Dearborn’s Memorial Day Parade honors ‘Hometown Heroes’

Col. Joe Martin

Col. Joe Martin

DEARBORN – The city’s Memorial Day Parade, the state’s oldest continuous tribute to America’s fallen, will start at 10:30 a.m. May 31 to accommodate a special ceremonial funeral procession beginning at 9:30 a.m.

The parade, marking its 86th year, runs east along Michigan Avenue from Firestone to Schaefer.

This year, the Dearborn Allied War Veterans Council has chosen five men with connections to Dearborn, and representing all branches of the military, to be the grand marshals. They illustrate the DAWVC’s chosen theme of “Hometown Heroes.”

They are Col. Joseph M. Martin, commander of the U.S. Army’s 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team; Maj. Robert Seeley, 127th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron of the Michigan Air National Guard and a U.S. Air Force veteran; Marvin Steigerwald, Marine Corps veteran; Ron Blas, a U.S. Navy veteran and retired Navy reservist; and Matt Post, a veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard.

“These grand marshals embody the spirit of our servicemen and women who stand or have recently stood ready to safeguard our country,” Mayor John O’Reilly said.

“We salute them as we carry on Dearborn’s proud tradition of remembering its heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice,” he said.

Martin will be the grand marshal to speak at the remembrance ceremony, which follows the parade.

He served as a commander three times in Iraq during Desert Storm and the beginning and end of Operation Iraqi Freedom, when security improvements were at the cornerstone of all missions.

As commander of the 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, Col. Martin led soldiers who partnered with Iraqi security forces to bring stability to the country.

They captured insurgents, helped thousands of forcibly displaced families return home, and stood guard as sectarian violence decreased.

“We set conditions every day for the return to normalcy that Iraqis so richly deserve and desire,” Martin said at a Department of Defense press conference just before finishing his yearlong deployment last October.

He had assumed command of the brigade in May 2008. Before that, he served in a variety of troop assignments since graduating from the U.S. Military Academy in 1986.

From 1987 to 1990 he was a tank platoon leader, scout platoon leader and company executive officer with the 1st Battalion, 37th Armor Regiment in the 1st Armored Division.

Upon graduation from the Armor Officer Advanced Course, Martin was assigned to 4th Battalion, 37th Armor Regiment in the 1st Infantry Division; where he commanded Company B during Operation Desert Storm and at Fort Riley, Kan.

From 2003 to 2005, Martin commanded the 1st Battalion, 67th Armor Regiment in the 4th Infantry Division during Operation Iraqi Freedom in BaQubah, Iraq, and at Fort Hood, Texas.

Martin’s non-troop assignments include service as an observer controller at Fort Irwin, Calif., as well as instructor/writer and aide to the commanding general at the U.S. Armor Center at Fort Knox, Ky.

Additionally, Martin has served as a battalion operations officer, aide to the corps commanding general and brigade operations officer at Fort Hood.

More recently, he was the armor branch chief and chief of the Maneuver, Fires and Effects Division at the U.S. Army Human Resources Command in Alexandria, Va.

Martin holds a master’s degree in education from the University of Louisville. He is a graduate of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College and the U.S. War College.

His awards and decorations include the Bronze Star with V device and one oak leaf cluster, Meritorious Service Medal with six Oak Leaf Clusters and the Army Commendation Medal with V device. He has also earned the Combat Action Badge and the Parachutist Badge.

The roles of the other grand marshals in defending our country follow:

As squadron commander of the 127th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron of the Michigan Air National Guard, Seeley oversees a crew that keeps jets like the A-10 Thunderbolt II maneuvering at low speeds and altitudes with accurate weapons systems.

The 42-year-old Dearborn police sergeant has been an officer in the ANG since 1997, starting in supplies, then transferring to transportation and aircraft maintenance. He is in charge of 200 reservists and soon will have 24 airplanes to maintain.

Seeley’s 22-year career with the military started when he abandoned plans to become an engineer. His family has a long history of military service and he talked to relatives and looked into the different branches.

Seeley’s father and uncles were in the U.S. Navy during World War II. His mother’s brothers were in the U.S. Army and Marine Corps, including twins who didn’t return from the Korean War. One of her brothers was killed in action and the other was missing in action.

Seeley said he joined the U.S. Air Force in 1988 after visiting recruiters and learning about its community college program. He earned an associate’s degree in logistics after studying how to move and store military parts and equipment.

In 1990, Seeley served in Desert Shield and Desert Storm. From an international airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, he helped supply troops that fought back Iraqi forces that had invaded Kuwait.

In 1992, Seeley was assigned to an Air Force base in Ankara, Turkey, as part of an operation called Provide Comfort. The United States and its Gulf War allies defended Kurdish refugees who fled their homes in northern Iraq. They also provided humanitarian relief.

After he was discharged from the Air Force, Seeley earned a bachelor’s degree in conservation criminal justice at Lake Superior State University. He was a conservation officer for the Department of Natural Resources when the Dearborn Police Department recruited in northern Michigan.

Seeley was hired by the department in 1995 and now is a patrol sergeant. He has helped plan Dearborn’s Memorial Day parades in the past and holds the tribute to the ultimate sacrifices of servicemen and women in high regard.

“I was surprised when they asked me to be a grand marshal,” Seeley said. “It’s quite an honor.”

His decades in the service have earned him many honors. Major Seeley was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters, Air Force Commendation Medal with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters, Air Force Achievement Medal, South West Asia Service Medal with 3 Campaign Stars, Air Force Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal, Humanitarian Service Medal and a Michigan Distinguished Service Medal.

Steigerwald, a 35-year Dearborn resident, went into the U.S. Marine Corps after graduating from Fordson High School in 1989. He got his combat training at Camp Pendleton, Calif., learning how to be an anti-tank assault man/demolitions.

“That means we took out tanks and fortified positions,” he said.

Steigerwald was assigned to the 2nd Battalion 3rd Marines Regiment 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade in Hawaii.

“I was in an infantry unit so we traveled quite frequently,” he said. “I did survival training in Bridgeport, Calif., along with cold weather training there as well. Desert training was conducted in 29 Palms, Calif., and jungle training in Okinawa, Japan.”

Less than a year later, in August 1990, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait set in motion events that would lead to the largest movement of Marine Corps forces since World War II.

Steigerwald was part of the deployment. He spent 10 months as a section leader for the 12-person 3rd Assault Team and participated in both Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

“My unit was one of the first into Kuwait City,” he said. “We actually secured the U.S. Embassy and the Kuwaiti International Airport. We assisted in clearing the runways for U.S. military planes to start landing.”

Steigerwald received a Meritorious Mast commendation, which is written recognition of work well done. As in all wars, the work pressure was intense.
“My responsibilities as a team leader were instructing the team and keeping them alive,” he said.

During his four years of service, Steigerwald also had assignments in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Philippines, Hong Kong, Korea, Thailand, Guam and Australia and spent time on naval ships, such as the USS Iwo Jima, Duluth, Debuik, and the St. Louis.

Before he was discharged in 1993, Steigerwald received honors from both branches of the military, including a Navy Unit Citation, Combat Action ribbon, Sea Service Deployment ribbon, Good Conduct Medal, Kuwait Liberation Medal, Saudi Arabian Medal, National Defense Medal and the Marine Unit Citation.

Steigerwald, 39, currently works for the Department of Homeland Security in Detroit.

In the aftermath of September 11th, the U.S. Navy activated individual reservists instead of units to staff Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

As a master-at-arms, Blas, Petty Officer First Class, shipped out to set up security for detainees.

Blas was part of Operation Noble Eagle, which transitioned into Operation Enduring Freedom in January 2002, when the mission expanded to escorting detainees from aircraft to the holding areas called Camp X-Ray and Camp Delta.

Blas played a role in military operations related to homeland security and supporting federal agencies. At Guantanamo, he eventually was assigned to be watch commander of the airfield, where he made sure there were no security breaches on inbound flights and checked credentials of military and civilian personnel.

His 21-year military career began in 1984 as an aircraft mechanic with the U.S. Navy on the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70). During his four years of active duty, he was part of a crew that patrolled the Indian Ocean for a record-setting 107 days.

“All you did seven days a week was work 12- to 15-hour days and sleep,” he said. “That was a long time to go without port. We set a record for being out at sea. That was a Navy milestone.”

In August 1986, the ship also became the first U.S. aircraft carrier to operate in the Bering Sea.

During his last year in the Navy, Blas took the test to join the Chicago Police Department, where he is a 19-year veteran. In 1988, he continued with the Navy Reserves. Based in Chicago where there was no air base, he switched from engineering to security.

“The military needed law enforcement at the time,” he said. “It was the best decision I ever made.”

During Desert Storm he was on security detail in Norfolk, Va., followed by Naval Station Great Lakes, Ill. He retired in 2005 as an E6 first class petty officer.

Blas, 43, remains on the Chicago police force as a tactical sergeant who deals with gangs and homicides. He urges troubled youth to join the military.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do after high school,” he said. “The military gave me focus, a mission, a direction in life.”

Post, 27, joined the U.S. Coast Guard a few months after graduating from Edsel Ford High School. He will never forget the date: Sept. 4, 2001.

“It was something I had always wanted to do,” Post said. “Growing up fishing in the Detroit River it looked like a cool job.”

A week later it became a crucial job for homeland security.

In addition to search and rescue missions and law enforcement, Post went on security patrols to keep watch over two nuclear power plants along Lake Michigan near where he was stationed in St. Joseph, Mich.

At the time, the waiting list for the USCG grew. The military branch was a popular option for people who wanted to serve their country in relative safety.

Post worked his way up to the rank of E-3 petty officer. He spent a lot of his service time on a 47-foot motor lifeboat that could right itself in turbulent waters.

“It couldn’t capsize; it was a cool ride,” he said. “It took nine months to qualify for it and a nine-hour oral board. They’re thorough.”

The USCG puts its enlistees through a difficult boot camp second only to the Marine Corps, Post said.

“They’re more physical; we’re more mental,” he said.

Post saved a boater’s life when he had a heart attack on a charter-fishing trip. He also monitored the water for deadly riptides.

When his four years of active duty ended, Post was an inactive reserve for four more years. In that period, he became a federal law enforcement officer for the Federal Reserve.

“We protect assets of the bank and high-end bank personnel,” he said.

He still lives in Dearborn with his fiancée. He said he is proud to represent the USCG in his hometown Memorial Day parade.

“Without a doubt I said yes,” Post said. “We’re the forgotten service until you need us.”