Veterans Affairs deputy speaks Friday

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

From staff reports

One of Tennessee's deputy veterans affairs commissioners, a former National Guardsman who served with Marshall County's veterans service officer and one of its commissioners, is speaking Friday on Lewisburg's public square for Veterans Day.

Deputy Commissioner Wendell Cheek served in the Guard with Billy Hill, the veterans service officer, and Commissioner Dean Delk, principal of Chapel Hill Elementary School. Cheek was in a quartermaster unit in Tullahoma with Delk during 1984-'85 until he transferred to Nashville with an engineering brigade where he served with Hill.

"It was a pleasure serving with both those guys and I learned a lot from both them," Cheek said.

His message at the 11 a.m. Friday ceremony will be to "recognize and thank all veterans there at the program, as well as those who have served and continue to serve," the deputy commissioner said in a telephone interview after a program conducted Monday with Gov. Bill Haslam at the William R. Snodgrass Tennessee Tower Plaza in Nashville. Haslam marked Veterans Day early. Friday is a state holiday.

"The governor spoke from the heart saying that sometimes we are put in places where we don't deserve," Cheek said. Haslam "related that to an individual who knew a country artist and got to meet the folks behind the scenes... When he became governor he got to go to Afghanistan" as a dignitary.

Haslam has also visited bases in Iraq and Kuwait.

Tennessee has a significant percentage of its population serving in the military. It's among the top seven. Governors from four states were selected for that trip in August.

Haslam also spoke of his military trip on Sept. 16 in Columbia.

"You should be really proud of what our troops are doing," said Haslam, reflecting on "how sharp they are."

Some people "used to think the military was a place to put your kids who got in trouble and where they'd shape up," the governor said. "It's not that way any more."

America's military is working in a "bad neighborhood... where the temperature is 130 degrees and there's not a day off... It's really hard work," he said in the Memorial Building during luncheon remarks to Rotarians and the Kiwanis Club.

A catfish and chicken dinner will be served at the Veterans of Foreign Wars clubhouse on East Church Street immediately after Marshall County's Veterans Day ceremony, including a laying of wreaths at memorials to soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen from here who died during war.

Cheek's appearance on the square here is preceded by his participation in Veterans Day ceremonies at Chapel Hill Elementary School where Delk is the principal.

Cheek lives in Murfreesboro with his wife, Lenae. Born in Maury County, Cheek has relatives in the Berlin Community and Leftwich Bridge is where his grandparents lived. His family had property where the Columbia Dam "was never built," he said.

As for Marshall County residents who know people with the names Cheek and Hardison, he said, "Chances are I'm kin to them."

He was working for Humana Military, the agency that manages health care for the military, as the director of the Guard and Reserve when he was tapped by Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder to be a deputy commissioner. As luck would have it, he said, "Humana moved me to Tennessee." He'd been working in San Antonio, Texas.

"After 10 and a half years, I decided to retire and be a Tennessean again," he said.

Cheek joined the U.S. Amy in 1974 and in August of 1977, he mustered out, only to join the National Guard the next month. He retired from the Guard as a lieutenant colonel in 2001 and moved to Texas.

While he never was assigned overseas, a number of his friends served in Afghanistan and they were close enough for them to keep him posted on circumstances.

"I got call one day on my cell phone while I was in an elevator in San Antonio and it was one of my friends in Iraq saying. 'Wish you were here.'"

Tennessee has over 500,000 veterans. Their deputy commissioners' responsibilities within each region include supervision of the department's field offices and state cemeteries as well as coordinating with U.S. Veterans Affairs Medical Centers, Veterans Service Organizations, County Service Officers, civic leaders and state Veterans Homes.