East Valley mom and son veterans graduate together as engineers

June 7th, 2017 | by Santan Sun
East Valley mom and son veterans graduate together as engineers
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Like mother, like son.

Mesa resident Barb Blanchard and her son Rodney Buller, who lives in Gilbert, followed the same path to degrees last week from Arizona State University.

Both earned degrees from ASU’s Ira Fulton Schools of Engineering and, as military veterans, attended the seventh year of the university’s Veteran’s Stole Ceremony May 6.

They were among the approximately 215 students who participated in the ceremony, first held at the university in 2011 with just 10 students.

Tempe City Council member and Army veteran Robin Arredondo-Savage gave the keynote, which honored all 650 ASU student-veterans graduating this spring.

Blanchard and Buller received stoles emblazoned with the branch of military service in which they served.

They wore them over their academic regalia during graduation ceremonies, which took place last week.

“The Stole Ceremony acknowledges and honors my service to my country,” said Blanchard, a native of Delaware.

“I have worked hard for, and a long time for, my degree, and I have finally achieved my goal,” she added, explaining that she has attended other colleges and universities since 1982. “This is my dream come true.”

Buller, her older son, added, “The ceremony is an opportunity to join my fellow veterans in collecting our stoles and being able to say our farewells as we move onto the next chapter of our lives.”

When Blanchard enrolled at ASU in 2015, she didn’t know that she and her son would be attending the same school at ASU on the same campus.

She entered as a graduate of the Associate of Science Program at Phoenix College; he came to ASU as a sophomore immediately after serving in the Marine Corps.

“Rodney inspired me and encouraged me to enroll at ASU and even assisted me with selecting my first semester classes,” she explained. “Not too many parents can say they received their degree with their offspring: same school, same program.”

Fulton Schools Dean Kyle Squires said the mother and son exemplify “the leadership skills brought to our programs by veterans” that “are highly valued and inspire not only their fellow students but also our faculty and staff.”

“We are proud that Barb and Rodney have followed their family’s legacy of national service by earning degrees at ASU and look forward to hearing about the continued contributions they will make to their community,” he added.

Military tradition runs deep in Blanchard’s family.

Her father and uncle served in the Korean War in the Army and Air Force, respectively. From high school, her oldest brother joined the Army and retired recently after 30 years, moving to Arizona from Delaware.

Her middle brother also joined the Air Force after high school and was stationed at Luke AFB.

Blanchard’s younger son, Bryan, who also lives in Arizona, served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. His wife was also in the Army.

In August 1980, Blanchard joined the Air Force after working for the DuPont Company.

She served two terms, first stationed at Barksdale AFB in Louisiana, where she met Rodney’s father and where Rodney was born.

Next, while at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, Suffolk, United Kingdom, Bryan was born. Her final stop was Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii. She lived there for five years after leaving the service, before moving to Arizona in 1996.

Buller enlisted in May 2002 and became a mechanic, then an aerial observer/gunner. His first deployment was delivering food and clothing to people in the Philippines after a devastating typhoon that October.

Soon after, from the USS Essex, anchored off Sri Lanka, his group assisted people following the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, delivering food, water, clothes and transport. The natural disaster killed as many as 280,000 people in the area.

He was next in Iraq, serving in the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit.

“One mission involved the flight of 11 aircraft during low-light levels to conduct a helicopter raid on terrorists linked to the production of improvised explosive devices that had been used around the local area,” he said. “The mission was a complete success and very rewarding.”During his fina

l stop, in Okinawa, his unit was alerted in 2011 to the earthquake and tsunami on the east coast of Honshu.

“Operation Tomodachi was yet another rewarding part of my career because I was provided an opportunity to help those in need and in a place where few could go,” he said.At about

the same time in Arizona, Blanchard, who had worked for Intel for eight and a half years, was laid off in 2009. She completed the Paralegal Studies program at Phoenix College in spring 2015 but decided this was not the career for her.

An unemployment counselor told her that the Trade Adjustment Act might pay her up to $20,000 toward further education because her job had been adversely affected by offshore business.

With this grant, she began her online studies in Operations Management at ASU while working full time with the Department of Homeland Security in Casa Grande.

“I would like to find a promotional opportunity within the federal government,” she said.

His degree in mechanical engineering systems completed, Buller is already working toward his master’s degree in electrical engineering. He wants to design and develop software and do systems work. “Graduation is just a mission accomplishment or check in another box,” he added, with a smile. “It’s a big relief to be that much closer to a successful life goal.”

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