Though separated by generations, Scottsdale residents Abby Malchow and the late Mike Rizzo have one thing in common – they served.
Malchow and Rizzo were selected earlier this year to serve as Grand Marshals at the 2018 Phoenix Veterans Day Parade tomorrow, Nov. 12, in central Phoenix.
Every year, the parade, now in its 22nd year, selects seven veterans to represent each era of service dating back to World War II. The community nominates eligible veterans over the summer.
Paula Pedene, founder of the Honoring Arizona’s Veterans nonprofit that puts on the parade, said the parade and events like it provide healing for veterans.
“There is something about honor and recognition at events like this that just makes them feel welcome and it kind of helps them put their demons behind them,” she said. “The rigors of war and service are hard, and the healing helps them move forward, so that is why we do the parade.”
Pedene, a Navy veteran and former spokesperson for the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Hospital, has a long history of advocating for veterans and was a whistleblower who exposed mismanagement at the Phoenix VA, according to the Washington Post.
Her Honoring Arizona’s Veterans received a John S. McCain Inspirational Leadership Award at the fifth annual Arizona Public Service Veterans Day Ceremony Nov. 2 in acknowledgment of its contributions to the veteran community.
The APS event featured a handful of speakers who talked on veterans’ issues, including U.S. Senator Jon Kyl, Grand Marshal Ian Parkinson and retired Air Force Colonel Wanda Wright, who is also director of Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services.
She has put the parade on for 22 years, growing it from about 10,000 spectators to 45,000.
The grand marshals will be front and center as the parade passes by those spectators along the parade route.
“It’s all about honoring and recognizing them and keeping that history alive,” Pedene said. “Without it, we wouldn’t know who they were, what they did and how they served.”
Malchow, a Navy veteran who enlisted weeks before 9/11, will represent veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom in the parade.
For her, the event provides a venue to acknowledge and honor the sacrifice of veterans, especially veterans from her generation that volunteered to go to war.
“To make that recognition of selfless service and people who were able to put their country before themselves, when the community comes together to recognize that, it means everything to a vet,” she said.
Rizzo, who passed away just weeks ago, was selected to represent World War II veterans, and his memory will be honored at the event. His son attended the APS event, and fellow Grand Marshal Frank Doherty held up a large photo of Rizzo to a standing ovation from the crowd.
Other Grand Marshals include Doherty, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army and Air Force Reserves who served in the Korean War; Santo Granziano, a U.S. Army sergeant who served in Vietnam; Anthony Irby, a U.S. Army specialist who served during the Cold War; Gene Wood, a U.S. Army first sergeant who served in Operation Desert Storm; and Parkinson, a U.S. Army sergeant who served in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
The parade will start at 11 a.m., heading south on Central Avenue from Montebello Drive to Camelback Road before turning east down Camelback and traveling south down Seventh Street to Indian School Road.
Malchow, currently a chief petty officer in the U.S. Naval Reserve, led an all-male crew after being deployed to Fallujah and Ramadi in 2006 with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 40 to provide contingency construction operations.
The unit also provided humanitarian relief and construction operations in Louisiana and Mississippi in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
For Malchow, her service continued after she came home.
“At the end of the day, we don’t really do it for the recognition. We just do it because service means so much to us, and we continue that service after we get home,” she said.
She was one of 22 veterans – representing the estimated 22 veterans who died by suicide per day at the time – who visited Congress in 2014 to lobby on behalf of the Clay Hunt Act. Signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2015, it aims to improve and increase veterans’ access to mental health services.
Malchow has also worked on an initiative to use the VA’s crisis line in association with artificial intelligence on social media platforms to identify veterans at risk of suicide and provide easily-accessible support.
Malchow also visited Congress to advocate for the Deborah Sampson Act.
That act, introduced in 2017 with wide support from veterans groups, has stalled in Congress.
It provides increased assistance for female veterans such as a peer-to-peer program, centralized location for information on benefits and services, legal services for homeless women veterans and other structural and programmatic changes for women veterans receiving VA care, according to nonprofit DAV.
Malchow currently works as a commodity manager for Intel in Chandler and helped found the American Veterans at Intel employee group that provides resources for over 1,000 veterans working at the company in Arizona.
Though Rizzo experienced the very painful realities of war – injured by shrapnel and knocked unconscious during an explosion – he told parade organizers he cherished his memories of his comrades in battle.
Rizzo, a corporal with the U.S. Army, trained at Camp Wheeler in Georgia and then spent 23 months in England and France, helping to liberate villages in the latter country.
He also spent time in Germany as a security guard and was injured there during a night patrol.
In all, Rizzo came close to dying during his service five times and told organizers the most challenging part of this service was just staying alive.
It is that reality of war that Rizzo hoped to impart to others.
“War is not like the movies. People suffer and die, while being dirty and hungry, without knowing what tomorrow brings,” he said in his profile on the Phoenix Veterans Day Parade website.
For his service, Rizzo earned a Purple Heart, Bronze Star and other medals.