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Ceremony Honors Department of Corrections Veterans, Community Members in the Armed Forces

November 10, 2015

By Rachel Friederich

DOC Communications

Marine Corps League 483 Color Guard perform posting of the colors.

Flag Members of the Marine Corps League 483 Color Guard perform “posting of the colors” in the Courtyard at the Department of Corrections’ Headquarters building in Tumwater.

TUMWATER – Retired Army Col. Mike Courts remembers a time when he was feeling depressed while on deployment to Bosnia on Christmas Day, 1996. After more than 14 years of active duty in the military, this was the first Christmas he’d ever spent away from his family. While he was standing in line for breakfast at the mess hall, a local Muslim woman came up to him and said, “I am very sorry that because my countrymen have acted badly you have to be away from your family. I want you to know that because you are here, I still have a family.”

Courts said that moment humbled him. “I learned what it meant to be a service member in the United States military. Yes, we fight our nation’s wars, but more importantly we are peacemakers, and the greatest gift I have to give is my time and even life for the freedom of others.”

Courts, who is the mayor-elect for the city of DuPont served in the U.S. Army for 30 years, completing two tours of duty in Bosnia and Iraq. He was one of several speakers at the Department of Corrections’ Veteran’s Day ceremony held at the DOC headquarters last week. The ceremony, organized by the department’s Diversity Action Council, included posting of colors in the courtyard and first floor conference room by Marine Corps League 483 Color Guard, and a flag folding ceremony. Tables displayed various military memorabilia such as medals, photographs and soldiers’ uniforms. Corrections Secretary Dan Pacholke also spoke at the ceremony and recognized DOC employees who also served in the military. According to Pacholke, about 17.2 percent of the department’s workforce is veterans.

“We value veterans’ experience and dedication to public service, which makes them ideal candidates for employment with the DOC,” Pacholke said. “When our service members take their oath, they make a commitment to protect our freedom and democracy and swear to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies in the service of the United States. These are powerful words, but they are not just words. This oath becomes action.”

Stephen Gonczi, a retired Chief Petty Officer with the U.S. Navy, who works in health services at the Washington Corrections Center, spoke of his career in the Navy and working with incarcerated veterans. He said it’s not uncommon for veterans to experience hardships as they readjust to life outside of the military. It can be acontributing factor in domestic problems, violence, crime and even jail or prison. He added one of the things incarcerated veterans often appreciate is having someone to talk to about getting the resources they need—particularly if it comes from another veteran.

“I found my calling to help these men,” said Gonczi, who is also the Incarcerated Veteran’s Inmate representative and group lead at WCC. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard ‘Thank you’ from these guys. ‘Thank you for listening.’”

Other speakers included Joe Gunter, a correctional officer at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center, and Teri Herold-Prayer, event coordinator and Diversity Action Council member.