasnerve-wracking.“You didn’t know if youwere going to step on an IEDor get shot at,” he said.One day in August 2012,McClelland and about 80 sol-diers lined up in formation foran executive officer’s promo-tion ceremony.Then they heard a singleshot, followed by two burstsof machine-gun fire. As thebullets inched closer,the sol-diers dove for cover. McClel-land hid behind a metal stor-age container.Within seconds, he organ-ized a team of four of soldiersto advance on the gunmanfrom the left flank.When they were about 20feet from him, the gunfire sud-denly stopped. Another soliderhad shot the assailant, strikinghim in the face and chest.The gunman turned out tobe an Afghan National Armysolider,asupposed ally theAmerican troops had trained.He was airlifted to a nearbyhospital and died in-flight,McClelland said.Two soldiers were injuredin the attack, including theofficer scheduled to be pro-moted.Other soldiers — mostlytheyoungeroneshiddur-ing the attack, McClellandsaid. That wasn’t an optionfor him.“It didn’treally hit me untilwe left Afghanistan,” he saidof the incident, the closest callhe had during two tours. “Ilook back and I think, ‘You’rean idiot for going after thisguy.’But I had to do it or elsealot of people could havebeen injured. I saw the objec-tive, and my training took over, and I just went for it.”When McClelland tellsthat story, he sticks to thefacts: what happened, whowas involved, how it ended.But his mother, DianeMcClelland, sat quietly as herson told the story, wipingaway a few tears. It’s difficultnarrative for her to hear.While she’s proud of herson, fear is ever-present.She’s found a community of support in the Four CornersBlue Star Mothers, a servicegroup for mothers with chil-dren in the military.“It’s terrifying, yet you’rethere for them. You supportthem. You go through a lot of emotions,” she said.Jason McClelland returnedin January from Afghanistan.He’s now looking to thefuture. He plans to move back to Farmington once his stint inthe Army is up in spring 2014.While job prospects forveterans are bleak, he’shop-ing to go back to working inthe oil industry, maybe as asafety man.He credits the military withteaching him discipline andhelping him shift his priorities.His wife and two young chil-dren — Thayne, 1, andMacKenzie, 3 — come first,he said.McClelland shrugs off anyaccolades for service. Whenthe Four Corners Chapter of the American Red Cross rec-ognized him for his heroism ataceremony in June, McClel-land said the attention madehim feel “a little weird.”“To us, it’s a job. It’s whatwe do,” he said.
 Magdalena Wegrzyn isthe city editor for The DailyTimes. She can be reached at 505-564-4632.
Jon Austria/ 
The Daily Times 
U.S. Army Sgt. Jason McClelland poses for a portrait at his home in Farmington.
Photo courtesy of Diane McClelland 
U.S. Army Agt. Jason McClelland has completed two tours in the Middle East – one in Iraq and one inAfghanistan. McClelland, pictured here in 2012 in Afghanistan, was responsible for rallying a group of sol-diers against an enemy soldier during an attack.
U.S. Army Sgt.Jason McClelland‘felt compelled’to military service
 
2
The Daily Times
Sunday, June 30, 2013
COMMUNIT
 
 Y HEROES
By Molly Maxwell
For The Daily Times 
FARMINGTON —Jenny Dennis and ShawnArachuleta are so insepara-ble they are known by theirSpecial Olympics familyaffectionately as “Shenny”.“Shenny” even receivesmail from the SpecialOlympics New Mexicoheadquarters, and theirdevotion to their work withthe Special Olympics is justas strong as their bond witheach other.Dennis and Arachuletahave been working togetheras community service offi-cers for the FarmingtonPolice Department for 15years, and have helped withthe police department’sinvolvement with SpecialOlympics for just as long.However, over the years,their involvement hasgrown to the point that it isnow more of a way of lifefor them.“You just get sucked in.There really is no other wayto put it,” Dennis said. “Atthis point, even if we wereno longer with the policedepartment, we would stillbe doing this work.”The Law EnforcementTorch Run is one of theseveral fundraisers Dennisand Arachuleta take part inas community service offi-cers, and Sgt. Kent O’Don-nell said the women domost of the work on theirown time.The torch run raisespublic awareness and is themain fundraiser for the Spe-cial Olympics, and umbrel-las other fundraisersthroughout the year. Dennisand Arachuleta are commit-tee chairs for the run, plusthey oversee the PolarPlunge, Chili’s Tip-A-Cop –where police officers work as Chili’s waiters to gener-ate money for the SpecialOlympics – and the SpecialOlympic events that takeplace in Farmington.“They have set a newhigh for raising money forthe Special Olympics (forthe Farmington PoliceDepartment) this year,” saidO’Donnell.So far this year, theyhave raised $18,000 andthey are only half waythrough the year.Other Special OlympicsAreas in New Mexico look to Area 1’s torch run andChili’s Tip-A-Cop as amodel to follow.The inaugural C.A.S.T.For Kids Special OlympicsSummer Camp at NavajoLake ran June 21 through23, and Arachuleta andDennis took the lead role inorganizing the event.Fishing was the mainevent, but other activitiesincluded making bird feed-ers, a scavenger hunt andweaving survivor bracelets.Dennis and Arachuletawork closely with DebraLisenbee, the Area 1 NewMexico Special OlympicsDirector.“We actually had to sayOK, Jenny, we only havetwo days,’” Lisenbee saidof Dennis’enthusiasm foradding activities to theweekend. “They’re like abad penny – you can’t getrid of them. But a whole lotof this wouldn’t be happen-ing without them.”
 Molly Max well is a con-tributing writer for The Daily Times.
By James Fenton
 jfenton@daily-times.com @fentondt on Twitter 
AZTEC — With pinsholding his spine togetherand reconstructed knees,soft-spoken Larry Turk lumbers slowly along, butthat doesn’t get in his way.Turk, familiar to mostpeople as the superintend-ent of Aztec Ruins and theacting superintendent of Chaco Culture NationalPark, is on a mission tomake the cultural sites heoversees and the surround-ing community a betterplace.“That’s what we’re try-ing to do here, is toincrease the number of programs we offer, toalways focus on outreach,”he said. “The real dividendpaid is educating ouryouth and you can’t put aprice on that.”Part of that is the Park Service’s Call to Actionplan to increase the pub-lic’s appreciation andstewardship of U.S. parksas it nears its 100th year.Turk and his staff haverolled out dozens of proj-ects to answer the call.Those projects includeconnecting downtownAztec to the Ruins with anew pedestrian trail sys-tem and walking bridgeover the Animas River,providing learning-serviceefforts in the park witharea students, uppingclassroom visits by inter-pretation staff from sevento 162 this last academicyear, erecting wood postfencing and shade struc-tures designed by Turk who was inspired by theRuins’architecture, andworking with a Cub Scoutpack and Youth Conserva-tion Corps to grow vegeta-bles and native plants inthe park’s demonstrationgarden.For a guy somewhathobbled by injuries sus-tained while serving thecountry as an airborneArmy Ranger, Turk man-ages to stay in constantmotion.In 11 years, Turk wentfrom entry-level custodianat South Padre IslandNational Seashore, Texas,to his current twin superin-tendent roles.Not satisfied managingtwo national parks, Turk serves on four boards —the Aztec Chamber of Commerce, Aztec trailsand Open Space, AztecMuseum, and soon to bechair of the Lodger’s TaxAdvisory board — toincrease the positive for-ward motion he envisionsfor the community.“I am very driven and Ienjoy a challenge, I admitit,” he said. “I usuallyreach my 40 work hoursby Wednesday. But I don’twear a watch; time doesn’tmatter to me. If I wasn’tout working, I’d just besitting at home, so I staybusy.”Turk begins each Feb-ruary working weekendsduring the remainder of the school year with AztecHigh School Junior ROTCcadets whom he employsfull-time in the summer. Aformer Eagle scout, he canbe as often found sitting ata conference table or atcommission meetings aspicking up a shovel anddiverting the park’s irriga-tion trenches.He currently is in nego-tiations with Bureau of Land Management offi-cials to limit or remove oiland gas leases that sur-round the park at Chaco.Noise and air pollutionfrom roads, traffic,drilling, and anything thatsullies the pristine park experience for visitorsconcerns him.“Today, you can almostgo back in time to over1,000 years ago,” Turk said. “To be out there, youcan see everything in thesky in sharp focus.”In July, Turk’s efforts todesignate the park as a“Dark Sky Park” will besecured. The rare honor isgiven by the InternationalDark Sky Association, anon-profit that promotesthe preservation and pro-tection of night skiesacross the globe. Chacowill be only the fourthpark in the country withthe designation.In March, Turk washonored as Aztec’s citizenof the year for his dedica-tion to communityimprovement. Last year,Turk, who moved to Aztecwhen he accepted hissuperintendent positiontwo years ago, was namedan official 2012 Old Sore-head for his volunteeringwork.Turk quietly defers anyacclaim he has received toothers.“I couldn’t do any of the things I do without myincredible staff and myawesome wife,” he said.“It’s not my success. It’sthe community’s. I don’twork this much forawards, even though I amvery honored (to be recog-nized).”Turk comes up withideas for progress and seesthem through. With helpfrom the ConservationCorps workers, he is clear-ing a dead apple orchardon the west flank of theRuins, removing invasivespecies and revegetatingthe area. He hopes to putin a campground at itssouth end to furtherencourage visitors.For Turk, progress isonly possible by collabo-rating with others andkeeping at it every day.“Everything I do is cen-tered around the communi-ty, especially the youth,”Turk said. “They’re ourfuture. We’re going to bepassing the torch off tothem and I want to makesure that we’re doingeverything we can to liveup to or surpass theirexpectations.”
 James Fenton covers Aztec and Bloomfield for The Daily Times. He canbe reached at 505-564-4621.
For Larry Turk, making a difference is what matters most
Jon Austria/ 
The Daily Times 
Larry Turk, poses for a portrait, Friday, June 21, 2013 at the Aztec Ruins National Monument in Aztec. Turk is the superintendent of AztecRuins National Monument.
A team of community service officers devoted to the Special Olympics
Photo courtesy of Molly Maxwell 
Jenny Dennis and Shawn Arachuleta pose with all the campers at the first Special Olympic Summer Camp Saturday June 22nd.
Photo courtesy of Molly Maxwell 
Dennis and Arachuleta go over the summer camp schedule with campers Friday June 21st.
 
2
The Daily Times
Sunday, June 30, 2013
COMMUNIT
 
 Y HEROES
By Molly Maxwell
For The Daily Times 
FARMINGTON —Jenny Dennis and ShawnArachuleta are so insepara-ble they are known by theirSpecial Olympics familyaffectionately as “Shenny”.“Shenny” even receivesmail from the SpecialOlympics New Mexicoheadquarters, and theirdevotion to their work withthe Special Olympics is justas strong as their bond witheach other.Dennis and Arachuletahave been working togetheras community service offi-cers for the FarmingtonPolice Department for 15years, and have helped withthe police department’sinvolvement with SpecialOlympics for just as long.However, over the years,their involvement hasgrown to the point that it isnow more of a way of lifefor them.“You just get sucked in.There really is no other wayto put it,” Dennis said. “Atthis point, even if we wereno longer with the policedepartment, we would stillbe doing this work.”The Law EnforcementTorch Run is one of theseveral fundraisers Dennisand Arachuleta take part inas community service offi-cers, and Sgt. Kent O’Don-nell said the women domost of the work on theirown time.The torch run raisespublic awareness and is themain fundraiser for the Spe-cial Olympics, and umbrel-las other fundraisersthroughout the year. Dennisand Arachuleta are commit-tee chairs for the run, plusthey oversee the PolarPlunge, Chili’s Tip-A-Cop –where police officers work as Chili’s waiters to gener-ate money for the SpecialOlympics – and the SpecialOlympic events that takeplace in Farmington.“They have set a newhigh for raising money forthe Special Olympics (forthe Farmington PoliceDepartment) this year,” saidO’Donnell.So far this year, theyhave raised $18,000 andthey are only half waythrough the year.Other Special OlympicsAreas in New Mexico look to Area 1’s torch run andChili’s Tip-A-Cop as amodel to follow.The inaugural C.A.S.T.For Kids Special OlympicsSummer Camp at NavajoLake ran June 21 through23, and Arachuleta andDennis took the lead role inorganizing the event.Fishing was the mainevent, but other activitiesincluded making bird feed-ers, a scavenger hunt andweaving survivor bracelets.Dennis and Arachuletawork closely with DebraLisenbee, the Area 1 NewMexico Special OlympicsDirector.“We actually had to sayOK, Jenny, we only havetwo days,’” Lisenbee saidof Dennis’enthusiasm foradding activities to theweekend. “They’re like abad penny – you can’t getrid of them. But a whole lotof this wouldn’t be happen-ing without them.”
 Molly Max well is a con-tributing writer for The Daily Times.
By James Fenton
 jfenton@daily-times.com @fentondt on Twitter 
AZTEC — With pinsholding his spine togetherand reconstructed knees,soft-spoken Larry Turk lumbers slowly along, butthat doesn’t get in his way.Turk, familiar to mostpeople as the superintend-ent of Aztec Ruins and theacting superintendent of Chaco Culture NationalPark, is on a mission tomake the cultural sites heoversees and the surround-ing community a betterplace.“That’s what we’re try-ing to do here, is toincrease the number of programs we offer, toalways focus on outreach,”he said. “The real dividendpaid is educating ouryouth and you can’t put aprice on that.”Part of that is the Park Service’s Call to Actionplan to increase the pub-lic’s appreciation andstewardship of U.S. parksas it nears its 100th year.Turk and his staff haverolled out dozens of proj-ects to answer the call.Those projects includeconnecting downtownAztec to the Ruins with anew pedestrian trail sys-tem and walking bridgeover the Animas River,providing learning-serviceefforts in the park witharea students, uppingclassroom visits by inter-pretation staff from sevento 162 this last academicyear, erecting wood postfencing and shade struc-tures designed by Turk who was inspired by theRuins’architecture, andworking with a Cub Scoutpack and Youth Conserva-tion Corps to grow vegeta-bles and native plants inthe park’s demonstrationgarden.For a guy somewhathobbled by injuries sus-tained while serving thecountry as an airborneArmy Ranger, Turk man-ages to stay in constantmotion.In 11 years, Turk wentfrom entry-level custodianat South Padre IslandNational Seashore, Texas,to his current twin superin-tendent roles.Not satisfied managingtwo national parks, Turk serves on four boards —the Aztec Chamber of Commerce, Aztec trailsand Open Space, AztecMuseum, and soon to bechair of the Lodger’s TaxAdvisory board — toincrease the positive for-ward motion he envisionsfor the community.“I am very driven and Ienjoy a challenge, I admitit,” he said. “I usuallyreach my 40 work hoursby Wednesday. But I don’twear a watch; time doesn’tmatter to me. If I wasn’tout working, I’d just besitting at home, so I staybusy.”Turk begins each Feb-ruary working weekendsduring the remainder of the school year with AztecHigh School Junior ROTCcadets whom he employsfull-time in the summer. Aformer Eagle scout, he canbe as often found sitting ata conference table or atcommission meetings aspicking up a shovel anddiverting the park’s irriga-tion trenches.He currently is in nego-tiations with Bureau of Land Management offi-cials to limit or remove oiland gas leases that sur-round the park at Chaco.Noise and air pollutionfrom roads, traffic,drilling, and anything thatsullies the pristine park experience for visitorsconcerns him.“Today, you can almostgo back in time to over1,000 years ago,” Turk said. “To be out there, youcan see everything in thesky in sharp focus.”In July, Turk’s efforts todesignate the park as a“Dark Sky Park” will besecured. The rare honor isgiven by the InternationalDark Sky Association, anon-profit that promotesthe preservation and pro-tection of night skiesacross the globe. Chacowill be only the fourthpark in the country withthe designation.In March, Turk washonored as Aztec’s citizenof the year for his dedica-tion to communityimprovement. Last year,Turk, who moved to Aztecwhen he accepted hissuperintendent positiontwo years ago, was namedan official 2012 Old Sore-head for his volunteeringwork.Turk quietly defers anyacclaim he has received toothers.“I couldn’t do any of the things I do without myincredible staff and myawesome wife,” he said.“It’s not my success. It’sthe community’s. I don’twork this much forawards, even though I amvery honored (to be recog-nized).”Turk comes up withideas for progress and seesthem through. With helpfrom the ConservationCorps workers, he is clear-ing a dead apple orchardon the west flank of theRuins, removing invasivespecies and revegetatingthe area. He hopes to putin a campground at itssouth end to furtherencourage visitors.For Turk, progress isonly possible by collabo-rating with others andkeeping at it every day.“Everything I do is cen-tered around the communi-ty, especially the youth,”Turk said. “They’re ourfuture. We’re going to bepassing the torch off tothem and I want to makesure that we’re doingeverything we can to liveup to or surpass theirexpectations.”
 James Fenton covers Aztec and Bloomfield for The Daily Times. He canbe reached at 505-564-4621.
For Larry Turk, making a difference is what matters most
Jon Austria/ 
The Daily Times 
Larry Turk, poses for a portrait, Friday, June 21, 2013 at the Aztec Ruins National Monument in Aztec. Turk is the superintendent of AztecRuins National Monument.
A team of community service officers devoted to the Special Olympics
Photo courtesy of Molly Maxwell 
Jenny Dennis and Shawn Arachuleta pose with all the campers at the first Special Olympic Summer Camp Saturday June 22nd.
Photo courtesy of Molly Maxwell 
Dennis and Arachuleta go over the summer camp schedule with campers Friday June 21st.

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