Honoring a passion for service

posted on

Iowa native named 2017’s top DAV Auxiliary member

When Pierce began volunteering at the National Disabled Veterans TEE Tournament held in Riverside, Iowa, she was a golf buddy to first-time participant and blind veteran Jeffrey Frank of Minnesota (left). She now serves on the event’s local organizing committee.

Each year, one of the thousands of DAV Auxiliary members is singled out for recognition for his or her outstanding efforts to better the lives of disabled veterans and their families. This year, 28-year member Melissa Pierce—described by her peers as someone who “truly believes in and loves the things that she does for veterans”—has earned that honor.

Pierce, of Unit 20, Des Moines, Iowa, was presented the 2017 Disabled American Veterans Auxiliary Member of the Year award at the 96th annual DAV and Auxiliary National Convention in New Orleans. The daughter of a Marine father and Navy mother, she was recently appointed state adjutant after having served five consecutive years as state commander.

“Melissa was instrumental in encouraging Council Bluffs to re-establish their unit,” said Judy McLaskey, of Unit 10 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where Pierce previously served as adjutant. “She drove the eight-hour round trip on weeknights at least twice to attend their meetings and personally talk to them, in addition to the many phone calls and email conversations. Her efforts paid off [in] July 2016 when Unit 5 finally became official.”

Pierce has taken on multiple projects to benefit veterans and their families within her community. For instance, she schedules and coordinates the volunteer shifts for an annual Labor Day rest area event, during which refreshments are served to highway travelers in return for donations to benefit the local DAV Transportation Network.

“She has also volunteered to work many shifts over the years, mostly the overnights that no one else wants,” said McLaskey. “It was her hope to get the DAV name out into the public to increase awareness of the DAV Transportation [Network].”

Pierce recently became involved with the DAV- and VA-sponsored TEE (Training, Exposure, Experience) Tournament, in Riverside, Iowa, which is one of the VA’s six national adaptive sports events.

She had to request the rest of the week off because she met a blind veteran who wanted her to be his golf buddy, said McLaskey.

“Not only was Melissa [the veteran’s] golf buddy, but she also assisted with some of the other events available for the veterans such as disc golf, horseshoes and horseback riding,” McLaskey said.

Pierce’s efforts include attending Eastern Iowa Honor Flight homecomings, assisting with Vietnam Veterans Recognition Day in Des Moines, and developing a DAV Auxiliary Department of Iowa social media presence to better network with members across her state.

“Melissa is always championing causes for veterans and their families,” said DAV Auxiliary National Adjutant Pat Kemper. “She’s very active in DAV CAN (Commander’s Action Network) and has vigorously advocated for things like the CHAMPVA Children’s Protection Act, Military Surviving Spouses Equity Act, Legislation on Concurrent Receipt, Veterans Emergency Treatment Act and several others.”

“I just kind of do what I do,” said Pierce after learning of the recognition. “It’s a tremendous honor, and I hope we can spread the word about how rewarding it is to serve the veteran community.”