Articles and photos
by Amy Howe

Fredric R. Wheeler II

Hometown: Des Moines, Iowa

Current Town: Joplin, Missouri

Branch: Navy | Rank: LCDR (04)

MOS: 8402 Independent Duty Submarine Corpsman as enlisted

Physician’s assistant as a warrant officer and pediatrician as a medical officer

Honors: Qualified in Submarines, Navy Achievement Medal, Good Conduct Medal (2), National Defense Medal (2)


“When someone says, ‘Thank you for your service,’ I want to say, ‘Thank you for the privilege of being a part of the greatest navy in the world,’” said Fredric Wheeler.

Wheeler grew up in Des Moines, Iowa. He was a bright kid in school but never worked hard on his homework. In 1966, Wheeler left college with a 1.698 GPA and figured he would likely be drafted, so he went ahead and joined the Navy in January 1967.

Wheeler tested well in the Navy and was offered five choices of “A” schools.

“The classification specialist suggested I request Hospital Corps School even though I didn’t like being around sick people,” said Wheeler. “I had been working as an engineering aid (surveyor) and wanted to join the ‘Seabees’ Construction Battalion. They sent me to Hospital Corps School instead, very much against my will.”

Wheeler studied anatomy, pharmacology and microbiology and received good grades.

“I got orders to Independent Duty School and then went to Submarine School and Nuclear Medicine School. I became an 8402 Submarine IDC (Independent Duty Corpsman) and made six patrols on the John C. Calhoun SSBN 630-Blue Crew. Then I got picked up for Physicians Assistant School in Wichita Falls, Texas, and Orlando, Florida. From there, I went to Gulfport, Mississippi, where one of the doctors suggested I go to medical school at KCUMB in Kansas City. With his help, I applied and got in,” said Wheeler.

Married to his wife, Patricia, with three children, Wheeler could not have attended medical school without a scholarship from the Navy. “After finishing medical school, my family and I went to Bremerton, Washington, for internship. Then we went to Guam, where I worked in the hospital but did medevacs taking patients to the Philippines and to Hawaii. While in Guam, I finally figured out I should be a pediatrician and got my residency at the Naval Hospital in Portsmouth, Virginia. I then went to Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune where I was the chief of pediatrics when Mickey Mitchell sent a letter recruiting for a pediatrician at Oak Hill Hospital here in Joplin. We were eligible to retire and came here in 1991, and are happy we did,” said Wheeler.

Wheeler is now a retired pediatrician and does volunteer work with St Mary’s Church, Ronald McDonald House Charities, and Knights of Columbus. He also sits on various boards and committees for Mercy Hospital.

“I was involved in the SAFE/Care program for child abuse for about 20 years and was also very involved in training medical students, both nursing and physicians, at the hospitals in Joplin,” said Wheeler.

Sharon Norvell-Arner

Hometown: Webb City, Missouri

Current Town: Webb City, Missouri

Branch: Missouri Army National Guard, 203rd Engineer Battalion

Rank: SPC « MOS: 51R (Electrician)

Extra Duties: 5-ton truck driver, Combat Lifesaver (Medic)

Honors: Army Commendation Medal (3), Army Achievement Medal (2), National Defense Service Medal (2), GWOT Service Medal, GWOT Expeditionary Medal, Combat Badge, Driver Badge, Humanitarian Service, Overseas Training Ribbon, Good Conduct

“My daughter says my years of service were when I was happiest,” said Sharon Norvell-Arner. “She is probably right. I could talk forever about the places I have been, what we did, and the adventures along the way.”

Norvell-Arner’s biggest influence to serve her country was from her aunt Theresa, who served 22 years in the Army as an engineer-heavy equipment operator. “My grandpa served in World War II, and my mom wanted to serve, but she didn’t meet the height requirements,” said Norvell-Arner. “I joined JROTC my sophomore year of high school. I lived and breathed drill team, color guard and military tactics for three years. I learned leadership skills, duty, honor, respect, integrity and courage from this class and the friends in it. I knew this was exactly what I wanted to do when I graduated, and I truly loved every minute of the 20 years I served.”

Norvell-Arner served 16 months in Baghdad, Iraq, during OEF/OIF from 2003-2004. “We were mostly stationed at BIAP but would go on numerous convoys throughout Baghdad and the surrounding cities. The 203rd was an engineering unit, and we did our fair share of construction work, plus we searched Iraqis and guarded them while they worked for us. Some of the construction work we did during our deployment was rebuilding schools, Freedom Rest, building a prison, Camp Victory and cleanup after the UN bombing. We lived in tents but built Camp Victory for our replacements to have a better base camp. I was on a school assessment team that went out each week to evaluate Iraqi contractors’ progress of schools throughout Baghdad.”

The most difficult part of service for Norvell-Arner was leaving her 10-year-old daughter, Cassie, behind when she was deployed for six months, which was extended six more, and then again for six more months.

“We were known as the Extenders. My daughter stayed with my parents while I was deployed. Saying goodbye to my parents as they sent their only child, their only daughter, off to war was devastating. It is the only time I ever saw my dad cry,” said Norvell-Arner.

Norvell-Arner said the most gratifying experience of her 20 years of service is the great men and women who she had the honor to serve beside.

“Although the sky is the limit for women in the military now, very few enlist, and the majority leave after their first enlistment,” said Norvell-Arner. “I can proudly say I served for 20 years and retired. My daughter, who is grown now, can say her momma actually wore combat boots!”

Dr. Brian Curtis

Hometown: Anaheim, California | Current Town: Joplin, Missouri

Branch: Navy | Rank: Lieutenant Commander | MOS: 2804

Honors: National Defense Ribbon, Expert Pistol

Dr. Brian Curtis is proud to have followed several of his family members who served in the military. Curtis’ dad and uncle served in WWII and his wife, Jodi Curtis, who he is very proud of, served in the Army National Guard for over 19 years.

“She was deployed with the 110th Combat Engineer Battalion for 16 months in Iraq. They identified and cleared over 1,000 IEDs during the tour, which was more than any other combat engineer tour in Iraq. Her unit received a valorous unit citation. Her service also included being the senior logistician for the Joplin tornado task force,” said Curtis.

Curtis worked his way through college at the University of California, Irvine. He worked weekends when he wasn’t in class and paid for his college tuition. When reviewing costs for medical school, he knew he would have to find another avenue of work to be able to afford to attend.

“Medical school was expensive. Even the state schools were expensive,” said Curtis. That’s when he decided to join the Navy under the Health Professions Scholarship Program. The program pays for medical school and then requires active duty service as a payback for paying for 100 percent of your medical school costs. “This was a great deal,” said Curtis. “I graduated from Tufts School of Medicine in Boston. My active duty payback was deferred as I finished my neurosurgery training in California. I then served my active duty payback at Portsmouth Naval Hospital in Virginia.” Curtis’ duties, besides working as a neurosurgeon at the hospital, included being assigned to the Comfort hospital ship and the Medical Mobilization and Readiness Team. He was on a 48-hour deployable status for two years but was never deployed. Curtis also served as a neurosurgeon for two and a half years for Naval Special Warfare Group 2.

While Curtis never deployed, he did get to take advantage of opportunities of active duty. “I learned to skydive, obtained my commercial pilot license, learned to operate a lot of weapons and tour some neat bases with fun equipment,” said Curtis. “I drove an M1 Abrams tank around a parking lot, qualified as a gunner for the M1 Abrams in the simulator and played golf on great military courses.”

Of those who did deploy, Curtis appreciates what they put on the line to serve and protect our freedoms we sometimes take for granted. “One story that stands out for me is when my best friend was called up for Mogadishu in 1993,” said Curtis. “He was a sniper in SEAL Team 6. He returned after deployment about 20 pounds lighter and told me of his experiences, which included the fiercest combat since Vietnam. Being a sniper, they were based mainly on little helicopters but were also in non-bulletproof vehicles. His partner was shot three times in the same leg and his bones were shattered. Five Navy SEALS received Silver Stars for their valorous actions during that deployment. Both my friend and his partner received Silver Stars. This was later made into a movie, “Blackhawk Down,” which was not entirely accurate. It made me proud to serve my country, and we owe our military the respect it deserves.

“I did so little as a neurosurgeon,” said Curtis. “I just took care of injures and medical issues. I was never shot at or wounded. I was never in combat. I have the greatest respect for our current and former military who have truly put themselves in harm’s way for people they will never meet.”

Upon discharge, Curtis entered private practice and transitioned in a mixed academic and private career in neurosurgery.

Alice Mangan

Hometown: Parsons, Kansas

Current Town: Webb City, Missouri

Branch: Army | Rank: Specialist | MOS: 71L Administrative Specialist

Honors: Army Lapel Button, Army Achievement Medal (2), National Defense Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon

In 1991, Alice Mangan, a junior in high school, joined the Army Reserves in Parsons, Kansas, and completed basic training before starting her senior year. She arrived at Fort Jackson as an admin specialist and knew she wanted to eventually go into active duty.

“I quit high school in December of my senior year and began college classes the following January,” said Mangan. “I completed the college credit requirements and began active duty at Ft. Hood in January of 1993.” Mangan was assigned to HHC 16th Sig Brigade S1. In S1, Mangan processed the noncommissioned and commissioned officers’ evaluation reports. After a year and a half, she was trained to process security clearances and moved to S2.

“It was a somewhat isolating job inside of a windowless vault,” said Mangan. “My husband of three months at the time had deployed to Korea for a year, I was pregnant with my second child, had a recently deceased father and now had a dependent mother at my house. I began to feel overwhelmed. Then, I came down on orders to PCS to Korea the week before my spouse was due home. I was about 10 months into my second enlistment, and I requested dual parenthood separation and received my honorable discharge in November of 1996.”

Mangan joined the Army to help her through college as well as see the world; both of which she accomplished. She looked up to her three older brothers, who were also in the military reserves and guard.

“I’m most proud of accomplishing the tough long weeks at basic training after my junior year in high school. It was very hard. I also enjoyed going on active duty and buying a home by the age of 21 and moving my elderly parents in before the passing of my father,” said Mangan.

Mangan enjoys spending time with her children, who are now grown, and her grandchildren.

Cheyann Pierce

Hometown: Joplin, Missouri

Current Town: Joplin, Missouri

Branch: Army National Guard

Rank: PV2 | MOS: 89B Army National Guard

Cheyann Pierce has a lineage of family who has served in the military whom she admires. Her great-grandfather was in the Army and her great-grandmother was in the Navy. Two of her brothers also served; one was in the Navy and the other was in JROTC and qualified to be a chemical engineer in the Navy. So, when Pierce decided she wanted to join JROTC at Joplin High School, it was no surprise she had amazing family support and a drive to be the best she could be. Pierce was in JROTC for four years and enjoyed her senior year the most. Pierce will soon leave for basic training to start her career in the Army National Guard.

“I’m getting excited to get started and hope to gain more discipline and a better understanding and appreciation for the history of our country,” said Pierce. “My basic training will be at Fort Jackson in South Carolina. Then I will move to AIT at Fort Lee in Virginia.” Pierce knows it will be hardest being away from her family for so long. “I haven’t been away from them for more than a week or two at a time, especially my sister, who is my best friend and my biggest motivation,” said Pierce.

Pierce’s sister, Kassidy Gonzalez, knows it will be hard for her sister to be away from her family but is very proud of her. “I am most proud of Cheyann that she has followed through with her dream and didn’t let anything deter her from her goals. Even though she had obstacles in her way, she showed everyone she can do anything if she puts her mind to it,” said Gonzalez.

Pierce’s ultimate goal is to further her education at Crowder College once training is over. Cheyann is passionate about pursing her dream of being a paramedic. “Once I complete basic training and advanced individual training, I plan to further my education at Crowder College and pursue my paramedics license,” said Pierce. “My family has a long line of medical workers, so I’ve always wanted to do something in the medical field. Both of my parents work for Freeman Health System in the ICU and operations center. I’ve done volunteer work through the hospital at the surgical desk and gift shop, but I really decided on being a paramedic from a ride along with Joplin METS. It’s kind of a rush when you’re in the back of an ambulance whipping around the corners getting someone to the hospital or responding to a car crash on a busy road.”

Pierce’s mother, Shannon Snyder, is proud and excited Cheyann chose the National Guard because she can serve her community and country and get a well-rounded education offered by the Guard.


Joseph Breidenstein

Hometown: Monett, Missouri
Current Town: Joplin, Missouri

Branch: Missouri Army National Guard

Rank: Sergeant First Class | MOS: 92Y40

Honors: Army Accommodation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Army Reserve Components Achievement Medal, Armed Forces Reserve Medal with “M” device, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Overseas Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Iraqi Campaign Medal, Missouri Iraq Campaign Medal, Missouri State Emergency Ribbon, Missouri Expeditionary Service Ribbon, Missouri Commendation Ribbon

Joseph Breidenstein joined the Missouri Army National Guard in March 2001 in his hometown of Monett, Missouri, and was assigned to the local unit, C Co 203rd ECB(H). While his mission started in Monett, Breidenstein was trained and called to action in many areas around the world. He completed basic combat training in Ft. Jackson, South Carolina, and was soon off to Ft. Lee, Virginia to begin his MOS Training. Breidenstein’s unit, along with many other Missouri National Guardsmen, would soon be called into action in early 2003 as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom and wouldn’t come back home until July 2004.

Breidenstein loves what he does and has a tremendous love for his country.

“My family has a rich military history and made it an easy choice to join,” he said. Breidenstein’s father was drafted during the Vietnam War as a cook into the US Army in the late 1970s, his mother enlisted in the US Army as a cook, as well. Breidenstein’s wife, Desiree, served from September 2001 to September 2009 as a combat medic in the Missouri Army National Guard. She was also deployed to Iraq. Breidenstein’s oldest son, Dylan Barnhart, is currently serving in the Missouri Army National Guard. “Family is the foundation of a strong soldier, and mine is the best,” said Breidenstein.

Breidenstein began another part of his service to the country in 2004 when he started working full-time for the Missouri National Guard at Camp Crowder in Neosho, Missouri.

“Part of the National Guard’s mission is to serve the community. Shortly after Hurricane Katrina hit the United States in 2005, my unit was called upon in support of the clean-up effort in Louisiana. In 2008, my unit was called upon yet again to serve the state of Louisiana for Hurricane Gustav relief. Louisiana citizens had the utmost gratitude towards Missouri Guardsmen while serving their communities,” said Breidenstein.

One more time Breidenstein would be asked to serve our great nation. “While with A Co 935th ASB in Aurora, Missouri, we were called to Kuwait in support of logistics operations in May 2012 for 12 months.”

Breidenstein currently serves as the BN Supply NCO for Missouri Training Center Command at Camp Clark in Nevada, Missouri. He attributes much of his success to those who surround him. He said, “Throughout my career, I could not have succeeded without the support of my friends, family and community. Most importantly, the incredible support of my loving wife, Desiree, and my wonderful children Dylan, Daulton, Lily and Tommi.”

David Bird

Hometown: Odessa, Missouri | Current Town: Joplin, Missouri

Branch: Air Force | Rank: E-3 | MOS: Air Cargo Specialist

David Bird was 17 years old when he decided he wanted to leave his hometown and see the world. College wasn’t something he wanted to do, so he enlisted with the Air Force. Because Bird wasn’t 18 years old, he enrolled in the Delayed Enlistment Program until he was of age to actively serve. After completing basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, Bird was sent to Sheppard AFB in Texas for his training. Bird was assigned to the 437th Aerial Port Squadron at Charleston AFB in Charleston, South Carolina.

“My unit was the first squadron to get the Lockheed C-5A assigned in all of the Air Force,” said Bird, something he is proud of. “I volunteered for duty in Viet Nam and was sent to Da Nang AB with the 15th Aerial Port Squadron in July of 1971. I spent all of my time there except for one month when I went to Thailand,” Bird said. When Bird made it back to the States, he was stationed at Forbes AFB in Topeka, Kansas, and was given an early discharge due to the closing of the base in 1973.

Bird’s journey to see the world didn’t stop there. After he was discharged, he continued to move freight, just in a different way. He became a truck driver and stayed in that industry for 21 years. He did everything from being a driver, dock worker and dispatcher to a terminal manager, where he retired from CFI in Joplin, Missouri.

Bird is proud of the work he did in the Air Force. He said he chose to enlist in the Air Force all those years ago because he loved planes, and his brother served in the Air Force.

“My brother and I were the only two from our family who served in the military. He was 19 years older than I was and was a radar instructor at Keesler AFB in Biloxi, Mississippi. But I’ve found in my ancestry that my family fought in the Revolutionary War, War of 1812 and the Civil War.”

Bird said the most gratifying experience was knowing every plane he loaded or unloaded was going to help and do some good somewhere.